Why Australia will lead the world in solar + storage | RenewEconomy

Why Australia will lead the world in solar + storage

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Australia has the cheapest solar in the world, and will now become the world’s test site for battery storage. Enphase predicts that at least 100,000 homes in Australia will have storage by 2020, which is why it is launching its product here in 2016.

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Germany, Japan, and the US are regarded as the leaders in grid-level energy storage – due to the combination of government mandates and the need to incorporate large amounts of built and planned solar and wind farms.

It is Australia, though, that is widely considered to be the testing ground for storage, both behind the meter and on the network, and the country that will define how storage is more widely implemented. That’s largely due to its huge rates of penetration of rooftop solar, which is driving both challenges and opportunities for grid operators, retailers and consumers alike.

“It is one of the best organic markets in the world,” said Hugh Bromley, an analyst from Bloomberg New Energy Finance – which also explains the huge amount of interest at the Australian Solar and Energy Storage conference in Melbourne this week, where Bromley made these comments.

Bromley also put another fascinating aspect to that equation. Australia, he says, has the cheapest price of solar in the world, on a whole bunch of metrics -in terms of income, months of savings, and percentage of property value.

BNEF Oz solar costs

Rather than feeding it back into the grid at next to nothing, that drives a huge incentive to protect the value of that cheap solar (and duck expensive fossil fuel power from the grid) with battery storage.

It’s ironic that Australia has such cheap solar, given the cost of delivery of our so-called “cheap coal”. The arrival of competitive battery storage will just increase the prospect of the centralised generators becoming stranded assets.

While Tesla has dominated the headlines in the past three weeks following its big announcement on battery storage, it is clear that its rivals are also moving quickly. They will need to, to match it on costs.

Tesla, it is agreed, has changed the conversation around battery storage. Consumers want it, competitors and retailers are going to have to move quickly to meet that demand, and Australia is being regarded as the market where it could all happen.

“Australia is going to be the testing ground for the world,” says Raghu Belur, co-founder and head of products and strategic initiatives at US smart energy company Enphase.

“It is a perfect environment for storage. We will learn so much here about all the challenges and opportunities that all other energy economies will face.”

Enphase’s head of storage, Greg Wolfson, says storage means that the more renewable energy you put on the grid, the more reliable it is. Distribution feeders are more robust, and the power quality is increased. Everyone benefits.

enphase battery

So much so that Enphase has chosen Australia to be the launch-pad, early next year, for its new battery storage offering – a 1.2kWh system that it will integrate with its micro-inverters and other smart technology.

The 1.2kWh size is much reduced from the 5kWh – 10kWh units being offered in the residential market by other companies, but Enphase is taking the same approach that led it to focus on micro-inverters, rather than larger units.

The key, though, is in the smarts. Australia has built a huge, largely dumb grid, in that it is geared pretty much for one directional flow of energy. The worst thing that can happen, Belur says, is to add dumb solar.

Belur says it is clear that the future is distributed energy, rather than centralised generation. But that means there is even more need for smart technology.

“If you put dumb solar out there it will turn into a liability,” Belur says. “The grid is not designed for reverse power flow. We need to add storage, but let’s not add dumb storage. It needs to be fully adaptive, and fully controllable.”

Enphase’s head of storage, Greg Wolfson, says storage means that the more renewable energy you put on the grid, the more reliable it is. Distribution feeders are more robust, and the power quality is increased. Everyone benefits.

Enphase has already used its smarts – micro inverters based around sophisticated communications and software – to address crippling issues in the Hawaii grid, which has a huge penetration of solar, and is now heading towards a 100 per cent renewable energy grid.

The key, says Enphase, is in the data. Enphase collects and manages a terrabyte of data each day. “We transact more than Twitter on a daily basis,” claims Belur. You can see the animation from its micro-inverters on this page (just drill down to find your local area and the performance of the installed modules and inverters, click on view public systems).

enphase map

Australia is not the only market to be immediately attractive for mass deployment of battery storage in homes and businesses. Germany is identified along with Australia – by Tesla and Australia’s flow battery developer Redflow – as the other major market.

In the last two years, about 10,000 systems have been installed in German homes and businesses under a program sponsored by its development bank kFw.

In Australia, however, Enphase thinks the market – without subsidies – can be much bigger.

By 2020, it predicts, Australia could host some 1,000MWh of battery storage at the residential level. If the average home installs 10kWh, that makes some 100,000 homes. Many homes may install less, depending on the consumption patters and the size of their solar array.

In particular, Wolfson points to those households who currently receive high feed-in tariffs – 60c/kWh or more in NSW – but who will get less than 6c/kWh, or possibly nothing, when the scheme ends in 2016.

