Fire sparks concerns over lack of standards on battery storage

By Giles Parkinson on 18 March 2016


Images of an “exploded” lithium-ion battery storage device in a household garage in Victoria have been doing the rounds of social media, highlighting the risks and the lack of formal standards in a technology that is expected to be at the heart of a booming billion dollar industry in Australia.


It is estimated that 50,000 battery storage systems could be installed in Australia over the next 12 months, and more than a million within a decade. Some suggest more than two million homes could have battery storage in a relatively short time.

It is hailed as the continuation of an energy revolution that will shift the onus on power supply from large centralised generators to the home and business. The CSIRO and leading utilities such as Engie predict half of all generation will come from local distributed sources, and battery storage will play a key role.

Australia is seen to be at the cutting edge of this revolution. Even the Coalition government appears to be on board. But the stark fact is that there are no official standards setting the rules and guidelines for new battery storage chemistries such as lithium ion in Australia, and there may not be for another three to five years.

This is raising concerns among installers and industry leaders about the potential fall-out if real damage is done, particularly if consumers aim for the “cheap” end of the market, as many did with rooftop solar.


The images above first appeared on the social media website Whirlpool, where there are a range of theories as to what may have happened. The fire appears to have been contained and there are no reports of any injuries.

This incident occurred with a system produced by Growatt, a manufacturer considered to be at the “premium” end of the Chinese market. It has sent out a team from China to investigate the incident. RenewEconomy sought to contact the team but was not successful.

These photos were taken from an installation in Victoria. It is not known what caused the “explosion”, although it is assumed to be a case of “thermal runaway.” It is not known whether it is an installation fault or a problem with the system, or some third party factors.

The hope is that this a one-off. The fear is that the lack of standards means it may not be. The nature of battery storage systems and the energy and the chemicals that they embody potentially make them the most dangerous electronic item to be put in a home, as AGL’s head of new energy Marc England pointed out last year.

John Grimes, the CEO of the Energy Storage Council, says there are Australian standards in place for lead acid battery storage technologies (although these are 20 years old and need to be updated) but there are no standards for new chemistries such as lithium-ion.

The ESC is about to release a package of “best practice” guidelines for battery storage products, installations and maintenance that it hopes will act as an interim standard for battery storage developers and installers, and as a guide to consumers.

It is also about to produce a “white list” of  products to ensure that hybrid systems are inherently safe. This is being done with the help of international standards consultants DNV, via their energy storage testing laboratory in the US.

“The fact that there is no standard means there is the opportunity for shysters and carpet baggers to go out and put something in the market place,” Grimes said. “That is something that frightens us – we want and need good outcomes for consumers and the public right from day one.

“We don’t want to scare the public and say that there is a huge risk. Wree do want to make su that people make an informed decision. The number of systems out there is small – but it will grow exponentially.

“We need to ensure the safety of installers, customers and their families, and first responders in the event of an emergency, including fire.”

The Clean Energy Council says it, too, is working on developing battery product standards and introducing training for installers.

“We are excited by the possibilities presented by battery storage technology are exciting, but the protection of consumers needs to remain the industry’s highest priority,” a spokesman said in an emailed statement.

“We have talked to a range of policymakers about this issue to highlight the need for regulation that will keep low-quality products out of the country and make sure that those installing battery technology are highly skilled professionals.”

Mark Hickey, an installer with NSW-based Light Touch Solar & Electrical, agrees that the lack of standards and controls over the actions of a few is a major concern.

While there were approval processes for solar panels – just recently updated to make them an ongoing and “random” search rather than a once off – and for inverters, there were none for battery storage. And there were no restrictions on the people who could install battery storage devices.

“Some people are out to make a quick buck and it’s more common than I’d like to think,” Hickey says. “Some of these smaller players will damage the industry for the rest of us who are trying to do good work.”

Hickey says this could prompt an overreaction from the government and incumbent utilities, with unjustified and costly restrictions put on the industry. “I’m very excited about battery storage, but I do have concerns about a few minority installers and the damage they can do the industry.”

Indeed, the overwhelming message from the solar and battery storage industry is that – like most industries – you get what you pay for. The fear is that Australian households – having gravitated, particularly in the early years, to the “cheap” end of the solar market – may do the same with battery storage.

