Storm blackouts in NSW will push consumers to battery storage

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Up to 200,000 NSW customers face week-long blackouts because of the storms. This will likely accelerate push to battery storage, particularly for solar households that are also disconnected, and for those about to lose premium tariffs.

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power poleUp to 200,000 business and household customers in New South Wales face extended blackouts of up to a week, or even more, following the dramatic storms in the Sydney region and to its north.

And the impact could have as galvanising an effect as Hurricane Sandy had on the New York region of the United States – causing utilities, business and household customers to consider battery storage and even micro grids.

NSW has more than 260,000 households with rooftop solar, but any houses with solar on their roof would still be without power, because their inverters are usually connected to the grid. So when the grid goes down, the inverters go down too.

The only way to be able to use that solar power is to have battery storage and a special battery storage inverter, which effectively creates its own mini grid, and can operate on its own when the main grid goes down.

“Every storm we get a surge of inquiries,” says Glen Morris, the vice president of the Australian Energy Storage Council, and the owner of a solar-storage business. (Morris also lives in an off-grid community).

“People realise that if they have got solar PV and a grid connected inverter it doesn’t work when the power goes down, so they must have storage.”

Muriel Watt, head of energy policy at renewable energy consultants IT Power Australia, says the number of customers looking at battery storage were likely to increase dramatically as a result of the blackout, and when an estimated 146,000 households in NSW come off their premium 60c/kWh tariff next year.

“With so many households now having PV, it is making even more sense for them to consider adding storage and an inverter which allows them to switch to off-grid mode,” Watt said.

“This would at least keep the lights on and prevent the ‘fridge defrosting. Japanese people have been very aware of this option after losing power for weeks after the Kobe earthquake, but prices for PV and batteries have fallen considerably since then.

“Cost effectiveness is never the only consideration for household investments – emergency power would rate quite high on the list if we are to have more frequent severe weather events.”

As for costs, Morris says it is currently making a 10-15 year payback. But like Watt, he says that is not the main consideration.

solar_storage_battery_620x448_310_224But, he notes, the cost of battery storage is coming down quickly – around 20 per cent in 2014 for lithium-ion batteries, and another 25 per cent fall expected in 2015, battery manufacturers tell him. That is the same price trajectory as solar modules over the past 5 years.

How much storage was needed depended on what the customer needed. One household recently installed a 4kWh battery storage system, but because they were careful with their energy use, that was enough for a full day.

Many households or businesses would want storage just to ensure the TV, lights and radio are kept on, and possibly the fridge. Others use storage to bank the output from their solar panels and use later in the day.

That’s because new owners are either getting paid little or nothing to export back to the grid, or are prevented from doing so.

Businesses, particularly those with refrigeration needs who find they are paying $40,000 to $50,000 for a back up generator with high maintenance, are also finding rooftop solar and battery storage is a cheaper and more effective alternative.

Some forecasts suggest that within a few years, it will be economic for households in city suburbs to disconnect from the grid. Some suggest one-third may do so within the next few decades.

Right now, though, Morris says even the market operator does not know how many battery storage systems are in place. That’s because most people installing storage are adding it to pre-existing solar systems.

Michael Anthony, from Solar360, says the bulk of his company’s business is now centred around storage. He says about 40-60 new storage systems are being installed each month, much of it in regional areas, but also in the city – both for businesses and households.

“Most dealers are trying to sell just solar, but they haven’t understood that adding storage gives a better result.” Anthony says the levelised cost of energy for added battery storage systems is at the same level as grid power.

Ironically, Morris was speaking from the northern NSW town of Ballina, where he was hosting a course on battery storage for technicians from the local network operator.

The main grid operator in the Sydney, Hunter region, Ausgrid had to put out a warning on Wednesday in response to reports that desperate households and businesses – facing another week without power – were rushing to hardware stores to buy generators.

Morris said this was both illegal, and stupid. Generators could only work when powering appliances directly. If they are fed into a household wiring system, they can be incredibly dangerous, both for the occupants and network linesmen.

Addendum: Solar households in NSW should be be warned that adding battery storage may invalidate the solar premium tariff. The tariff expires in 2016, from which time any payments for exports to the grid will be “voluntary” by the retailers.

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28 Comments
  1. Concerned 4 years ago

    Nonsense.

    • Rob G 4 years ago

      Why?

    • Chris Fraser 4 years ago

      Fine, please sit patiently in the dark.

      • Calamity_Jean 4 years ago

        With his/her food spoiling, cellphone dead, and radio silent.

