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Five things we learned this week about home battery storage

27 September, 2017

1. Battery storage is rapidly going the way of rooftop solar… or dishwashers?

Australian consumers are quickly getting wise to the crucial role battery storage will play, alongside rooftop solar, in cutting their reliance on increasingly expensive grid-supplied electricity, and driving down soaring power bills.

That was the main take-away from this week’s Reachtel poll, commissioned by the Climate Council, which found that 74 per cent of people surveyed across Australia expect household batteries to be commonplace in homes within the next decade.

More than half of those people, when asked about the key motivation for households adding battery storage to rooftop solar, said to “reduce power bills”.

Interestingly, 38 per cent of the survey respondents said they already owned rooftop solar – and more than two-thirds of that number (68%) said they were considering adding a battery.

This follows a report from industry analysts SunWiz, whose latest data shows more than 7000 battery systems were installed across the nation in the first six month of the year – surpassing the 6500 sales recorded for all of 2016 – and on track to pass 20,000 by the year’s end.

“Australians love rooftop solar, and most now expect home battery storage to be as commonplace as dishwashers in our homes in a decade,” said Climate Council chief Amanda McKenzie in comments on the battery poll last Thursday.

“Rising energy prices and a lack of a Federal energy plan are driving many people to take back control of energy. We’re getting smart to the fact that our energy system is changing.”

2. We might even have some reasonable home battery installation guidelines in time for the boom

Standards Australia looks likely to rethink draft home battery installation guidelines that threatened to ban lithium-ion battery systems from Australian homes and garages, after a “consensus” was reached at a roundtable meeting with industry and government leaders last week.

As we have reported on RenewEconomy and One Step Off The Grid, the standards process hit a wall at the beginning of the year due to a draft guideline, known as AS/NZS 5139, that suggested lithium-ion battery storage could only be installed in free-standing “kiosks”, as a safety measure.

The proposed guideline provoked an immediate backlash from industry, who described it as a major over-reach, and noted that it would likely add thousands of dollars to the cost of home battery storage installation, putting it out of reach of a huge proportion of the booming residential market.

“A roundtable held by Standards Australia last week agreed to review this requirement and provides the right step towards a sensible standard which would allow batteries to be installed inside a house if the battery units meet appropriate international standards and are installed by an accredited installer to clearly defined standards,” the Clean Energy Council said in a media statement on Monday.

According to Sandy Atkins, the CEC’s executive general manager of installation integrity, the new path forward outlined by Standards Australia will shift the primary responsibility for product safety on to the product manufacturers instead of installers.

“This is a positive change as the alternative would ultimately result in higher costs to consumers,” Atkins said.

But Australia’s Energy Storage Council – which did not get an invite to the SA roundtable – remains skeptical of the entire process.

“So the industry body representing the largest number of manufacturers and installers with the greatest interest in ensuring safety of systems, not least because their businesses depends on strong safety guidelines and standards, was not invited,” said ESC president Steve Blume in comments to RE.

“So the notion that there is consensus is wrong.”

We’ll keep you posted.

3. All the stars are aligning… but Australia’s much talked about battery storage boom is not quite there yet

So what’s holding it back? According to Nigel Morris in One Step’s latest fortnightly Solar Insiders podcast, the “Tesla factor” could have a bit to do with it.

“There are a lot of people who are sitting on their hands, who’ve placed orders for Powerwall 2s, they aren’t available at the moment, there’s no stock coming into the country… but there’s a lot of people sitting and waiting,” Morris said.

“So the challenge now for everyone around them is to try and grab those customers and convince them to go another way, or else, we could well see a slow year.”

As Giles Parkinson notes, it’s a classic case of the “Tesla tease.”

“Exactly,” adds Morris. “Sell it, and get the book full, and then work out how to get it into production. Great way to get a full order book and understand demand before you ramp your factory up, so… good on ‘em. If you’re not Tesla, though, it’s a pain in the but, because it means that you can’t sell you batteries to those customers.”

4. Competition is ramping up as battery makers vie for a share of the market

One battery storage contender working hard to get a foothold in the Australian market is German giant sonnen, which this week announced it would offer households “free energy” for two years if they have rooftop solar and use an approved installer for one of their battery storage devices.

The offer is being used to underline its partnership with global manufacturing firm Flex, which has exclusive distribution rights over sonnen batteries in Australia, and the creation of a “diamond list” of preferred installers it has put together to ensure its units are installed properly.

Previously, the “sonnenFlat” deal launched in July meant households would pay nothing for energy but face a monthly fee of $30-$50. That monthly fee is now being waived – for 24 months – under the upgraded deal with Flex.

Chris Parratt, the head of sonnen in Australia, says the company has so far installed around 750 units since it began in November, and has total sales in Australia of 1,600 in calendar 2017 – around three-quarters of which have come since it launched sonnenFlat in July in Sydney.

“The Australian battery storage industry is really only in its second year in Australia and many installers are doing it for the first time. So our initiative is to try and control the quality of the rollout by defining approved companies,” he told One Step.

5. And state governments are still doing their bit to stimulate – and meet – demand

While battery makers compete for a piece of the market, a number of Australian state and Territory governments are funding incentive-based schemes to encourage the uptake of battery storage in homes.

Among them is the Australian Capital Territory government, which last week announced it would extend its subsidised roll-out of battery storage to Canberra homes and businesses, allocating another $4 million to support the scheme.

The battery scheme, a part of the ACT government’s $25 million Next Generation Energy Storage program, and funded by the territory’s large-scale renewable energy projects, aims to support the roll-out of around 36MW of energy storage in up to 5,000 Canberra homes and businesses over the next three years.

ACT minister for climate and sustainability Shane Rattenbury said the program, which had so far seen more than 200 batteries installed at discounts of around 24 per cent off an average household system, was being extended due to popular demand.

“Following strong community and industry interest in the Next Generation Energy Storage program currently underway, the government is opening a third competitive grants round,” Rattenbury said.

“Companies have until 19 October to prepare submissions seeking grant funding to install subsidised battery storage linked to rooftop solar.”

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