Jeff Wehl, from Ecoelectric, an installer of rooftop solar and hybrid battery storage systems in Queensland, is one of those who says he fears many Australian consumers will fall into the same trap as they did with rooftop solar, buying cheaper and lower quality products in a bid to save money.

He said expectations of cheap batteries had been inflated by the promises of Tesla in delivering devices at around $A4,000 (after exchange rates). But this did not include inverters, other technology and installation. That led to expectations of low costs and a search for cheaper products.

Wehl recounts one recent product demonstration for installers by another battery storage brand that finished badly when the device “made a loud bang” as the capacitor blew.

“There were about 10 contractors in the room and we all had the same thought – we are not buying this for at least another 12 months. It seems that everyone is racing their products to the market, but some are not ready.”

Glen Morris, the chief technical expert on the ESC, is working with Standards Australia on developing a new standard – AS/NZS5139 – for new battery storage chemistries.

But he says it is a long process, particularly given that many of the people working on developing new standards work on a “voluntary capacity.”

He is in favour of a system adopted in Germany, known as KIT, which gives a weighting system on battery storage products. Any product below a given weighting cannot be installed.

“Anyone can sell a battery storage system in Australia,” Morris says. At the moment, the onus falls on the manufacturer providing safety guidance on they technology. He recommends consumers ask for a safety data sheet (SDS), but he says that few manufacturers provide them.

“I wouldn’t be putting chemistries inside a building until I knew it was inherently safe,” he says.

Posted on March 21, 2016 .

Tesla says strong demand for Powerwall battery storage unit in Australia

From Renew Economy : By Giles Parkinson on 5 November 2015

Electric vehicle and battery storage developer Tesla Motors says it is receiving “very strong” demand for its new battery storage products in Australia, which are due to be rolled out in the next month or two.

In its latest quarterly update, the company said it will accelerate its battery cell production at its new “gigafactory” – a battery storage manufacturing plant in Nevada – and says it does not expect to be beaten on price.

Australia has been chosen as one of the first countries for the Tesla Energy “Powerwall” product, a 7kWh lithium-ion battery storage system, because of its excellent solar resources, high electricity prices, and the tariff structure for consumers.

“We are seeing very strong demand for Tesla Energy products globally, and particularly in Australia, Germany and South Africa,” founder and CEO Elon Musk said.

“To respond to these opportunities, we are growing our worldwide Tesla Energy sales team and are continuing to sign new business partnerships with utilities and energy companies.”

The strong response to the Tesla Powerwall in Australia is no surprise, given the big shifts in tariffs by Australian network operators, particularly the move to lift fixed network tariffs, introduce “demand tariffs” that they admit will make solar PV less attractive without storage, and by paying little for exports.

Solar installers report strong interest from customers at both the household and the commercial level, with installations starting to increase. Some predict they will be installing “at least ten a week” within a few months.

The interest in battery storage has prompted retailers such as AGL Energy to expand their storage offerings – it is now making larger systems from Sunverge available to customers, while Synergy and Alinta are also promising rollouts of battery storage in Western Australia, another prime market.

Musk, however, says that Tesla will not be beaten on price. Or at least he doesn’t think so.

“We’re constantly agonizing about cell cost and pack cost, and we don’t think anyone is on a path to be even close to us,” Musk told analysts on a conference call.  “If they are, I would be the first to congratulate them.”

Musk said Tesla had already “sold” all its planned production for battery storage in 2016. “If you were to take even a small fraction of the number of people that have placed orders … we would be sold out of all of 2016 production, I mean, well into 2017,” he said.

“So it’s really mostly about predicting our production rate, and we expect very dramatic increases in the stationary storage production.”

Musk said apart from its key target markets in Australia, Germany and South Africa, there were also emerging opportunities in India and in Hawaii.

The latter was due to tariff changes, including the removal of “net tariffs”, meaning that self consumption – and storing the output from rooftop solar systems in a box for use later – was now attractive, as it is in Australia.

One of Tesla’s initial partners in Australia will be Canberra-based Reposit Power, which is rolling out a series of trials enabling households with solar and storage to trade energy during the day. Reposit announced in May that its technology would be integrated with the Tesla battery storage unit.

The Tesla launch earlier this year created a buzz of excitement around the world, and has already brought other manufacturers into the Australian market, and triggered a fall in battery storage prices. Some analysts say battery storage will be a mass market product by 2020, others say it could be before then.

