Solar batteries included

Of all the sustainable technologies available to Australians today, the technology receiving the most attention is energy storage.

And it’s no surprise – solar batteries have the potential to change how Australians use power.

To understand the future of batteries, we spoke to the Energy Storage Lead for AGL Energy, Edward Lynch-Bell.

Where we are now?

Battery storage is already well on the way to becoming a reality for many Australians, with AGL becoming the first energy retailer to announce the launch of their battery storage device in May 2015. Edward says it’s recognition of the opportunity that exists in the Australian market.

“Australia is almost unique in that every home and business has access to plentiful sunshine. Australia also has some of the most efficient solar installers in the world and some of the lowest costs for solar systems, [so it’s] already a no brainer to install solar for many people.

“Storage will allow people to benefit more from their solar systems.”

And local governments are recognising demand by incentivising solar energy storage. In June 2015, the Adelaide City Council added to existing incentives to subsidising up to $5,000 of the cost of energy storage.

For Edward, schemes like these will help recognise the potential for storage in Australia – predicted by Morgan Stanley to reach $24 billion.

“The ability to reach $24 billion is a question of how fast we can achieve significant uptake. Australia is falling behind economies such as Germany and California in terms of energy storage uptake – both these locations have seen the value of energy storage, which allows them to increase the uptake of solar PV and other renewable technologies.

“Because Germany and California value these benefits, they have created a system of incentives and mandates to speed the uptake of storage. If Australia wants to achieve this $24bn quickly, it will have to consider similar steps.”

The benefits of storage

“Batteries essentially give customers the opportunity to use existing infrastructure much more effectively – reducing your reliance on the grid and leading to cost savings over the long term.

“Energy storage is the missing piece of the electricity distribution system,” says Edward.

“With storage, we are able to integrate new [energy] generating technology such as solar into the grid much more effectively. We are empowering families and communities to take control of their own electricity supply, to provide more power for themselves and to share with their neighbours.”

But it’s important to not see batteries as the be-all-and-end-all. Becoming sustainable involves having a holistic solution that works together.

“AGL has a unique position in the battery market – not only can it install solar and batteries, it is also working on electric mobility and smart home solutions. It has the opportunity to provide complete energy solutions for residential and business customers. The closer we integrate these products with the needs of Australian families, the more value they can achieve from all of them.”

The immediate future

“With current levels of investment and interest in renewable energies driving innovation, batteries have never been more cost-effective or reliable”, says Edward.

“I think the number one driver [for uptake in batteries] is going to be cost, and you look at cost in two different ways: the upfront cost and the lifetime cost. So one of the things that we’re seeing is that prices are coming down, and the life of those batteries are extending. If we can spread the costs of storage over the full life of batteries then we can make some very attractive offers to customers.

The distant future

The home will be one of the big beneficiaries of solar storage technology. Much has been made of the connected home from a consumer technology perspective, but Edward believes energy technology is an integral part of the connected home. The connected home is about optimising comfort while delivering convenience and control, as well as integrating new products such as electric vehicles.

“I think there’s a lot of convergence between those kind of things: a connected home, the storage device, the car. It becomes part of the whole energy use case: you have your home, your computer device managing your energy usage, pre-cooling your house. It’s making your house as efficient as possible.

“The longer term prospect is integrating in electric vehicles. It’s not unforeseeable in the future that you would have solar, you would have storage at home, your batteries would charge up during the day and then you’d bring your car home in the evening and you’d be able to fuel your own car in the evening from solar production from the roof.”

Recent developments on the local and international markets mean that solar storage prospects are growing.