With electricity prices on the rise and an uncertain future ahead for Australian electricity, it's not surprising that more and more Aussies are looking at the option of home batteries. What is surprising is just how fast the market is progressing -- batteries are rapidly coming down in price and the numbers suggest they aren't just for early adopters anymore.
Before the Tesla Powerwall burst onto the scene less than two years ago, batteries were seldom considered an option for houses with solar panels, unless they were remote or off-grid. Powerwall installer Natural Solar says that only 2-3 per cent of customers even asked about batteries prior to 2015. "Since adding Tesla Powerwall to our energy storage range, the volume of consumer enquiries for battery power and Tesla Powerwall specifically has grown to more than 95% of customers," explained Natural Solar CEO Chris Williams.
Even the difference between the first, somewhat experimental Powerwall and Tesla's newer, bigger, better Powerwall 2 is clear. Williams sums it up quite succinctly when he says that the original Powerwall buyers were the early adopters, while their experiences have helped the Powerwall 2 hit the mainstream. "This is exciting," Williams said, "as it represents the typical Australian household and consumer, who are making educated decisions based on financials and are trying to offset the skyrocketing electricity bills expected to increase by 20 per cent in the coming weeks."
While the Tesla brand has something to do with it, there are other reasons Australians have become so interested in powering their homes via batteries. Australian energy retailers recently announced an impending increase on the price consumers pay for electricity -- in some places astronomically. On July 1, South Australia will overtake Denmark in having the world's most expensive electricity. With some new Powerwall 2 customers expecting their power bills to come down to almost nothing, it's not surprising to see more and more people looking to make that leap.
Melbourne's first Powerwall 2 has been installed at a three-bedroom, one storey house in Coburg. Brendan Fahey and his wife Josephine added Tesla's shiny new battery to their home to complement their existing solar panels, after Brendan calculated that the Powerwall 2 could take his energy bill down almost to zero.
South Australians in particular have even more motivation to install batteries, in the wake of the state-wide power failures that happened last year. Demand in South Australia has increased by 300 per cent compared to the rest of Australia with 98.5 per cent of those wanting a power back-up in case of further instability. It's not just households either -- commercial enquiries for Natural Solar have seen an 800 per cent increase, with businesses wanting the option to keep their doors open and their lights on even when the grid is down.
Queenslanders are seeing similar interest, though up north it's events like Cyclone Debbie that are making residents look to batteries as an option. "Following an incident such as this, typically residents are looking for a full backup power solution as well for extra security and further independence from the grid," Williams explained.
Over the weekend, Tesla's energy division introduced the world to a new solar roof that it's been working on, alongside a brand new version of the Powerwall home battery storage system that holds twice as much juice. While each on its own is very cool, putting the two together might mean big things for homeowners in sunny Australia.
With over 31 per cent of Queensland dwellings having solar panels installed, it's not surprising the market for batteries is also huge there -- in fact, Queensland leads Australia in the number of people looking to retrofit their panels with a battery. "This is likely due to the rapid uptake of rooftop solar towards the end of the generous bonus feed-in-tariff period," Williams said. "The abundance of sunlight hours and a strong adoption of rooftop solar makes Queensland a strong market for storage solutions and battery power." Interestingly, Queenslanders also tend to look for larger solar systems than their southern counterparts, averaging 5.9kW against the national average of only 5.4kW.
Neither South Australia nor Queensland are the largest market for batteries, however. That title goes to New South Wales, who can also claim to be the innovators and early adopters when it comes to batteries -- 53 per cent of Australian households with batteries currently installed are in New South Wales.
These numbers only account for Natural Solar customers, of course, and don't even take into account the different installers offering Powerwall batteries and batteries from other manufacturers, from the cheap Aussie-made Ampetus Super Lithium to the modular option from US-based Enphase. Still, it's interesting to see how dramatically Australians have embraced this new technology, how invested we are in wresting back some independence over our household electricity.
$2,110.46 - that's how much the Pfitzner family says they have saved in power bills since installing a Tesla Powerwall 12 months ago, with the yearly bill for 2016 coming in at $178.71. The Sydney residents, who were the first in the world to install a Powerwall on their home, claim to now pay just 50 cents a day for electricity.
Natural Solar's Chris Williams sees it as just the first step towards an inevitable future. "Mass adoption of residential and commercial batteries is already underway and considered to be the new 'norm'," he said. "Rarely do our customers at Natural Solar enquire for just solar anymore, and battery power is the new market must have. Smart batteries, grid integration and community grids are easily the next step in Australia for renewables."
It's not just batteries people are looking for either: "The home of the future is fast becoming a reality, as customers are now commonly requesting items such as electric vehicle (EV) chargers with the intent of purchasing an electric vehicle in the future. Home automation is also a top priority, with people looking at smart, full integrated appliances with smart algorithms determining how best to manage the load, when to run appliances and how to take full value of storage solutions and power from the grid."
One thing is for sure -- Australians are no longer happy just to sit back and pay whatever is on the electricity bill when it comes in each month, or wait out a blackout when they roll around. Now we're taking matters into our own hands -- and batteries are helping.