SolarPower

Solar power: Homes of the future

There has been much chatter about solar-powered energy of late and for good reason too. With the cost of electricity climbing, is there another method to combat the rising prices of keeping our homes powered? There just might be. Enter the solar battery. Late last year, South Australia experienced severe weather that damaged a number of transmission towers, causing a state-wide blackout that resulted in most homes experiencing darkness and loss of appliances. Industry stalwart Tesla, however, had an antidote to this consequence of nature’s wrath. Those who had installed a Powerwall with backup capabilities were the recipients of provided stored power, enabling the use of lights and appliances while their neighbours were left in darkness.

In the 24 hours after the outage, news.com.au reported there was a 228 per cent increase in inquiries from South Australian customers wanting to know more about battery power, with their locations directly correlating to more severely storm-affected areas. Natural Solar managing director Chris Williams said that this trend has swept across the country with a 148 per cent increase in inquiries nationally.

What is a solar battery?
Essentially it is a rechargeable battery with a solar cell that has battery power storage capabilities. They are used especially in stand-alone systems for storage of energy produced by solar panels and batteries.

How does it work?
The typical solar energy system includes solar panels, an inverter, equipment to mount the panels on your roof, and a performance monitoring system that tracks electricity production. The solar panels collect energy from the sun and turn it into electricity, which is passed through the inverter and converted into a form that you can use to power your home. The vast majority of residential solar energy systems are connected to the electricity grid (or “grid-tied”). When your panels are producing more electricity than your home needs, the excess is fed back into the power grid, or stored for use later. On the flip side, when your home needs more electricity than your solar panels are producing, you can draw power from the electric grid. In most cases, you receive a credit on your utility bill for the electricity you send back to the grid. Later, when you are using more electricity than your solar panels have generated, you can use those credits instead of having to pay more for your electricity use. This process is known as net metering.

Why it is useful?
Solar batteries work by converting the energy produced by your solar system and storing it as power for later use. In some cases, solar batteries have their own inverter and offer integrated energy conversion. The higher your battery’s capacity, the larger the solar system it can supply. When you install a solar battery as part of your solar panel system, you can store excess solar electricity at your home instead of sending it back to the grid. If your solar panels are producing more electricity than you need, the excess energy goes towards charging the battery. Later, when your solar panels aren’t producing electricity, you can draw the energy stored earlier in your battery for night use. You’ll only send electricity back to the grid when your battery is fully charged, and you’ll only draw electricity from the grid when your battery is depleted.

Is it worth the price tag?
The million-dollar question. The cost of batteries starts around $2000 for entry-level units while larger batteries cost around the $11,000 mark. Because battery systems need to be accurately sized up to match each home’s requirements, getting a professional’s viewpoint is key. The time that it takes for the system to pay itself off based on potential electricity bill savings is known as the payback period. This can vary depending on which state you are living in, how expensive the electricity is and what kind of system you get. Prices could also vary dramatically depending on whether you decide to install a battery to store power for later use. This is because batteries can cost double or even triple the price of getting solar panels installed. Without storage, payback will commonly take about five years, but if you get battery storage installed, this can extend the payback period to about 10 years, depending on which state you live in.

The exact amount you will save will depend on how much electricity you use, what time of day you use electricity, how big your solar system is, whether your house is shaded or receives direct sunlight, what orientation your roof is, whether you get a battery installed, and if you opt to install intelligence software to maximise your savings. “With the 5.4kW PV system including the 14kWh Tesla Powerwall 2 (in Arden Homes), the estimated annual savings for a typical family is $2103. Additionally, the energy-usage monitoring system gives the homeowner the ability to see, track and control their solar consumption, energy production and energy use at any time during the day or night,” Arden Homes director Dean Morrison said. “Visibility of usage enables homeowners to further minimise power costs by load shifting their usage as required.”

On the whole, it is a great investment. Think about it – you spend a portion of money to begin with, but the savings you make over the course of several years on your power bills will override that initial cost. Plus, you will also get to sleep soundly at night, knowing that you’re playing an important role in helping to keep the environment clean, while creating a sustainable future.

A look into the future
Many Australians with solar on their roofs can help revolutionise the electricity system for the better. As the powers-that-be brainstorm the best tactics to overcome the increasing power prices, batteries have popped up as a potential solution. Some companies can also help combat high prices when a spike occurs in the grid. According to getlifestyle.com.au, energy software company Reposit’s co-founder Lachlan Blackhall believes homes with solar batteries can pump clean energy into the electricity grid when demand for power is high. “Households buy batteries to help them get solar into their homes during the evening. With Reposit, these same batteries can also step in when a price spike occurs in the grid. Because these batteries are doing two jobs at once, it is far cheaper than single-purpose containerised batteries,” Blackhall said.

Home owners too have warmed to the idea of a more sustainable and affordable future. “Solar-powered homes have been incredibly well received and clients have sought us out because of the system. New customers are amazed by the fact that it’s a standard inclusion, and many of our existing customers whose homes were already under construction when we introduced the initiative have asked for the system to be retro-fitted,” Morrison said. “Home owner expectations are changing – customers want better performing homes that are comfortable, beautiful and efficient. We know that through intelligent home design solutions, we can maximise a home’s performance. “A recent report by consumer group, One Big Switch, revealed that Victorian home owners have experienced energy price hikes of more than 120 per cent in the past decade. With rising energy bills, it’s no wonder that home owners are looking for ways to gain more control of their energy management and live a lower impact life. “We’re seeing first hand the impact of rising energy prices on Victorian home owners and many feel they are already at the limit of their spending so a home that includes solar with battery storage options, allowing them to dramatically reduce their need for grid electricity consumption, has proven to be a very attractive prospect for our customers.”

Similarly, Metricon has announced that it will offer rooftop solar and storage as an optional extra in a range of its new-build homes in Queensland, via a new partnership with Tesla battery reseller CSR Bradford. The initiative is in line with Metricon’s vision of solar and battery storage being included as a standard feature in all newly built houses in Australia. Where Tesla and others have solved the problem of battery storage issues, Reposit Power also has the distinct advantage of being the only Australian company to have software that allows consumers to control the solar energy being stored in the batteries.

Afr.com.au revealed that Reposit’s technology helps to decide on behalf of households throughout the day whether to store energy in a battery or sell it back to the grid at a profit, enabling households to take control of their energy bills and directly participate in energy markets as a buyer and seller of electricity. Consumer control in action, you say? Why, yes. As the number of solar batteries steadily grows across Australia, power outages will not only be easily overcome by individuals but could possibly stretch across communities. The more home battery storage units there are, the higher the likelihood of them being utilised as a micro-grid to also cover those without battery storage.

Now doesn’t that sound like a sustainable future?

Words: Manveen Maan

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