The Home Electricity Storage Revolution Coming To Australia

Tesla's Powerwall is a 7kWh lithium-ion battery designed to store excess energy, whether it's off the grid or from a home's solar panels. For such a simple concept, the Powerwall has quickly drawn a lot of attention, with some pundits predicting big implications for the energy industry. The Powerwall is not the first or only innovation in battery storage technology we've seen, though -- and it certainly won't be the last.

Gizmodo's Energy Smart Home series powered by Hello Grid -- an initiative of the Energy Networks Association, representing the networks who deliver energy to almost all Australian homes and businesses.

The announcement of the Tesla Powerwall's imminent release in Australia comes at a time when the Climate Council has released a report concluding that battery storage could quickly become one of the biggest game-changers in the Australian energy landscape.

The report predicts that half of all Australian households will eventually adopt solar systems with battery storage, and also found that battery systems can minimise a household's overall electricity costs.

Tesla's Powerwall

"Tesla's announcement of the Powerwall was the dawn of the consumer age of battery storage," says Energy Networks Association CEO, John Bradley, and it seems that we won't have long to wait before this age begins. Tesla has confirmed that the Powerwall will be releasing in Australia before the end of this year. We have been prioritised as a launch market alongside North America and Germany, likely due to our enthusiastic adoption of home solar technology as a country.

Tesla cannot confirm what the Australian price will be on release, as they say it will be dependent on the third parties who they are working with to release the product. "We're only one component of three -- which will be solar, inverter and the Powerwall -- so it'll be up to our third parties to come up with that package," says Tesla Australia's Heath Walker, although he does mention that "the Powerwall is very competitive in terms of price."

"Tesla has changed the game, and made batteries a household talking point," says Powershop's general manager, Ed McManus, pointing to the Powerwall's affordability as one of the main reasons it's become such a hot-button gadget. Walker also pinpointed the three main reasons he believes our interest in battery technology is so high:

1. Energy costs in Australia are relatively high. (Gizmodo checked this, and Australia's energy purchasing power parity is ranked 9th out of 30 OECD countries.)

2. With greater adoption of solar technology comes a marked drop in feed-in tariffs (which are the rates at which the grid will buy excess solar energy back off their customers).

3. Australians are increasingly interested in taking greater control over their energy use.

Tesla wants to facilitate this independence, offering flexibility in the way that the Powerwall can be installed. "We're looking at an option that can be used in multiple ways. We look at retrofit, new fitment and even isolation fitment whereby you can utilise the Powerwall via off-peak and then maximise your energy usage in peak times." He does add, however, that due to Tesla's focus on renewable energy they will largely be encouraging the Powerwall's use with solar panels.

Although this may be the first that many Australians have heard of it, battery storage technology is not exactly new in Australia, even if Tesla's approach to it is. Most of the home battery systems currently available in Australia are very utilitarian -- looking like your average hot water system, something that should be hidden away in the shed. Tesla's offering, on the other hand, could very easily be given pride of place in any modern home, even coming in a range of colours.

Tesla's approach is also surprisingly simplistic. "We're concentrating on what we do very well, which is lithium-ion batteries at a great capacity, at a great rate, with a beautifully packaged design." Instead of trying to create a whole package with solar panels and software, Tesla is focussing on their area of strength and leaving the rest to their as-yet unnamed partners in Australia.

Tesla Powerwall: Crunching The Numbers For Australia

Tesla’s Powerwall is a great concept — with the potential to reduce electricity costs, tie in with solar and create a smarter, distributed power grid. But how long will it take to actually save you money? Let's find out.

Enphase Modular Battery

While Tesla has made the biggest splash in the market so far, they are not the only ones coming up with innovative battery storage solutions. Another American company, Enphase Energy is bringing its battery storage system to trial in Australia, but the battery has one major difference to the Powerwall and other lithium-ion batteries on the market.

To understand Enphase's approach, it's important to go back to the basics of electricity. There are two types of electrical current -- AC, which is used in mains power and the appliances you plug in to run at home, and DC, which is what solar panels collect, and what is stored in batteries. All solar panels and batteries require inverters so that you can use the generated or stored energy without burning your house down.

This is what Enphase specialises in -- it was the first company to produce what was considered to be a successful micro-inverter for solar panels. In a classic system, all the energy from a solar array goes through a single central inverter -- which leads to the common problem with solar panels where poor performance from a single panel can drag the entire system's output down by up to 50 per cent. A micro-inverter sits behind a single panel instead, allowing them to operate far more independently and maximising the output of the entire system.

Enphase has now taken this unique approach and put it into battery storage technology. "Rather than putting it under a photovoltaic module, we're pairing it with another form of DC power -- the battery," says Enphase's director of global product management, Ilen Zazueta-Hall. "We've pioneered such a fundamental change because it means that you can get that same kind of modularity -- rather than a single large battery -- and can size your storage needs to the needs of the home."

