Australia To Pioneer Off-Grid Solar Power Storage With SunPower

Australia will be one of the proving grounds for the world's second largest solar energy company to test its off-grid solar energy storage, putting solar panels and lithium-ion batteries into customers' homes in Victoria. SunPower is expected to make an official announcement on a pilot project in Australia's second most populous state in the next two months.

Image via Shutterstock

According to the ABC, SunPower is planning to use Australia to test a combination of rooftop photovoltaic (PV) panels and battery storage, giving houses off-the-grid electricity access during the daytime and during clear, sunny weather conditions with sufficient storage capacity to power applicances for extended periods of poor sunlight and during nighttime.

The current status quo for home solar electricity generation in Australia is for houses to feed excess solar energy back into the grid, selling it to energy providers at around 8 cents per kilowatt hour. When they need to draw power from the grid -- during the night and periods of cloudy weather, when solar cannot meet their baseline needs -- consumers are being charged up to 30c/kWh. Battery storage would let solar PV users store excess energy on-site, and sufficient battery storage would mean consumers could disconnect from the grid entirely.

SunPower president Tom Warner told the ABC that Australia is a perfect market for pioneering solar energy generation and short-term storage; it is a country with relatively expensive power rates, a deregulated market, and the majority of the landmass gets sunlight of an excellent quality on a daily basis. The government position on alternative energy projects, though, is less clear -- Joe Hockey believes wind farms are "a blight" on the landscape, and prime minister Tony Abbott has pegged a review of the 2020 Renewable Energy Target.

For an enterprising individual with enough time and money, off-grid battery backup for solar PV is already possible. Internode co-founder, Tesla aficionado, and current NBN Co board member, Simon Hackett already has a battery-boosted solar energy system set up:

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    If only our government would fund things like this

      I could see this goverment outlawing this though, gota keep big energy happy :-(

        Depends on the government: we somehow wound up with insulation schemes (which were a good idea with some implementation problems leading to a few disastrous outcomes) and really excessive feed-in tariffs (60c per kw/h was pretty over the top) and simultaneously restrictions on wind farm development and allowances to the coal industry for port construction and shipping requirements.

        It's great to see some interesting ideas being developed though. Things like this could be really useful even in cities where people can be on-grid because by charging batteries during the day and dynamically switching to batteries when solar input suddenly drops and in the early evening peaks and troughs can be smoothed which means that there needs to be less spinning reserve. There have actually been some great ideas to use solar fitted to office buildings to charge EVs and use them as an electricity buffer too, so the building can use mostly-changed electric car batteries as a buffer for when brief clouding causes sudden drops in PV solar generation.

        Australia is a prime location for testing out (and indeed using) solar, particularly on a large scale. It is a shame that things like the Clean Energy Finance Corporation are going to be cut by the current government. The CEFC is performing its job extremely well, and there is no basis other than 'anti-last-governmentism' to remove it.

    We installed a system like this on our house in the ACT nearly a year ago. The electricity ain't free but we no longer get electricity bills, just cheques for our small contribution to the grid. If I could I'd add a wind generator to our system as well, but not the driven propeller/generator type.

    We don't get blackouts either, which while not common are very annoying when they happen.

    I am very pleased to be able to say that no government provided any funding or subsidy to us and we do not get any subsidised payment back; our electricity is sold to the grid at the trade rate of 7.8c per kW/hr.

      I live in the ACT as well and was hoping to do the same thing when we buy a house. I was concerned about not getting enough sunlight (moved from QLD, so you can see why I would think that), but good to know that it is possible.

    Whilst I'm always in credit with my solar, this is something I would love to do. I've even looked at bringing in windmills which store power in batteries too.

    I would be surprised at any government backing this sort of thing because power companies will perpetually be on their back because their bottom line will go down. We're told to use less water/power, we do exactly that, they put up the price so they keep their bottom line. I think Adelaide is in the top 3 (if not the top) in the world for the cost of power.

      There are hybrid systems. Basically the PV system charges the batteries. Once the batteries are charged, the regulator switches to AC supply and feeds to the grid.

      You wire your house to run off the batteries at night (24V lights in the fixtures and get appliances like fridge and freezer rewired to 24V DC and so forth)

      You can just run an inverter but that's an extra thing that can fail and also cause some energy loss.

      During the day the PV system charges the batteries and powers your house. After the batteries are charged, extra power feeds into the grid. At night your lights and fridges and so forth run off the batteries.