“They have a serious problem, Wolfson says. “Storage is a solution for them.”

It is this market that most battery storage companies are targeting, although there is great debate about how much value can be delivered, depending as it does on the size of systems and the household’s consumption.

(It should be noted that households in Queensland and South Australia, who have high export tariffs locked in for another decade or more, would have no economic drive for battery storage. This is also the case in most states of the US.)

Wolfson also says there is too much talk on the hardware of battery storage, and particularly on its chemistry, and not enough on its smarts.

“Just sticking storage in the garage is not going to do anything. You need the communications,” he says.

And this will become increasingly important as the share of solar grows from 1 per cent of the world’s electricity mix now (2.5 per cent in Australia) to 20, 30 or even 50 per cent.

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  1. Martin Male 5 years ago

    Brillant this sounds like it will be unstoppable and not reliant on “power companies “or bureaucracy !! Power from the sun to our homes , it is the way forward!!

  2. TMFMattJoass 5 years ago

    “The key, says Enphase, is in the data. Enphase collects and manages a terrabyte of data each day. “We transact more than Twitter on a daily basis,” claims Belur.”

    Why is so much data required? I would have thought that the only data that needs to be sent is the quantity of electricity currently consumed at each property, and the quantity currently produced. But that is no where near the amount of data described. What type of data is this?

    • Glen S 5 years ago

      I think he is reporting the fact that they collect a terabyte of data in total from all of the systems they currently have deployed, not per system.

      • Mike Dill 5 years ago

        With a few million micro inverters, including sixteen on my roof, which get sampled every five to ten minutes during the day for voltage, current, and temperature, the total can add up.

        • Rockne O'Bannon 5 years ago

          Mike. What do you get from all that fuss and data suckage? Anything? Has anyone sent you so much as a thank you note?

          Did you sign a EULA to let them use your data?

          • Mike Dill 5 years ago

            Enphase gives me a website that shows the ten minute average power, per panel, along with hourly, daily, monthly and annual information. I can download the data (CSV) or look at the pictures.

            I have found that two of my panels have some morning shading in the wintertime due to a neighbor’s tree, which i calculate reduces my total output by 3 kwh a day, for about three months each year. This might not have been as easy for me to understand if I had all the panels on a single string inverter.

    • Miles Harding 5 years ago

      The question, says me is: WHY?
      Beyond knowing that the inverters are still working, what value is there in storing and publishing this information on such a fine scale?

      • Pedro 5 years ago

        I have been told that the average enphase domestic PV system generates about 2Mb of data/day. The data becomes really useful when something goes wrong and you can pretty much tell straight away remotely what the problem is, whether it is a faulty micro, panel or the grid outside of the voltage and frequency range of the micro.

        Another thing I find really interesting about collecting a huge amount of data is that enphase has 7+ million micro’s out there collecting data on just about every 60 cell panel out there. It is a giant real world field experiment. I personally would love to know which panels perform best over time especially degradation. There are probably many more applications for the data and I am sure that some people are already working on.

        • Rockne O'Bannon 5 years ago

          I know exactly how much my panels are degrading by looking at the maximum output year by year. The absolute peak has remained more or less constant over the last four years. The peak in 2015 compared to the peak in 2011 is 0.989. In other words, noise. And the year is not over, obviously.
          My readout at home gives me all kinds of data and graphs.

          So….. I am not so sure why someone else should get these data.

          • Pedro 5 years ago

            I assume that your typical end user has a limited use for the data and really only wants to know that their system is working as it should. As far as the enphase system goes data collection is a free cloud based service that can be accessed anywhere from any computer. Data collection is a key part of any monitored system and has huge advantages in minimizing system downtime.

            I personally do not begrudge them the use of that data as they are the ones collecting and storing it which I assume is a significant ongoing cost. The data has value probably not to you on a personal level but I can see that it could be quite useful across a section of the grid. For example a city may have 100MW of roof top solar installed and you may want to know how much PV production there really is at any particular point. If you are to have 1MW of real time monitored systems across the network you would have a pretty accurate estimate if PV production. This could have applications for the grid operators and be of some use in efficiently managing power supply.

          • Rockne O'Bannon 5 years ago

            System downtime? What is that? Are there actually people who have solar installations and battery backups that don’t work? Is there a quality control problem?

            I am not impressed by “cloud-based” as others seem to be.

            I guess the problem here is that you/salespeople spend a lot of time talking about how important the data are to somebody else, but the company sells that as a benefit to the purchaser. That is straight up backwards.

