To channel Australia’s new, innovation-aware and environmentally literate Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull, there’s never been a more exciting time to be in the solar business. Nor to be an Australian solar sector scale-up business, like Solar Analytics, riding the wave of distributed renewable energy technologies and their intersection with information and communications technologies.
While 2015 has been an eventful year, with both negative and positive highlights, 2016 is promising to be a huge one for distributed clean energy as rooftop solar panels are joined by onsite battery storage.
Uptake of small-scale storage for homes and small businesses is likely to start with a trickle, but it will become a flood in the years ahead as prices fall and consumer familiarity rises.
Our Solar Analytics team has been analyzing storage financial viability, based on actual solar system performance and whole of home energy consumption, and you can see the results in a separate post here: Site Specific Battery Simulation Model. Basically if you want to know the optimal battery size and how it will change your energy bill, then you need our monitoring so we can use you real time energy usage and solar generation to provide your site specific insights.
Recently I joined a panel of innovators, enablers and entrepreneurs brought together at Australia’s intellectual home of solar photovoltaic research, the University of NSW, by the Australian Photovoltaic Institute (my Solar Analytics co-founder and our Commercial Director Dr. Renate Egan is also Chair of the APVI).
The headline international panel speakers, interspersed with prominent Australian-based counterparts, included my former boss Dr Zhengrong Shi, the UNSW alumnus who founded Suntech in China; former Greenpeace activist Danny Kennedy, a co-founder of high-profile US-based solar group Sungevity; and Dr. Greg Wilson, director of the National Center for Photovoltaics at the US Department of Energy’s National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL).
It was a revealing session. One biting critique of the solar industry that I’ve worked in for nearly two decades was that we are very good at talking to ourselves about how well we’ve done, and how compelling our technologies are, but less good at communicating this to important stakeholders on the outside, especially traditional financiers.
We also had a good laugh (and cry) about subsidies and government funding over the years. All we ask for is stable policy, and a quick yes or no for funding grant applications. Sadly we have had continued uncertainty with rapid policy upheaval every few months for the past decade. And ludicrously lengthy grant review processes. Just tell us No and let us get on with building the renewable energy revolution! Or better yet Yes, and help us accelerate this change.
This plea was roundly approved by all present, including fellow solar start-up founder Chris McGrath from 5B who was also on the panel.
The good news is that all this is changing now. As I told the gathering, since Solar Analytics began in 2011 there hasn’t been more than a two-month-long period when I haven’t been out seeking to raise more capital to establish and grow our solar monitoring business. Yet grown we have! We now have 17 staff and over 3000 customers nationwide.
One of the main questions the panelists wrestled with was the often expressed fear that Australia has missed the boat on the solar boom, having allowed technologies developed here to be taken overseas and be manufactured in foreign factories, only to be sold back to Australians.
My view is that we don’t need to make PV panels and enabling equipment like inverters here in Australia to benefit greatly from the solar energy ecosystem. Manufacturing is a minority portion of the value chain, with over 70% of the jobs and revenue captured in the designing, selling, installing, monitoring and maintaining, and financing solar systems.
Zhengrong Shi highlighted that the industrial tooling capabilities required to make panels were limited to a small number of countries, most notably Germany, Japan and increasingly China. NREL’s Greg Wilson noted that overseas solar manufacturers including in the US had lost billions of dollars along the way, a cost Australia had avoided. Danny Kennedy, now head of CALcef in California, says the greatest global opportunity for Australian solar solutions ingenuity lies to our north in Asia.
The clear consensus was that Australia hasn’t missed its only opportunity in solar at all. That’s because the real and greatest opportunities are still ahead of us, for solar value chain solutions perfected here and then taken out to the world. There was a good article on storage in the Sydney Morning Herald today that highlighted how this will benefit homeowners.
We look forward to working with our industry colleagues to grab this opportunity with both hands and contribute in a big way to our more sustainable future.