    What wrong with this picture?
    1) High current cables running across the shape edge of the support frame. Due the expansion and contraction of this frame due to the thermal cycle of charging / discharging the support frame is like a slow acting knife. This will eventually cause a short circuit and fire.
    2) Batteries packed far too close together preventing cooling from convection air flow. Over heating will eventually result as the batteries age. The over heating is normally detected by swelling of the case but the two centre batteries will be effected first and they are not clearly visible.
    3) No fusing on battery terminals meaning the inevitable short will cause a fire.
    4) Although these batteries may look like SLA batteries because of the caps, there not. They are deep cycle lead acid batteries that emit hydrogen (A highly explosive gas) when they are charging and they're in a closed cabinet with no ventilation. There just waiting for an ignition source and a fault in the inverters or a short circuit will eventually provide an ignition source.
    5) To me the support frame for the upper bank is structurally inadequate.

    This is 101 in how NOT to design a battery bank.

      having signed in as a guest, I know you'll probably never see this but to undo your disinformation I'll reply any way.

      1) not high current cables, double insulated, low voltage cables, and zip tied to the rack so will move with the expansion/retraction without chafing.

      2) These appear to be SunGel 4SG320 ( batteries(comparing the stated capacity of the system with the number of batteries). Gel batteries don't heat as much as other deep cycles and being 12 per rack makes 48V per rack with an overall storage or 30kWh with a 10kW PV system feeding it means that the overall feed current isn't too high.

      3) How can you tell what fusing there is on the battery terminals with the covers on? Why would you need fusing on the terminal when there is fusing in the regulator?

      4) Not flooded batteries. As stated before, Gel batteries. All lead/acid batteries produce hydrogen gas. Flooded batteries release it and can cause an explosion, AGM and Gel store it to allow it to be recombined into the battery.

      5) Those racks will hold 2T easily. What you can't see is the bracing under the sheet metal preventing, as you can see from the photo, any sagging after having been installed 4 years ago.

      Looks to me a 101 on optimum off grid solar install. I would have used GelTech batteries my self. They are a bit more expensive but tend to last longer.

      Last edited 05/05/14 3:13 pm

        I agree with you,

        There is however one other problem. Assuming a fire starts in your house (complelely unrelated to your solar system).
        Try sending a firefighter into that house with a bank of lithium-ion batteries in the basement.
        It wont happen i promise you.

    I've seen an implementation like this is the UK that worked wonders. They had a ridiculous number of solar cells though due to the low light conditions through most of the year - but they still had enough juice in the batteries to run the car on top of the normal household. But as everyone has pointed out - it's not an implementation option that the power companies will lie and so government won't endorse it.

    I wonder what the life cycle of the batteries are and how much they cost? How often do they need to be replaced? Do they suffer degradation? I ask because I wonder what the break even point is for this type of system.

      Life cycle largely depends on how deep they get drained and how often. This will set when they need to be replaced. These ones come with a 3 year warranty and, as said in his tweet, were installed in 2010. Generally any decent gel battery will last a minimum of 5 years even with heavy use. He states that this system will allow them to run with no sun for 2 full days, so not a great deal of heavy cycling going on. I would think they would probably last 15-20 years.

      As for cost, assuming he does the right thing and gets cables and connectors replaced at end of life of the batteries, you wouldn't expect to be much change from $20,000. That's just for the batteries. Would probably replace one bank at a time to spread the cost out.

      Of course you'll get, at today's prices, $40-60 per battery when you recycle them

    Joe Hockey believes wind farms are “a blight” on the landscape, but he's okay with coal fired power plants and shipping ports? - WTF!

    I got quoted yesterday $19000 for a 1.5 kW system with batteries. Whereas I want a 1.5 kW system without batteries installed costs around $3500. Since a 1 .5 kW system can produce about $600 electricity per year These technologies are still not cost effective when batteries are included

    Hi. I'm a new guest to this Forum but would like to use your expertise to answer one of the questions which has been bugging me over going off-grid by using batteries in conjunction with a PV system. Everyone, including your contributors, seem to be quoting huge costs for batteries. Now, I know I'm a novice and am probably over-looking several facts, but what is wrong with this logic? Assuming a small household requires a battery back-up of 36 KWh. A bank of 14, 220 Ah (or 2.64KWh) AGM batteries would supply 36.96 KWh and each of these batteries can be purchased for around $370 or, $5180 in total. It seems to me that if these batteries lasted 10 years (suppliers quote longer), then the average household would reach the "break even" point in much less than 10 years.
    Of course, I realize that there are many other costs associated with connecting the batteries but, for the purpose of this discussion, what is wrong with my proposal?

    It's good to see more widespread use of renewable energy sources but I do think that all this is going to be a big waste if they don't find a way to improve battery storage capacity for all that power they generate during the daylight hours. Feeding it back into the grid really isn't going to cut it if it can't get proper storage somewhere - the usage is just going to skyrocket at night when there isn't excess power being produced.

    The theory is that you sell electricity back to the power grid from the storage unit that holds all the excess off your solar panels, but I truly don't see that much of a difference in my uilities bills at the end of the month!

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