The next big thing is solar battery storage, and that may need a push to happen at the pace it should.
Many PV installations were driven by the lure of solar feed-in tariff rebates, but high uptakes have meant these schemes are being phased out. An example is the generous solar bonus scheme In NSW, which closes on 31 December. The goal of solar power should be to reduce power costs as much as possible by optimising consumption of on-site generated energy and to help average out peak generation times for power stations that use fossil fuel.
With the increased focus on renewable and conservation of energy, iTWire had a chat to Australia’s energy guru Simon Hackett, who is executive chairman of ASX-listed battery company Redflow. The interview is presented in a Q&A format (picture at the end of the article).
iTWire: What can solar energy — especially home-based generation — do for the economy?
Simon Hackett: Australia has a wealth of renewable energy sources including wind and solar. The problem to date has been that the sun doesn’t shine all the time, and the wind doesn’t blow all the time. Affordable energy storage solves that problem by storing surplus renewable energy so that consumers and businesses can use it when they need it.
What does this mean for the conservation of resources – replace coal, etc.?
At the grid level, energy storage lets us time-shift energy, which gives renewable energy sources the ability to replace effectively the baseload electricity supplies produced by fossil fuel-powered generators. This delivers the double benefit of helping Australia achieve its carbon reduction goals and pulling costs out of our energy supply chain. Once sufficient energy storage is in place, the 24/7 availability of renewable-generated energy will start putting downward pressure on the price of electricity, which is great for the economy.
What are the pros and cons of battery storage?
While high capital cost is a restraint on people using battery storage, the price curve will head downwards in the next few years as has happened with solar panels during the past decade. Energy storage is the missing link in the renewable energy revolution. It allows consumers to self-consume more of their solar energy, reducing their electricity costs. At the grid level, it reduces demand on the power grid at peak times, for example, at the end of a hot day when everyone switches on air-conditioning systems. Nationally and globally, widespread energy storage can help achieve carbon reduction goals.
What about smart meters and smart grids?
It’s inevitable that the electricity grid will become smarter. Smart meters will create the potential for power companies to treat battery-stored energy as a “virtual generator” by buying electricity from consumers when required rather than running up fossil fuel power peaking generators – which both reduces the cost of electricity supplies and avoids the need to "gold plate" our energy generation system for just a few days a year.
What do you think of the idea of using solar rebates for a subsidy of an inverter and battery?
State governments offering long-running solar feed-in tariffs (FITs) should offer home battery storage incentives to encourage consumers to "trade in" these long-term liabilities.
Solar feed-in tariffs have already achieved their goal of kick-starting PV solar panel adoption in Australia. From a public policy point of view, continuing to pay solar feed-in tariffs beyond this point represents a substantial forward liability that does not deliver improved public good outcomes.
An attractive solution to that problem is to invite consumers to trade in voluntarily the residual life of their feed-in tariffs in return for funding to buy a home battery energy storage system. This would deliver the dual benefit of eliminating a long-term liability for governments while kick-starting a home energy storage industry in Australia – with associated jobs and business growth. In many cases, governments may spend less by using the repurposed feed-in tariff payments to subsidise an energy storage system than to fund a long-running tariff.
As with solar PV incentives, recycling solar feed-in tariffs as battery subsidies would prove politically popular with citizens who increasingly regard home energy storage as a way to increase their energy independence and reduce electricity costs. Widespread energy storage will benefit far-sighted electricity companies by reducing demand during peak power usage periods and giving them the potential to buy home-stored energy as a "virtual" on-demand power source rather than relying on fossil-fuelled driven peaking gas generators.
Nationally, widespread energy storage, both at the consumer and the grid level, will help Australia achieve its international carbon reduction commitments by time-shifting renewable energy so it can be used 24/7, not just when the wind is blowing or when the sun is shining.
Swapping solar feed-in tariffs for home battery installations is not just a win-win: It’s the gift that keeps on giving.
What is the innovation/tech angle behind this?
Australia is uniquely positioned to establish itself as one of the world leaders in energy storage technology. As well as Redflow’s hardware innovation, which includes producing the world’s smallest zinc-bromine flow battery, we have developed a software-based web-enabled battery management system for Redflow’s ZCell and ZBM batteries which let owners both monitor and manage their batteries via the Internet. Continued innovation, at the level of battery development and integration of energy storage with the grid, gives Australia the opportunity to lead the world in this vital technology which can make a significant contribution to global carbon reduction goals.
Just how leading edge are Aussies in this space?
Redflow, a battery company, and Redback, an energy storage management provider, are terrific examples of companies that have successfully commercialised Australian innovation. We recently announced that our ZCell batteries work beautifully with Redback’s Smart Hybrid Solar Inverter System. Innovation is about more than just good ideas and smart start-ups. It’s about using technology to solve problems, commercialising that solution and collaborating with like-minded companies, so it gets to as many people as possible. Energy storage solves problems at multiple levels – domestic, grid and global. Australia needs to encourage the sort of risk-taking that allows companies like Redflow and Redback to chance their hand with good business ideas.