When Tesla's Powerwall battery energy storage system was first announced, solar-friendly Australians went mad for it. A relatively cheap integrated system that could hook up to the grid and to rooftop solar panels, the Powerwall is one of the first widely-available technologies that could reduce users' reliance on energy delivered via the national electricity grid. And now, one of the first Powerwall batteries to be installed in Australia is already bolted to the outside wall of a home in western Sydney.
Image credit: Hugo Sharp Photography
Australia is the first country in the world to have Powerwall batteries installed and delivered, and companies like Natural Solar and Origin Energy are receiving and installing their first shipments into homes and businesses around Australia. New South Wales is first, but other states and territories have their first installations scheduled from the start of next week onwards.
Nick Pfitzner, an IT manager and systems developer, is one of the first Australians to have a Powerwall battery installed in his house. He's followed battery storage technology for some time, and is a Tesla fan, although he hasn't pulled the trigger on a Model S just yet. "Natural Solar were the first company listed as a Tesla partner when Powerwall was finally available to the market, in December 2015.
"I've been watching Tesla since the Roadster was first released, as I work in IT and was quite a fan of Elon Musk in general. When it was announced last year that they were moving into household energy storage, it was not really surprising given the leaps they'd made in the electric vehicle areas. I jumped onto the official Tesla reservation list (twice I think) but was eager to see when the certification process would finally pass here."
The Pfitzner household is the archetypal nuclear family — Nick and his wife have a boy and a girl, both in primary school. Their house in Sydney's western suburbs is on the larger side and has the potential to consume a lot of electricity, although it has efficient lighting and timed circuits to cut down on standby energy consumption.
"We have what you'd consider a large home for this part of Sydney, with four bedrooms, a study, double garage, and ducted air conditioner. Throw in a pool to operate and the temperatures out this way, and we are at the higher end of electricity consumption. Unfortunately there's no electric car — though it is on the radar with the Tesla Model 3.
"That said, I've taken measures to limit the amount of waste by putting in LED lights wherever possible, and other initiatives like digital timers on certain devices e.g. A/V equipment. We use our dryer rarely, preferring clothes lines in the back yard, or airing the clothes inside during particularly wet or stormy weather."
Natural Solar was the first Tesla Powerwall installer certified to sell the units in Australia, and bundles its own system — solar panels and third-party hybrid inverters from SolarEdge — with a 5kWp (kilowatt-peak) Powerwall home battery. The entire system costs in the region of $15,000, and allows a household to significantly reduce its imprint on the larger Australian electricity grid — an especially efficient household could subsist on solar panels and Powerwall alone.
A Powerwall and solar installation will not pay for itself quickly, and in an area with low per-kilowatt rates for grid electricity it may not be cheaper than staying connected to the grid and avoiding a solar installation altogether. But for early adopters and those wanting to reduce their impact on the environment through centralised energy sources — many of which in Australia are coal or gas-fired power plants — the Powerwall is seen as a pivotal device for electricity independence.
Pfitzner said his experience with Natural Solar has been positive, and the company itself is a big proponent of the Powerwall. "After the initial discussions in December, and a hectic Christmas period for everyone, I put down the deposit on my 5kW system with Powerwall on 5th January. Its only just gone three weeks later and now it's in. I first logged my interest with Natural Solar in December of 2015, and Oliver returned my call. I could tell right away that this wasn't a sales pitch — these guys knew what they were doing from the front office right through.
"When Oliver sent me through the quote for the system and I saw his qualifications in engineering I knew I'd made the right decision. Every step of the way since, they've been open, honest, and always taken the time to explain things or just have a chat about where the industry is going — and the excitement around Tesla Powerwall in particular." While Pfitzner is its first customer, the installer says it has had widespread interest and has more installations booked.
Natural Solar boss Chris Williams told Gizmodo that the company was planning on a big year in 2016, both for Powerwall and solar installations more generally. "We've been planning for this for some time, and see this as a pivotal moment in the renewable industry moving forward. The versatility of the solutions we offer at Natural Solar allow multiple applications and our engineers are well-equipped to deliver fully customised solutions to meet the needs of each and every customer in Australia.
"2016 will prove to be a defining moment in the movement towards battery energy storage, both residentially and commercially." [Natural Solar]