            If the data are so valuable, how come they don’t pay the consumer for it? If the data are not valuable, why are they collecting it? If they have such applications, do they use them? Managing the power supply? Isn’t that the utility’s job? I already give the information to the utility through a meter, so, why do I have to give data to “the cloud” forever when I purchase a product?

            Why oh why do they use as much bandwidth as Twitter to accomplish what appears to be “nothing?”

            I will file this under “iPhone generation logic” and just try to forget about it.

          • Pedro 5 years ago

            Thanks Rockne, you raise some valid questions.

            I get that there is not much use for you with the data and is of little benefit on a daily or personal level. The data that is produced by your PV system is locked away in your inverter and can only be viewed by those you give permission too which is pretty much the same for most people. I will try to answer your questions in the order you asked.

            System downtime is when the PV system is not working. For a grid connected system it is mostly the inverter that breaks down. Most people only find out that their system is not working when they get an expensive power bill which could be up to a few months. This of course has financial implications. The most common failure with battery back up systems is the batteries going flat from over use and lack of adequate solar charging. Even the best quality gear can fail it is just that its failure rate is well below that of the cheap stuff.

            Any system that is monitored and this is especially true for offgrid systems, a small problem can be quickly identified and remedied before it becomes a very expensive problem.

            I do not see why they should pay for the data, it is a two way street there are benefits going both ways. If an end user really doesn’t want to share the data all they have to do is unplug the comms device from their internet router. I really do not think the manufacture would care either way.

            The data is highly valuable to the manufacturer and they are using it, mostly to improve product reliability.

            Not sure if micro inverter data is being used or sold to utilities at present. However it is possible by inference to get a rough location of a downed power line when a whole bunch of micro inverters suddenly go offline in a particular suburb. It is the utilities job to manage the grid, micro inverter data may just be another tool in the kit to manage the grid more efficiently. I really don’t know as it is too early to tell.

            Information via your meter is low resolution and historic, not real time. It is really only good for working out your bill. And guess what, it is not really your data, try accessing it.

            Giving data to the cloud forever when you buy the product. Technically you do not have too, but why buy the product in the first place. You need to think of it as a product/service/system that has advantages whether real or perceived. It is part of the deal. If you are not convinced do not buy.

            Data ownership, how it is used and how it is valued seems to be an important issue you. Not sure I have any good answers for this.

          • Rockne O'Bannon 5 years ago

            Hmm. Everybody I know has a monitor and a meter. I guess some people don’t pay attention, so you would need to hold their hand with “service”. I treat my array as an appliance I use every day.

            Pedro. Thank you for the careful reply. Do you see that someone might read that and think “corporate jargon”?

            OK. Here is the problem right here.

            “Giving data to the cloud forever when you buy the product. Technically you do not have too, but why buy the product in the first place. ”

            Nobody buys the product so that they can share their data for eternity. They get the product to get a benefit. That benefit has nothing to do with giving away a Twitterload of data to strangers. You said that the data are “extremely valuable” to the company, but I don’t get a penny for it. That is supposed to make me feel warm and fuzzy? Do customers even sign a EULA?

            It is still backwards Pedro. Your explanation was nice and it contained few surprises. I would probably be one of those guys who would not use bandwidth just to give away my data. And if Enphase is paying for more bandwidth than Twitter is, maybe they should just stick to making better cheaper batteries and keep their costs tied to their product.

            tl/dr Enphase is doing it the hard way. They should give value to customers in more obvious ways.

          • Pedro 5 years ago

            You think more closely about data than most which I assume is tied up with privacy as well. I have not really thought about it as much in the same way. I tend to take it for granted. Like google is just there collecting all sorts of information all the time about everybody. Most of the data is of little value until somebody works out a use for it, for good or ill. Hopefully nothing too sinister.

            I do work in the PV industry selling enphase among other products. I try not to mention brands as I am not here to promote product.

            That particular product (monitored micro’s) really appeals to people who like gadgets, the idea of data/information and its potential usefulness. That particular company, in my opinion does not really view itself as an inverter manufacture as its core business, but as an IT company.

            Personally I think if we are to have power grid with a high penetration of distributed RE feeding in, there is going to have to be real time monitoring with predictive powers and energy management. That particular company is positioning itself to be sitting there with some of the solutions.

          • Rockne O'Bannon 5 years ago

            Look at me. An old man yelling at Clouds.

            I think you are taking a route that has worked well in the past. If you just dismiss me as a paranoid kook who is worried about privacy, everything marches on. That is not really the crux of my bewilderment.

