Battery storage market is at home in Australia

Energy storage Australia: we explain the reasons for the massive growth in residential solar battery storage and look at the main companies in the market. Photo credit: Ergon Energy

Energy storage Australia: we explain the reasons for the huge growth in residential solar battery storage and look at the main companies in the market. Photo credit: Ergon Energy

By Dr Geoff James

Affordable battery energy storage is on Australia’s doorstep and getting an open-armed welcome.

And it is the residential sector that is driving demand, likely to overtake utility-scale installations next year to become the dominant grid-connected storage resource.

Only the immature supply chain can slow the growth of residential storage and with it the new energy democracy.

Several factors combine to make a perfect storm that will blow away old business models and energy industries unwilling to adapt.

Firstly, Australia has lots of rooftop solar PV generation, about 3GW and over 20% of households, which is significant on a world scale.

Retail electricity prices

Secondly, Australia has relatively high and increasing retail electricity prices and low trade barriers, so that solar PV makes sense without subsidy for retail customers, and is increasingly offered with a battery option.

Thirdly, existing solar subsidies through feed-in tariffs will roll off in coming years, starting with New South Wales in 2017, creating a strong motive to use energy storage to maximise self-consumption of solar energy.

Fourthly, Australia has a disaggregated electricity market that allows new business models to be tried out, and the remaining regulatory hurdles are being scrutinised.

Finally, many Australians are tired of the policy uncertainty that has stalled investment in large-scale renewable energy projects.

They are happy to take matters into their own hands by installing their own renewable generator, particularly if it also saves money in the medium term.

Absence of credible policy

So all eyes are turned to Australia, where the population is transforming the energy system in the absence of a credible clean-energy policy from the federal government.

The clarity of this high-level view is lost in the fragmented situation on the ground. This May and June there have been four significant announcements by new entrants into the residential energy storage market.

Lacking complete information and business models, yet creating a flurry of interest, these caused many commentators to say that the age of affordable storage has arrived. Probably they are right.

The Tesla Powerwall has been the most talked-about product because it set a price benchmark at USD$3,500 for a 10kWh system. Its power capability was at first criticised as being too low, and has since been doubled to 6kW.

Nobody expected such a low price so soon, coming as it is to the Australian market in 2016.

A fair price comparison

This price is without power conversion and installation costs, and a fair price comparison should account for the cycle lifetime, the allowable depth of discharge and the system efficiency.

Tesla products compete well on this basis.

They are also supported by favourable customer sentiment based on Tesla’s high-performance electric vehicles, a truly brilliant strategy to bring reputation and profile into the stationary storage market.

Tesla has teamed up with Australian start-up Reposit Power to provide storage control and trading. But others will not be left behind and there will be stiff competition on price and product integration from other vendors.

On the same day as Tesla’s announcement, major energy retailer AGL announced its Power Advantage offering of 3-34.5kW of solar PV with 6kWh of batteries.

Storage-enabled supply contracts

The price is not discussed and won’t be easily discerned because the products will be bundled with leasing and pay-per-use options in a new range of storage-enabled supply contracts.

Panasonic has teamed up with another retailer, Red Energy, and two network utilities that have a retail arm, Ergon Energy and ActewAGL. They are offering 8kWh batteries with 2kW power, designed for solar self-consumption.

AGL and Ergon Energy will be speaking at the Energy Storage World Forum in Sydney in September.

Trina Solar, possibly the world’s largest supplier of crystalline PV modules, came out with its new Trina Home battery range, boasting up to 15kWh with up to 9.6kW power.

No retail partnerships are announced but will undoubtedly follow as the market explores these newly available vendor offerings. They are all lithium-ion systems.

Early-adopter customers

On the ground, meanwhile, vendors are installing storage systems on a commercial basis for early-adopter customers.

Significant behind-the-meter trials of batteries combined with solar PV are in progress by distribution network operators AusNet Services, Ausgrid and United Energy.

Network companies, energy retailers large and small, vendors, the regulator and customer interest groups eagerly await trial results. These activities are essential to understand:

  • The potential network support services that could be obtained from customer storage with the right incentives in place.
  • Network and market impacts of customer applications like solar self-consumption.
  • The performance boundaries of the technology.

All three network utilities running trials will be speaking at the Energy Storage World Forum in Sydney, from September 14 to 18.

Addressing related issues

The event will include the 3rd Residential Energy Storage Forum where experts will address these and related issues in depth.

Batteries are hard to obtain in any quantity and there is unmet customer demand for multiple vendors’ products. Delays are not so much due to supply of battery cells as to integration and certification of battery systems.

We can be confident that these will be dealt with to ensure a growing supply because, now, the commercial case for residential energy storage makes sense.  Everything else will follow.

Energy democracy, the ability for people to guide by their choices the evolution of the electricity system, has arrived.

Dr Geoff James writes regularly for Dufresne Research, producers of the Energy Storage World Forum (Europe and Asia) where more than 30 utilities, transmission and distribution system operators gather each year.

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