There’s been plenty of talk about solar battery storage systems in the past year, but can this technology work with all Aussie households, or will some people be left in the dark?
The advent of battery storage is not exactly new, but the technology is advancing fast and becoming more affordable and attractive. With energy providers now beginning to offer the newest solar storage systems, the next challenge to overcome is making the technology affordable and available to all Australians.
Any battery system can be hooked up to an electricity generator, whether that is an old fashioned petrol powered machine, or something based on renewable energy such as solar panels. Over recent years, solar panels have seen significant improvements in their design. Perhaps more importantly, the price has also dropped to more affordable levels.
How do solar battery systems work?
At present most Australians remain connected to ‘the grid’, relying on non-renewable sources for power. Electricity generated by solar panels is collected in the batteries, and stored for use later when the sun isn’t shining. This ensures that (1) we don’t waste any excess energy generated by our solar panels, and (2) we keep costs down by reducing energy consumption during peak periods. Conceivably, you could utilise these batteries and solar panels to live ‘off the grid’ – not relying on any electricity from a retailer.
How often would I need to replace the battery, and what do I do with old ones?
Modern batteries can reportedly last ten years before needing replacement, though this depends on how often and to what degree the battery is charged and drained.
Tesla is one company who offer an integrated recycling processes for their batteries and are able to reuse most of the components, often for building new batteries, but also for other environmentally friendly applications. Although ongoing costs could be a concern for those thinking of purchasing a solar storage system, it’s worth noting that the technology could have improved in 10 years, so the next battery purchase may last even longer (assuming the amount of energy we consume each day doesn’t increase).
Who can’t get their hands on solar?
There is plenty of competing manufacturers of solar products, and you’ll find that they work well across many house types. However, it’s not guaranteed that you can mix and match specific hardware. For example, The Powerwall from Tesla requires a ‘compatible inverter’.
Owner occupiers have the greatest flexibility in installing solar in their homes, assuming they can afford the initial outlay. However, according to McCrindle research, at least 30% of people in Australia rent, and only some of them are looking to buy in the near future. A growing number of people choose to rent for the flexibility it allows them with work and travel opportunities. For renters, the chance to install renewable on-site electricity generation is extremely limited.
Will the government help those who can’t afford solar?
As far as paying for solar systems and batteries, some form of government rebate may become available one day to encourage people to move towards renewable electricity generation.
Energy retailers are starting to get on board with the solar movement, offering installations of solar systems and various schemes.
But what about savings that households can enjoy right now? Aussies are currently able to sell any excess energy they generate that gets fed into the local ‘grid’. As of February 2016, the rates paid (which vary from state to state) ranged from 5.1 to 12 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) generated (including GST), according to Energy Matters. On top of this, some solar retailers offer additional money for what you feed into the grid.
Could solar keep getting cheaper?
As solar technology improves, it may become cheap enough to attract customers without any rebates.
Prices in Australia vary by state, and of course by the size of the solar system. Average prices for the whole of Australia show that a 1.5kW system is around $3,675 but a 10kW system averages at $15,689. The relative price per KWh decreases as the system size increases. Historical data shows that smaller systems have seen prices fluctuate over time, but the larger systems have seen steady decreases over the last 2 years.
What about people who live in high-rises and units?
Solar electricity generation will always rely on having a relatively large surface area on which to mount photovoltaic panels to catch the sun. This works well for free-standing dwellings and townhouses, but in high density housing such as high rise units, solar is less effective as a means of providing electricity to everyone simply due to the lack of available surface area.
It’s likely that those living in high density dwellings will use less power than the standard Australian home. Shared walls, and smaller living spaces keep heating costs down, so the provision for solar for each apartment is likely to be much less than the average of 16kWh per day. If you’d like to find out more about installing solar in an apartment, this article from smartblocks.com.au is a good place to go for more information.
What’s happening around Australia?
In Western Australia, it’s estimated that half of the houses in Perth will have solar panels on their roofs in the next five years. The solar capacity is currently less than a tenth of the total generating capacity of the state at 500 MW, but this is increasing all the time.
In South Australia, the lower population and demand on electricity has led to predictions it could provide 100% of the daytime electricity supply for the state by 2023 (at least for low demand days). While the actual generating capacity is lower than for other states, the lower usage makes such a prediction not only possible, but likely. With battery storage becoming cheaper, this may lead to reduced demand even outside of prime daylight hours in the future as more buildings have solar panels installed.
New South Wales and Victoria are the next biggest solar generators after Queensland, but there is still clearly room for expansion in all states for solar generating capacity. Tasmania already has a large proportion of its electricity generated by hydroelectricity, solar uptake is less of an issue. It doesn’t mean it won’t in the future though!
Australia is a prime candidate to use solar energy as a major contributor to electricity production, as the cost of electricity is already relatively high compared to other parts of the world, and we are indeed a ‘sun kissed’ country. The introduction of cheaper battery storage systems combined with falling prices for photovoltaic panels could mean the dawn of a new era, one in which we no longer need to rely so heavily on our electricity grid.