      • Concerned 4 years ago

        Not me.In a far far far past, before the network was upgraded(gold plated) in Brisbane,the power would go off every summer when the weather got really hot.
        Like clockwork.
        In addition,every winter ,the power unions would go on strike,for things like car covers at work.Power was off for long periods.
        So ,I like plan B
        When I built my house,I installed gas cooktop and oven,and even gas wall lights in kitchen,dining,family and bathroom.
        I have a small Honda Generator which can run the two fridges at once,or the fridge and 2 TV’s,with appropriate tagged and tested leads.
        I now have two external batteries for iPhone and iPad,and spare battery for laptop with 3g connection.
        And have had SHW for 20 years,just replaced same, and the nice taxpayer just gave me $900 subsidy,which the installer laughingly agreed put the retail price up by the same amount.
        Also have PV which the nice taxpayer subsidised,and the poor contribute to the FIT.
        No problems.
        No great expense.

        • Chris Fraser 4 years ago

          Concerned i congratulate you for putting up with gas wall lights in the kitchen, dining, family and bathroom. You are totally unique. Hopefully they are self-igniting, that you really wanted more heat than light in those rooms, and you believed grandma when she observed that people simply looked better with gaslight.

          • Concerned 4 years ago

            Ta.As to ignition, we have a great discovery in Qld,matches,which ignite the stove,oven and lights. Happy to have been of assistance to the mentally challenged.
            A sto heat,well, one can open the windows ,and having light is far better than none at all.
            A simple and unique contribution to a problem at minimum cost,ta.

          • Chris Fraser 4 years ago

            Congratulations again. The idea of having permanently fixed gas lights waiting for a grid failure is a belly load of funny. There must have been a great number of these episodes in the bad old days.

          • Concerned 4 years ago

            It was,every summer at peak,and every winter due to strikes,until Joe sacked the lot.
            Was cheap as chips to install whilst house being built.
            Never been used since.

  2. Warwick 4 years ago

    Whilst storage for the individual household might well be good, it would be interesting to know if the “micro grid” would really work in practice such as this scenario of 1 week without grid connection. I.e. Just how many homes would have more than a week’s energy storage to share with their neighbours when the constant rain and cloud limits their ability to charge up their batteries.

    • Calamity_Jean 4 years ago

      “Just how many homes would have more than a week’s energy storage to share with their neighbours when the constant rain and cloud limits their ability to charge up their batteries.”

      Why are you (apparently) assuming that there would be a continuous storm for a week? The usual pattern is that a storm comes, does its damage, and leaves in a day or two. The weather goes back to normal sunshine, but the damage remains and takes a week (or more) to repair.

      I do agree with you that there is no apparent advantage for a bunch of households, each with solar ‘n’ storage, to be connected in a microgrid. The microgrid would be an advantage if it had a wind turbine that was too big and expensive for any one household to own, but could be afforded if several households chipped in for it. Or ditto for a backup generator.

      • Warwick 4 years ago

        I suggest you read the first sentence in the article…”Up to 200,000 business and household customers in New South Wales face extended blackouts of up to a week, or even more, following the dramatic storms in the Sydney region and to its north.”

        • Warwick 4 years ago

          And the real point is that the size of a system would need to be huge in terms of PV and batteries to generate sufficient reserves during and after the storm as well as supply their neighbours whilst the grid is off for a week…

          • Calamity_Jean 4 years ago

            To have one household supply a whole neighborhood with electric power is so obviously unreasonable that I didn’t even consider it. A microgrid that supplied a whole neighborhood would have to be paid for by the whole neighborhood, or else by the electric utility.

            A grid-tied solar power system shuts off if the grid goes down to avoid electrocuting the people working to repair the grid. So all the sunlight falling on the solar panels in the days after the storm ends goes to waste, while the freezer in the house defrosts. In an emergency situation, a household that already had solar panels would want a relatively small battery so that the home could temporarily disconnect from the grid to allow the solar panels to power the refrigeration. In a neighborhood of houses that all had rooftop solar panels and emergency-sized batteries, there’s no particular advantage in creating a microgrid.

  3. Colin Nicholson 4 years ago

    Warwick food for thought which leads to – batteries (like any storage) involves processes to optimize the individual’s/corporations activities. Do you store a week’s milk in the fridge, or a days? Do base the size of a freezer on a couple of sheep’s worth of lamb or a couple of chops? Do you supply your hungry neighbours? My guess is that poles outside is a bit like a shop down the road. Maybe storage just to smooth out solar on a daily basis – as you point out most people experiencing the storm in Sydney under this scenario would be back on the grid by now. Even people with no grid still have to work out when it becomes uneconomic to smooth out the vagaries of solar with just batteries or battery plus something else. Maybe it will be a virtual microgrid, where the mg will tap into windpower, biomass etc 100km away. After all, the supermarket is (and will remain) just a virtual farm. Given the distance between neighbours, I have been surprised at just how little the micro wind turbine penetration into the farming community has been. Maybe the sheep will stop laying eggs

    • nakedChimp 4 years ago

      whaaat?