Environment minister Greg Hunt this week again cited battery storage as the key to “transforming the way we produce electricity through renewables” in Australia.

“Australia’s high rate of household solar in the world makes Australia an ideal place to develop storage and battery technology,” Hunt said. “Morgan Stanley estimates that up to a million Australian households could have solar storage systems by 2020.”

Matt Zema, the head of the Australian Energy Market Operator, which runs the grid in Australia, also hailed the arrival of battery storage in a speech last week, saying it would “fundamentally change” the electricity market.

“We are beginning to see the cost curve on storage coming down, as it has done with solar PV,” Zema said.

“But the real headline in this study is that for the first time in this market, new forms of energy storage technology will give us flexibility.

“This means that residential, that is you and I, as well as commercial and industrial energy users, will have the ability to actually store electricity.”

He said consumers were clearly changing their behaviour, and showing interest in energy efficiency, solar PV and battery storage.

“Couple solar PV with battery storage growth in a few years and you have fundamentally changed the electricity supply chain as we know it.”

and later ..

“(The) speed of technology – viable electricity storage, driven by customer involvement and consumer choice will dictate the next phase of where this industry is going.”

In Australia, the biggest markets for battery storage initially  will be those areas that pay little for the output from solar arrays to the grid. This includes all new installations, and in areas like NSW, where 160,000 households will lose their solar premium tariffs at the end of 2016.

Bloomberg New Energy Finance predicts 33GWh of storage in Australia within 20 years, accompanied by 37GW of rooftop solar.

Additional products supplied by Tesla Energy will include the 10kWh weekly cycle Powerwall which is compatible for residential back-up power and the Powerpack, a commercial and utility solution, grouping 100kWh battery blocks to scale from 500kWh to 10MWh+.

Posted on November 17, 2015 .

Solar boss takes Queensland home off-grid, with a 7.5 year payback

From Renew Econimy : By Giles Parkinson on 12 November 2015

In Australia, the utility lobby says that the payback time to take a suburban home off grid is nearly 30 years. But soaring fixed network charges, and plunging battery storage costs, are rapidly changing the equation. In northern Queensland, the pay-back time may be as little as 7.5 years.

Steve Madson, the head of Country Solar, is feeling pretty pleased with himself.

Five days after installing a 10.8kWh Samsung lithium-ion battery storage system in his suburban Townsville home in north Queensland, and three days after (temporarily) flicking the switch from the grid, Madson is watching the rain fall – and the charge in his battery storage system is still going up.

“Last night was the first rains for the year in Townsville and it was very welcome, because many suburbs in town have power outages because of the rain,” Madson tells One Step Off the Grid. “I decided to make sure I drained my battery to see how much charge I could put in with a rainy, overcast day.

“I have 5KW of solar on my roof currently and I will lift that to 6.5KW in the coming weeks. Right now, my pool pump is running, two fridges and all standby equipment is on – and my battery is charging and has come from 6 per cent to 18 per cent in the pouring rain!!!”

That was Madson speaking at 10am. By the end of the day, despite the rain and the cloudy weather, the battery storage system had charged to 65 per cent. It would have been fully charged if he hadn’t left the pool pump on, but he was keen to test the system.

The result is good news for Madson, because in the next few weeks he intends to take his home permanently off the grid, and judging by the number of inquiries his business is receiving (about 50 a week), he expects many others to follow.

That’s because for an all in cost of around $25,000, consumers can get a 10.8kWh battery storage system and around 7kW of rooftop solar. In north Queensland, that’s enough to take a home off grid, and deliver a payback of 7.5 years. That’s one reason why Madson decided that he’d better lead by example.


Steve Madson (right) with Samsung representatives installing his 10.8kWh battery storage system in his Townsville garage.

He has taken delivery of one of the first Samsung 10.8kWh systems, the first scaleable grid-connected Samsung system in the world, and in his case, the first to be used in an off-grid application.

“This unit is the first of its kind installed in the world, we have this unit currently still connected to the grid whilst we learn all the features and functions though we plan to be off grid completely at the start of December.”

And Madson does not anticipate problems with going off grid. His 6.5kW of rooftop solar PV will produce more than 24.5kWh per day in winter, more than his home usage of 18kWh a day. In summer, the system will produce an average of 38kWh per day, more than covering his increased usage of 30kwh per day.

