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batteryWhat I love about the solar industry is that it is ever evolving. What I love about my job is trying to keep up with the changes. In the past few months I have invested a fair chunk of time to get my head around batteries. I spent a week studying “Off Grid” solar in Brisbane, a week in Sydney at “Clean Energy Week”, and a few days in Melbourne at Selectronic’s headquarters (Australia’s leading manufacturer of battery inverter chargers.) “Why?” you may ask.

The Revolution

Solar has been a huge success in Australia. Over 1.2 million families now enjoy lower power bills, and black coal power stations are closing down. There is however an ever increasing problem — sunset. Just as we all get home, turn on the TV and start cooking dinner, our solar turns off. This is not only a problem for your electricity bill, it also means as a society we still depend on last century’s coal mines, and we will have to keep “gold plating” the network for a few hours of peak demand. If however, consumers stored the power they generate at lunch-time and use it at dinner-time, we’d move into a new era — the decentralised grid. We are talking change as big as the mobile telephone, revolution as big as the automobile. Are you ready?

Hybrid or Off Grid?

There is an immediate benefactor of the storage revolution. Families who want to buy a block of land that has not been connected to the grid are often up for $50 000 to $100 000 to get poles and wires to their new home. With the rapid improvement in technology, it has now become more economical to set up a complete off grid solar system with battery storage. These customers would be looking at $30 000 to $50 000 to oversize their system to ensure they would have enough power to run their home during a rainy winter week.

However, if like me you live in the suburbs, and you already are connected to the grid, $50 000 plus for power makes no economic sense. What will make sense however in the next few years is a hybrid system. Install a relatively small battery system, and on the odd days that you don’t generate enough power, you can still rely on the grid.

To go hybrid now, you are looking at an additional $15 000 to 30 000. Unless you have regular blackouts, it may not be worth it. But with companies like TESLA investing billions in battery production, and CSIRO’s new “Ultra Battery”, it is expected that hybrid solutions will be viable in a few years’ time. In fact recent modelling suggest that by 2020, the prices of batteries will have come down so low, and the price of power so high, it will be economically viable for households in town to go completely off grid.

Hybrid Ready

While MC Electrical are offering off grid solutions for remote homes, and hybrid solutions to the early adopters, we are only recommending our city-dwellers to get “hybrid ready”. This just means when buying solar today, make sure your inverter is easily able to be retrofitted with batteries. There are a number of brands we are recommending: Selectroics / Kaco and SMA at the top end of town, and Solar MAX as a more economical battery-ready solution.

As if the last 6 years wasn’t big enough! The revolution has just begun.

Mark Cavanagh

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