To test this new technology, Enphase has recently partnered with SA Power Networks in Australia -- like Tesla, it has taken notice of Australia's enthusiasm for solar technology and renewables. This pilot will test Enphase's whole system approach -- unlike Tesla, they produce offer solar micro-inverters, the battery storage technology and the Envoy system which monitors energy usage in your entire home system. The houses participating in the South Australian pilot have been fitted with the latest in the range, the Envoy-S.

Enphase's microinverters work by sending power over the power line, but they also have the ability to send data over these same power lines. This is how Envoy monitors data from up to 600 micro-inverters in any given system, sending it through to the Enlighten software that Enphase packages with its systems. Below is a screenshot of the MyEnlighten app, showing both solar generation and energy consumption. Orange denotes power consumption, with light orange being solar energy consumed and dark orange being grid energy; while blue shows the amount of solar power generated, where light blue is the amount of solar energy that's been used and dark blue is the excess solar energy.

Ideally, Enphase would recommend installing the solar panels and the Envoy-S before integrating the battery into the system, then being able to use an average of the dark blue figures to work out exactly how much storage they need to invest in. With Enphase's modular battery system, customers can work with 1.2kWh building blocks, combining as many of these as they need to fit their storage needs.

Enphase has estimated that the average user will probably need three or four, but the beauty of the system is that it's inherently future-proofed. Energy needs can change with factors such as a new baby in the house, or the purchase of an electric vehicle, but Enphase users can easily adapt with the addition of another 1.2kWh module. It's worth noting that Tesla's Powerwall also allows stacking of multiple batteries -- but at a minimum of 7kWh each, it lacks the same nuance as Enphase's approach.

The fact that Enphase has factored in an allowance for changing storage needs is one way in which they differentiate themselves from the competition -- especially taking into account the increased adoption of electric vehicles. While this trend is more pronounced in Enphase's home of California over in the States, most of CSIRO and ENA's mapping of Australia's energy future has forecast a rise in electric vehicle ownership. When you look at a MyEnlighten snapshot that includes charging an EV overnight, you can see how storage needs would easily change for an EV owner.

Orison's Tower and Panel

Of course, both Enphase's battery and the Powerwall are going to set you back quite a bit for installation by a professional, but one pioneering battery company has cut out this step altogether. Orison is a company that has just announced two new home batteries -- the Tower and the Panel. Like Tesla, they are designed to fit in with your home décor rather than be hidden, with the former looking like a standing floor lamp and the latter like a wall mounted light. They both effectively function as such as well, having LED lights included as part of the design. The big difference between Orison's designs and Powerwall or Enphase's battery system is that it doesn't need an electrician for installation -- instead it plugs straight into a regular old power outlet.

While the other battery technologies are designed mainly to be used with solar generating homes, Orison works well either way. For houses with solar panels it operates much as you would expect, but if installed in a house running entirely on the grid, it will automatically store power during off-peak times then run off that power while peak rates are in effect. Of course, as with most battery technology, Orison's batteries are going to offer much more of a financial benefit for houses with solar panels installed.

The Tower in particular is more than just a battery -- it also has multiple usb charging ports, as well as a fancy induction charger on the top. It's currently priced at $US1995 for the Tower, whereas the panel will be $US1600. At 2kWh of storage for each battery, Orison's price per kilowatt-hour is about the same as -- or potentially less than -- initial price estimates for Tesla's Powerwall.

With three such different technologies -- each with their own unique features and capabilities -- it's impossible to pick a winner. Instead, there is a different system for each type of consumer -- for those with or without solar panels, for those who are thinking about getting them put in and want to get an entire package or those who want to retrofit an existing solar array. The only surety is that as 2016 approaches we are seeing more and more options open to consumers who are looking into adopting this technology -- and this is just the beginning of the home battery revolution.

Panasonic Tests Solar Battery Storage System In Australia

It may not be as pretty as the Powerwall, but it does the same job. It’s currently undergoing trials, so the full details are not yet available, but we crunched the numbers based on what we know so far.

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    Apparently the economics of the Tesla power wall don't stack up.

      While that's true, the main considerations of the Powerwall for most early adopters will likely be as much environmental as economic.

        and that will hopefully help the economics in future (economies of scale etc).

      Be careful, the economics will be different depending on all sorts of factors, including your state, if you already have a solar system. How large that solar system is, etc, etc.

      Best bet is to understand the maths (it's fairly simple really) and work it out yourself. Or get someone else to work it out for you.

      For me, I have an existing solar system in Perth, generate about 10-13.5 kWh per day which is more than enough to load up a 7 kWh battery system each day. Depending on price, I calculated a buyback of about 10 years, which is fine by me.

        Can you post your numbers? That would be interesting to see.

          Interestingly enough, I just redid the maths on a $10,000 install and came up with ~20 years buy back.

          Not so pretty under those circumstances.

          It does get better if I install two but still not back to the 10 years I originally got (either correctly, or incorrectly).

          As I said I think this just shows that it's worth doing the calculations and determining your individual circumstance prior to committing to installing anything (solar/batteries/etc). Even solar can be a hard sell, economically, without any rebates (mine was installed on the house when I bought it).