“I have a swimming pool, an aquaponics vegetable garden, we are in a hot humid environment so the house is air-conditioned with inverter split system air cons,” Madsons says.

“Because of the grid service fees my initial back up power will be a backup LPG generator, although I will purchase an electric vehicle early in the New Year and that will remove the need for the backup generator.” Here is a screenshot of his solar power output, his battery storage status, and his load, from Wednesday.

Madson says he would prefer to stay connected with the grid, but the connection charges make no sense, given the rising fixed network charges imposed by the local operator. (See this for more details of Queensland fixed charges).

“When home energy storage with lithium-ion battery technology started to become a reality I was getting really excited, both for myself having a new toy but also for the greater good of the community,” Madson says.

“For years I have been told the reason electricity prices are so high is because solar does not influence peak demand, that peak demand in sunny North Queensland where I live happens in the early evening these days and that is due to air-conditioning loads.

“I wondered if solar storage households like mine be connected to the grid and used as a filter to level grid demand. Wouldn’t the ability to help the grid by feeding from your home energy storage system or EV solve the greatest problem in the history of the centralised power network?”

Apparently not. The Ergon network they have increased the daily service charges and added metering charges which, when added up, amount to around $600 a year.

“That leads me to believe they will continue to increase fixed charges and lower the rate of electricity. But even if it remains at $600 a year over the expected 15 year life of my (storage) investment,  that is $9,000 of fixed charges and $9,000 buys me a lot of extra redundancy to ensure I won’t need the grid.”

Madson says the $25,000 cost of such a bundle should deliver a payback of around 7.5 years, given the high network fees and electricity charges.

That is little more than half the cost ($42,000) and one quarter of the pay-back time (29 years) suggested by the Energy Supply Association of Australia earlier this year, when it sought to throw cold water on battery storage following the publicity surrounding the unveiling of the Tesla Powerwall.

“With our electricity prices, these battery storage systems are already delivering fantastic returns. The modelling (of the utilities) is all wrong,” Madson says. (Although it should be pointed out that homes in southern states, particularly Victoria, would need much more battery storage to get through their winters).

The response by the utilities industry, particularly the move to jack up fixed charges, has left Madson confused and regretting a missed opportunity.

“If we worked as a community connected to the grid, using home energy storage systems and EVs to smooth out demand and supply, everyone in Australia would benefit and networks and retails would be much more profitable.

“And it would mean the road to the state target of 50 per cent renewable energy would be accelerated. Instead, the opposite will happen as a wave of people leave the grid on the back of unfair fixed charges.”

Madson says it would be more efficient to stay connected to the grid and a peer to peer system allowing people to build what they deem enough, and retain the ability to buy and sell electricity with my neighbours when circumstances change ( like family come to stay and energy requirements increase for a week).

“If the electricity grids rolled this model out people could lease their roof tops to investors to trade electricity, they would make money, the grid would make money in transport fees and we would see 100% renewables in just a few years.”

Posted on November 17, 2015 .

Home battery storage market expected to “explode” in Australia in 2016

From Renew Economy :  By Giles Parkinson on 13 November 2015

The battery storage market is expected to finally “explode” in Australia in 2016, with the residential sector expected to grow 20-fold over the next 12 months , while the battery storage industry grows into a billion-dollar-a-year market within a few years.

In what is expected to be a repeat of the solar boom of five years ago, the battery storage market – this time without subsidies – is expected to enjoy massive growth as homes and businesses look to make the most out of their rooftop solar panels, and as utilities look to storage as a cheaper offset to grid expansion.

A new report by leading US research firm Greentech Media says Australia’s energy storage market will focus mostly on the consumer market, particularly households, and is primed by oversized systems, paltry feed-in tariffs, increasing fixed network charges and high electricity prices. As well, the cost of new metering has jumped seven-fold.

It says that the residential market for battery storage will surge from a mere 1.9MW in 2015 to 44MW in 2016, as the overall market jumps from 6.6MW to 75MW. By 2020, Australia is expected to have installed more than 800MW of battery storage,  worth more than $2.5 billion.

The Greentech Media report is one of a number of analyses that have predicted a rapid uptake of battery storage. Just this week, the Australian Energy Market Operator prepared a scenario that suggested 40 per cent of homes would have battery storage within the next two decades. It predicts the market will continue to snowball to 11,200MW by 2035.

