Solar Energy Battery Storage Is Coming: What you need to know

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For years, using batteries to store solar-generated electricity has been a distant dream.  Now it's moved a step closer to being a part of the typical Australian home.

The arrival of affordable solar energy storage is a game changer.

It allows home owners to store electricity in cheaper off-peak periods and then use it during expensive evening periods when grid power costs rise.

Solar energy storage beats this problem.

But as with all new technology, there are often more questions than answers before the product is proven in the marketplace.

Below, we've addressed seven common questions about the solar energy storage revolution.

When will energy storage systems be available in Australia?

They are available right now from many different manufacturers and suppliers. Until recently, these were primarily custom designed, making them expensive and did not make economic sense for most households.

However over the past few years many large corporations have been investing billions of dollars in developing a mass produced battery that will dramatically reduce the cost of these energy storage systems.

AGL are currently offering the AU Optronics battery solution for their solar customers, and there are many other solar retailers who offer similar energy storage products. These systems are suitable for most households with solar systems, although right now they are still only financially suitable for a relatively small proportion of households.

Tesla, the American electric car manufacturer, has launched a lithium-ion battery called the Powerwall that is expected to be available in Australia from 2016.

Orders are already being taken, and Australia is expected to be one of the Powerwall's biggest markets due to the high take-up of residential solar energy systems.

Mercedes-Benz / Daimler AG announced last month that it would be sell its own personal power packs for domestic or small business use by the end of 2015. There's no word yet as to whether it will target the Australian market.

Over the past two years alone energy storage costs have more than halved, with expectations that they will halve again over the next two years.

As with all new technology, the speed of take up will be depend on the cost effectiveness of the product and its early success rate.

How much will they cost?

Tesla's basic 7kWh model sells for about $5,500.

The final cost of having an energy storage system installed and completely set up in Australia will likely be between $7,000 and $10,000. This would be sufficient for a typical low-moderate energy usage household.

Tesla is only one of several large companies that are offering well-engineered, mass-produced, customer-focussed storage solutions.

Where do solar monitoring systems fit in?

A monitoring system is a no brainer for anybody planning to have an energy storage system installed.

Firstly, home owners need to ensure that they have the correct amount of solar panels in order to provide sufficient energy, and that they are working correctly.

A Solar Analytics active monitoring system can then be used to determine the optimum size energy storage system, the approximate cost, and financial return on the system at a particular address.

This can only be done with accurate monitoring like Solar Analytics that measures the household energy usage and solar energy generation.

An energy storage system battery systems is an expensive purchase, so it's critical home owners are equipped with the correct energy data before they go ahead and select the size of the battery system to be installed.

A Solar Analytics system can also uncover real time data on precisely how much solar energy you are using compared to electricity from the grid and report any faults immediately.

How much room will the batteries take up and are they safe?

Previous home batteries on the market have been of a custom design, and typically bulky and expensive to maintain.

However Tesla's new design moves away from an industrial look, and is modelled on its proven automotive battery technology.

Tesla claims the batteries are totally safe and require virtually no maintenance. 

Can Australian houses be totally independent from the grid?

The Powerwall comes in 10 kWh weekly cycle and 7 kWh daily cycle models. Both are guaranteed for 10 years and are meant to be sufficient to power most homes during peak evening hours.

But the reality is that most homes cannot be 100 per cent independent from the grid. Instead, a hybrid energy system will be the common solution.

The ratio of grid to solar energy use will depend on each home's energy use, and the solar monitoring systems they have installed.

At a greater expense, multiple batteries may be installed together for homes with greater energy need, up to 90 kWh total for the 10 kWh battery and 63 kWh total for the 7 kWh battery.

How will Australia's energy companies react?

Some of Australia's biggest power companies are already scrambling to catch up.

In Townsville, Ergon Energy has already begun trials of solar battery combinations with 10 of its customers, and has begun rolling out a program of localised grids powered with major battery units into 12 remote communities across Northern Queensland.

Ergon Energy's Glenn Waldon predicts Australian power companies will soon offer package bundles similar to those offered by mobile phone companies.

"Instead of just buying kilowatt hours, you'll be getting different product wraps and mixes — so capped price options, somewhat like telco or offerings for mobile phone plans," Mr Waldon told the ABC.

Are they worth it?

Solar Analytics Co-Founder and Managing Director Stefan Jarnason:

"Tesla is a large company with ample resources and plenty of clever staff.  They are working on technology that is not complicated, so we'd expect the product to be a success."

"It will take 12 months or longer for the Powerwall to be tested in the market.  But overall we expect it to be a reliable product that many Australian can benefit from.

"Importantly, Tesla is just one of many large companies that are targeting this market worldwide. The question is no longer will energy storage become commonplace throughout Australia, but just how quickly will this revolution take place."  

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