      Sometimes it is just about sending a message until the technology matures.

    hmm, its likely that it would be cheaper if you were simply adding the battery to a complete solar package. $10,000 is probably the cost of just installing a powerwall and probably includes an inverter. Also it doesn't take into account any government subsidies, large subsidies still exist for solar panels and I saw an article today that said Adelaide was going to offer subsidies for battery storage too. Also the cost comparison with *current* electricity prices still has the powerwall breaking even, and most predictions for power prices are only in one direction...
    However its equally likely that the cost of these powerwalls is going to plummet too, so waiting a bit is probably wise, but this is why governments will offer subsidies to encourage early adopters (which will lead to the ramp up in production and resulting decline in price, just as with solar)

    Why does there always have to be a third party. Everything here in Australia cost so much because of all the third parties. We should be trying to eliminate third parties to bring the cost down on everything from food to cars. That's the true Australian tax.

      This sounds counter-intuitive to me. Don't 3rd parties drive prices down through competition?

        Okay, I meant middle man and middle men get exclusives so there is no competition.

          Oh. Right. Yeah. Definitely. Australia has a huge middle-man distributor problem in all sorts of things and they are almost exclusively responsible for 'Australia Tax'.

    One thing missing from the Tesla proposal is the inverter. The Panasonic, Sunverge & BYD products that ARE ON THE MARKET have the inverter built in. Geez, you'd think that Tesla had invented the concept of home storage.

    They are masters of hype and vapour. Will be interesting to see what a working system actually looks like. Wall mounting 100kg of battery is not for the faint hearted, and that's why most systems sit on the floor.

    Feed in tarrifs are not dropping, nor have they dropped. It is subsidies that were cut. The value of supplied energy has been fairly consistent around 4c/kwhr for a long time. Feed in only gets higher than this due to government manipulation.

    We over pay per kilowatt hour and under pay for daily connection. This system was similar to how we over pay for phone calls so we don't have to pay for installation.

    As people consume less power, the daily connection fee will go up, as they will still need to cover network costs. While the price for energy will go down.

    It's possible that a few walls and solar and a generator will end up cheaper than even being connected to the grid. Especially for small energy usage house.

      These battery systems can't provide for peak household demand without additional redundant systems (simultaneous use of cooker, toaster, kettle, hairdryer, server/gaming rig etc) They are only rated at 2kW continuous.

      Also tesla apparently say that the 10kWh battery is only designed for 50 cycles per annum.

      A 10kWh/day household will need >7 10kWh units to achieve the predicted useful life, (and allow for off-grid peak consumption), the opportunity cost on that will likely never break even, based on historical inflation and projected power costs, lol..

      For those who /NEED/ such a system, they are already available on the market in Australia, with specs which seem to be better than the power-wall, you can go off-grid today, and not wait for powerwall availability in Australia.

      Last edited 05/11/15 5:47 pm

    The inverter discussion is interesting. As I understand it, the main reason for AC power in the home, is because of the need to transport it over long ranges from the generation point. If we use solar in the home, then we're generating power locally, and I think it might be more efficient to just use DC, as you then cut out the inefficiencies in inversion. But because so many of our devices rely on AC (and then invert it again to DC so the device can actually use it), this would be a problem, until all appliances can be replaced with DC versions.

      Above about 50V DC has problems with arcing, and at that level the current requirements to delivery high wattage are too inefficient, you need too much copper and you lose a lot to heat. If you can stay under 50V and around 100W everything is fine, but since people typically have some appliances that need more than that you need AC anyway so is it worth running dual circuits?

      Yep, all electronic devices operate on DC internally.

      Having a 24V or 48V local DC circuit, with DC-DC conversion would serve many well.

      Replacing plug-packs and internal transformers/switchmode converter with DC-DC units would sort it all out.

    My favourite one of these products which has been around for ages but never seems to get a mention is the Victron ecoMulti. It's about the same price but only 2.3KWh of LiFePO4 (2KW usable daily) which is a better chemistry, but it includes the inverter and charger and a lot of management smarts. Despite the smaller capacity it's probably almost enough, or for an extra ~$3000 you can double the capacity which should be enough and brings it to I imagine about the same price as the Powerwall with the additional inverters and controllers.

    The really great thing about the ecoMulti is that it will also 'island' your solar system in the event of a black/brown out (assuming your using a frequency controlled solar inverter like a Fronius or SMA) and has a generator input so in the event of a blackout or a failure of the powergrid (bushfire in a remote area for example) you can keep using your solar system offgrid and use a generator occasionally to top up the system. It also acts like a massive UPS that covers your entire house.

      Tesla uses LiFePO4 too.

      NB. It is a simple matter to power a house, during extended power outages, using a portable generator, so-long as the House is Isolated from the grid, otherwise you will be energising the whole neighbourhood, while this would be a public service, it may upset the power company (and kill the linesmen if they forget to test the state of their network).

      Last edited 05/11/15 5:52 pm

    Alternative energy sources such as solar have proven their ability to promote a greener living alongside a serving of financial savings. Energy storage innovations have been widely introduced in the market for various households to implement into their current system to assist them in being more environmentally-friendly and cost-efficient while at it.

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