  4. Cedric Jones 4 years ago

    Just a little insight from NZ and a household who are already on PV with battery storage. The newer polycrystalline panels charge even in overcast conditions and we have only 4 large deep cycle batteries ,1100 amp hrs of storage which at a pinch would last about 3 days with careful usage of power. Our invertor is not grid connected and is a 3000 watt pure sinewave which is quite capable of powering the whole house. Of course we do not run air conditioning or heatpumps but love our independence of no power bills. Hope I have not sounded a know-it all but some low cost advise

    • Malcolm Busby 4 years ago

      Interesting set up. Assuming a 12 V system you have around 11kWh of power available. Not sure how many households could get by on 3-4 kWh per day without PV to assist. Any idea how much life you expect to get out of the battery?

      • Cedric Jones 4 years ago

        Hi Malcolm, Yes this does seem incredible but believe me it is doable.my first two batteries were 5 years old already when I acquired them , they are 250 amp hr gel deep cycle batteries and are now 11 years old. Two new ones,now two years old are 320 amp hr each. these are linked in series parralel as two banks of 24volt supplying my invertor. The secret with deep cycle batteries is keep them fully charged (14.8 volts) and NEVER discharge below 12v if possible

        • Malcolm Busby 4 years ago

          Impressive. It sounds like you know how to maximize the life of your battery cells. But I suspect most people wouldn’t want the aggravation of managing their load to keep cell discharge voltages in the optimum range.

  5. Craig Allen 4 years ago

    Perhaps the solar industry should prepare themselves and their customers for affordable storage by offering systems and possibly inverters that are preconfigured for storage to be added within a few years.

    • Rob G 4 years ago

      My solar guy said a year ago that they’d be bringing batteries in about 2 years. So we’re getting close now. And with the expected home battery announcement from Elon Musk at the end of this month we are almost there. I have already discussed the financing of this and now am just waiting for the right product and price. I expect this ‘home storage boom’ to be bigger than Australia’s solar boom.

  6. Glen Ashton 4 years ago

    If anyone would like a quote for solar battery storage SAE Group is the company to contact http://www.saegroup.com.au

  7. Chris Fraser 4 years ago

    The need for energy to run a freezer cant be overstated. When you’ve got to attend places of employment, & have kids not in school but stuck inside because of blackouts and trees across the road – just like every Easter camping in your own house loses its shine after about, oh, two minutes. The article reminds me that during the whole 36 hour blackout we couldn’t get our thoughts off wasted PV energy and batteries ! I suspect we are not going to rely on others to improve the reliability of the grid, so we will just rely on ourselves !

  8. Malcolm Busby 4 years ago

    I’m a big believer in the future of storage and load defection but we still have issues with affordability, particularly balance of plant and installed costs. Average consumption in Australia is ~20 kWh per day. Even in emergency conditions I’m guessing you’d need 5 kWh for the fridge, etc. As a guide, the new Tesla 10 kWh domestic battery will reportedly retail at around US $13,000 installed. I don’t suppose it will be cheaper to do it here.

    • Concerned 4 years ago

      At this stage ,a Honda generator is the way to go,cheap as chips.

  9. Glenn Albrecht 4 years ago

    I have just installed a BYD Lithium 8kwh, 3kw Distributed
    Energy Storage System (DESS) at my rural property in NSW. It is teamed with a
    Solar Australia 5.2 kw PV system. Yes, it was expensive, but it has the
    capacity to pay for itself in approximately 10-15 years (its warranty time is
    10 years). So far, it has demonstrated that it can reduce my grid supplied
    power by 80-90% and the bulk that I use is delivered in the form of cheap
    off-peak electricity for re-charging the battery at night (we are on Green
    Power as well). I have solar plus battery power during the day, battery power
    alone from 2.00pm until midnight and then if needed, off-peak to recharge the
    battery. The battery power is available for blackouts as there is a built in
    emergency power and lighting circuit. The economic case for this technology is
    already strong, but economics is not the only reason for the investment. The
    emotional burden of being an ongoing part of the problem of global warming is
    great, and to invest in technology now that makes our house and property carbon
    negative is one way to reduce that ethical burden. The more people commit to
    this new technology, the sooner prices will come down. But if you only do
    things for crude economic reasons, most likely you are part of the problem.

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