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Australia: The New Solar Frontier

Australia is uniquely positioned to play a leading role in the next decade of distributed generation and battery technology.

“It might also surprise you to know that nearly 15% of Australian households have solar panels on their roofs. That’s the highest number of solar panels on people’s roofs per capita anywhere in the world. – Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg, speaking on Q&A on March 22, 2106.”

U.S. utility companies should pay close attention to the exploding energy storage market “down under.” While much of the world has been succumbing to the large scale “central station” solar model,  Australia has quietly become the world’s leader in indie solar. When fact-checking Minister Frydenberg’s impressive claim that 15% of Australian households are taking part in the rooftop and residential revolution, it turns out that the current numbers are even more impressive– closer to 16.5%!


Because of generous incentives and strong feed-in tariffs, indie solar has indeed boomed down under. Unfortunately for that huge number of early adopters, regional feed-in tariffs are being slashed across the country, leading to a gold rush of activity in the battery storage space. Tesla has rolled out its Powerwall in Australia first, with a number of strong competitors hot on Tesla’s heels.

The latest player onto the field is Brisbane-based Redflow.  The company has developed the ZCell battery, designed to store 10kWh of electricity — enough to keep most homes running for several days.  Unlike Tesla and others, the new battery does not use lithium. According to Redflow, the ZCell is more recyclable than its competitors.

“The active parts are plastic, aluminium and steel, the fluid electrolyte can be removed and cleaned and put in the next battery so the whole thing is very recyclable,” executive chairman Simon Hackett told Australian Broadcasting. This is going to be a big deal as massive lithium-based battery systems gain popularity. It is easy to be sceptical of Redflow’s claims, but they certainly are looking one step beyond the competition, which is going to be essential in the Lithium-starved market.

Other competitors in the Australian battery boom include Sonnen, LG and Enphase. Even the Australian utility companies are starting to see the writing on the wall. Sydney-based electricity provider AGL Energy, for example, has adopted an ‘if you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em’ approach and is offering its own residential storage kits after investing $20m in Sunverge last month.

Meanwhile back here at home, with American utilities continuing their anti-indie push against net metering, battery storage deployment is picking up in the U.S. as well. As of the third quarter of 2015, 108 MW (94 MWh) of energy storage was deployed in 2015, compared with 38 MW (65 MWh) installed during the same period in 2014, according to a new report from GTM Research. Only time will tell if– or more precisely when– we will see U.S. utilities try to break into the storage market.


Meanwhile, back in Australia, the gold rush is on. A country once criticized for its lack of solar implementation is now the new frontier for the solar industry.  South Australia and Queensland, where retail rates are particularly high and feed-in tariff cuts are hurting indie solar owners, are leading the world in uptake of solar battery storage. According to a recent GTM report entitled     “The Australian Energy Storage Market: Downstream Drivers and Opportunities,” analyst Brett Simon predicts that:

“Australia’s energy storage market is poised for massive growth. As battery prices continue their rapid decline, storage will become more attractive to end customers, especially in the residential sector. This presents an opportunity for a large addressable market for storage system vendors and developers. GTM Research anticipates Australia’s energy storage market will reach 244 megawatts of annual installed capacity by 2020.”

It would appear that where Australia leads, the world will follow, at least when looking at the solar battery storage market in the next several years. Look for new marketing schemes to come online just as fast as new battery technologies as Australian Utility providers scramble to make sense of the disruptive new model for electricity production. AND… look for U.S. utilities to keep a close, VERY close eye on what is happening down under.

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