            But in relation to that, you seem to understand that merely collecting the data makes it available to someone in or out of the company, probably both, who can use it for whatever purpose they like, good or ill. But then you dismiss it. The data probably say quite a bit about the income and wealth of a person who has such devices, for instance, and probably something about their poilitics and outlook. Maybe names and addresses. Cross-referencing heaven. Whose business is that? Nobody’s business.

            Sure. Google and Apple do it too. What’s the big deal? This is 2015, after all. And yet we all know it is no big deal until it is too late. Enphase gets bought by a Chinese company and pretty soon credit card problems appear in Hong Kong and by then… well…. nobody knows how it possibly could have happened. Maybe it was the Russians. How many dozens of times have we heard that?

            But then the article has some guy bragging about using more bandwidth than Twitter. Truthfully, that is what got me going. What a gargantuan waste, polling not just every system, but every component, several times a minute. One might think those data will be useful to develop smart systems. I think they would be wrong. A lot of companies are doing this. Sharing data would seem to me to be a much better use of resources. Cheap. Non-intrusive. And having utilities and companies working with the same dataset for simulations would have benefits for group tweaking, which smart grids will entail sooner or later.

            But more to the point.
            You are doing it again. Whatever putative benefit it might have for society or the future, why aren’t consumers being compensated for this? Why is this hugely wasteful and intrusive practice being pushed as a benefit for consumers? Ah yes. It helps spot shoddy products. That is really the extent of it, apparently. Which sends me ballistic. How about working on the shoddy product first instead of spending the money to keep up with Twitter? That is my point obviously. Then nobody will ever have to sell the company to the Chinese.

          • Pedro 5 years ago

            Apologies Rockne. It is not my intention to be dismissive of your point of view or paint you in any particular way. We are just expressing different points of view.

            From what your saying, data collection, privacy, ownership of the data and how it is valued is of major concern. And a big thing is why do it in the first place? I can see your point of view, as it is relatively easy for an IT savy malicious person/organization to misuse that data. I too am concerned about this. I can see that web browsing records, meta data, credit card records and mobile device data can be misused. However I am wracking my brain to see how collection of PV data can be used maliciously against the owner of the system.

            As for the product in question. Micro inverters with comms and web based data acquisition. It is fundamental to the product and its benefits (which you argue are not much). If you strip that aspect away from the product you end with a micro version of a typical string inverter, which in my opinion makes it a pretty pointless new product with greatly reduced advantages and expensive.

            I can find little to agree on with your last paragraph as I think your premises are logically wrong. Remember the end customer chose the product in the first place with monitoring and the benefits that entails. The issue of financial compensation to my knowledge has never be bought up, and why should they be? It is what the end customer signed up for. I think you have to give a bit more credit to the choices of the end customer. They are not all a pack of fools who are victims of fast talking sales staff. Wasteful and intrusive that is your opinion and presupposes that the data acquired has no value and is somehow taken without permission.

            The shoddiness remarks assume that the product is shoddy in the first place. The quality or lack of in a product is independent of monitoring. At least with a remotely monitored product the manufacturer has very good data on failure rate and some clue as to the mode of failure. This of course can be fed back with product improvements.

          • Rockne O'Bannon 5 years ago

            Thanks Pedro. Clearly the world is changing. Clearly people have no problems with this because they do it every day.

            I won’t give you specifics on how PV data could be used maliciously against the owner of a system. I know that people all over the world are working hard to find out. But let’s just say that a clever fellow made the news this week with claims to be able to take down a jumbo jet by playing with the in-flight entertainment system.

            If a vulnerability were found with customer information, the company would weigh the value of data to the company against the value of the customers’ privacy. Would it do anything? Could it? Every Enphase customer is betting 1. that Enphase can recognize vulnerability to customer risk, 2. that Enphase will choose to eliminate that vulnerability, even if costly, 3. that Enphase can in fact eliminate that vulnerability.

            That is a tall order, and what you are saying in your post above is that you can’t get to step 1.


            And I will leave the rest. Clearly everyone has choices. One hopes things will end well for all concerned.

      • Rockne O'Bannon 5 years ago

        It is a good question and there is no good answer for you. I am skeptical. You are right to question that.
        Solar arrays are extremely reliable. I have never had a problem with any system I have used. Therefore, running diagnostics on my system every minute seems ludicrous.
        Does someone want to know how power fluctuates based on the weather? Well, still, that is something that is not so complicated. One could make a rough and ready model with a year’s data and then one could just watch the weather and infer from there. I do that all the time.

        Which is really the elephant in the room. If the data are for my system, I should have them. Why is someone else taking the data and using it?

  3. phred01 5 years ago

    Instead of the power ntwk embracing renewables They are in effect going to be stranded dinosaurs as everyone that can will go off grid. Wait for it govn’t are going introduce a pole tax (solar/wind)

    • nakedChimp 5 years ago

      might as well tax the oxygen in the air.. people who do sports have to pay more then also!

      • phred01 5 years ago

        That’s the flip side of the carbon tax. The rabbit won’t be on this one for sure

  4. john 5 years ago

    So Enphase is going to introduce a 1.2 KwH pack.
    This means to be usable one would have to get about 8 of these systems to be of use to the ordinary house holder in these days.
    For peats sake get a pack that has at least 4 KW of on demand power and over 10 KwH of usable power to come into the market.
    I now realise what this is aimed at read on.
    A 1.2 KwH pack will power your phone and your computer then again perhaps it is targeted at the techno people living in a unit.
    I guess looking at the future most will be living in a unit and eating out most of the day and just coming home for a few hours a day.

    • Mike Dill 5 years ago

      The Enphase storage packs will install on mounting rails and they expect people to start with one or two, and then add more. Like individual inverters on panels, Enphase believes in many smaller units for overall stability.

      • john 5 years ago

        I guess being modular it is easily expandable makes sense

        • Rockne O'Bannon 5 years ago

          You gave up too soon, John. I don’t know how much these units cost, but 1.2 kWh is ridiculously small.
          I have done the math for Japan, and even a 10 kWh Tesla system will not break even in 10 years even if you use absolutely free power from a solar array.
          Because grid electricity is cheaper in Oz than in Japan, I can’t believe my results would be any different for you.

          Anyway, the fact that they are small just means you “save” less money by using them. Or I should say you “lose” less money by using them.

    • Matthew 5 years ago

      They are doing the same thing with the storage pack’s as they have with solar panels. Sure you can try and make them bigger but that would just mean less production, More economical to build and install a lot of smaller ones leading to greater production thus extreme cost drops.

      Another benefit being that the system can be adapted to properties and buildings depending on there power usage.

  5. Miles Harding 5 years ago

    Interesting Idea, but micro-batteries may miss the mark a bit.

    This seems to be a transfer of the PV micro-inverter, which does make sense where the PV panels are partly shaded on differentially lit, but it comes at a price penalty over a single larger inverter based system.

    The key with a PV micro inverter is the panel by panel optimisation of output, but batteries all operate in the same condition, so the multiplicity of units is much less advantageous, and doubtlessly more costly than larger batteries and inverters. I think that the Tesla product is informed by this, as well as the need to maintain manageable unit weight, cost and design flexibility.

    At least the Enphase product is using LiFePO4 battery chemistry, so the 10 year life estimate is likely to be close. This answers one of my questions.

    It is not apparent how well these would work for a UPS or off-grid system, where 30kwh is needed at a minimum. This is easy to configure with a Tesla battery or large prismatic LiFePO4 cells.

  6. Jacob 5 years ago

    This headline is optimistic.

    Australia and South Australia need to fork out $1 billion and get Gigafactory 2 built here.

    How many subsidies did the car factories here get?

    There is only 1 lead acid battery factory remaining in AUS.

    • Rockne O'Bannon 5 years ago

      Funny thing about the gigafactory. Keep in mind that it is Panasonic making the batteries. Japan. OK?

      When it was first conceived, Musk said that the batteries produced at the gigafactory would be 30% cheaper than the batteries he was using (imported from Japan, right?), Well, since then, the yen has fallen about 40% vs. the dollar, right?

      So the batteries produced at the gigafactory are going to be more expensive, in dollar terms than the ones he could import from Japan. Way to go Elon!

      I find that extremely entertaining. What a putz.

  7. Rockne O'Bannon 5 years ago

    Let’s do the math.

    Just for illustration, let’s assume that you have absolutely free solar power to put into your battery. Let’s also assume that it is 100% efficient, which is physically impossible. And if you get electricity from the grid at 20 cents per kWh, then that means that this battery will save you 20 x 1.2 = 24 cents per day if you charge it all the way up and discharge it all the way down. If you can do that every day, you could save 876 dollars over 10 years.

    By the way, 1.2 kWh is about what you would use to heat a kettle for tea and bake some scones. Alternatively I could watch my old TV for about 4 hours.

    Is this system, plus inverter, plus installation, plus financing, less than 876 dollars?

    A barely useful size for everyday life would have FIVE of these batteries. You would have to charge them all the way up for free and discharge them completely, and you could save 4380 dollars. Is this system, all-in, less than that?

    I think any reasonable person will find, as I have, that this storage stuff is not “a huge breakthrough.”

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