Australia has already been identified by the likes of Tesla and Enphase and others as the most prospective market in the world, thanks to its high grid prices, its abundance of rooftop solar, excellent solar resources, and the nature of the tariffs across the nation.

Brett Simon, an energy storage analyst at GTM Research and the report’s author, says numerous international players are being drawn to Australia’s nascent market. These include Tesla, Panasonic, Enphase Sunverge, Kokam, LG, and many others, including local battery technology developers Redflow and Ecoult.

“In mid-2015, a significant number of storage system vendors announced residential products for the Australian market. Some of these products are available already, and more will enter the market in early 2016, Simon said.

“Furthermore, it’s notable that Australia’s electricity retailers are starting to offer energy storage systems for their customers, including major players like Ergon Energy, AGL, and Origin Energy.”

Others, such as Synergy and Alinta, also plan to do the same, while governments in the ACT and South Australia are also openly supporting storage. Even the federal government has predicted massive take-up, and has asked the Clean Energy Finance Corporation and the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to support the technology.

Simon says storage vendors are also eyeing Australia’s commercial market, which he tips will jump from 1.4MW to 23MW, driven in part by high demand charges and incentives in South Australia.

“As battery prices continue their rapid decline, storage will become more attractive, especially in the residential sector,” the report says.

It says the NSW and Victorian markets will be primed for growth by the expiry of premium feed-in tariffs (many of which end at the end of 2016). It says the Queensland market will be the biggest, simply because of the size of its rooftop solar market. Tariff change will also drive the uptake of battery storage in South Australia.

“The coming policy shift for feed-in tariffs significantly improves the case for energy storage across the nation, as customers with solar PV seek an improved financial outcome by storing and consuming stored energy at times of high electricity prices, rather than selling solar-generated electricity back to the grid for little or zero remuneration.”

It also notes policies like Adelaide’s Sustainable Cities Incentive Scheme offer direct financial benefits for storage, and the enthusiasm of prime minister Malcolm Turnbull for “disruptive technologies”. Environment minister Greg hunt has predicted a significant uptake in battery storage.

“Economics still remains a major challenge for widespread storage uptake, but costs are expected to decline, as more players and products enter the market in 2016 and beyond,” the report says.

“At present, Australia lacks significant incentives for ancillary services, reducing the potential for the utility-scale energy storage market. South Australia’s recent policies that incentivise storage may provide a roadmap for other states to follow, but the future policy framework is unclear.”

Greentech Media says the Australian market may offer a “test case”  for international developers to pursue strategies in other global markets.

“Innovative channel strategies and other business models tested over the next few years will offer valuable results for utilities, developers, retailers and regulators that seek increased energy storage deployment,” the report says.

Posted on November 17, 2015 .

Household battery storage to be economically attractive by 2020: ATA

From Renew Economy : By Sophie Vorrath on 16 November 2015

Battery storage could be just five years away from being an economic no-brainer for some Australian solar households, according to a new report which predicts grid-connected battery storage will be economically attractive for many homes from around 2020.

The report, released on Monday by the Alternative Technology Association, says Sydney and Adelaide could be the first cities to arrive at this point – as early as 2018.

But the report is also careful to stress that the value of adding solar with storage will vary from household to household, and state to state, depending on a number of key metrics, including the household’s size, its location, its consumption patterns and the kind of tariff it is on.

“At today’s prices, most Australian households won’t be able to achieve a 10-year return on their investment – which is the typical lifetime of a well-designed and operated battery system,” said ATA policy and research manager Damian Moyse. “But by 2020, this will change for an increasing number of homes.”

To try to work out which homes, exactly, the ATA tested the value of adding batteries to a new grid-connected solar system across a range of different scenarios.

Using the ATA’s Sunulator solar-with-battery economic feasibility tool – a new technology to be launched on Tuesday in Melbourne – the study included 10 different locations, electricity consumption data for typical working couples and young families, three different grid tariff types and different sized solar systems.

The results revealed that in nine scenarios across six locations a 4kWh battery improved the net present value (NPV) for the “Young Family”. As you can see below, households from only two locations – Sydney and Adelaide– achieved this with investment in 2018. The remainder involved investment in 2020.



The graph below compares the net present value of solar only systems (4kW) in each location in 2020, as well as solar plus a 4kWh battery; and solar with a 7kWh battery, for young families on a flat tariff.


Overall, says the report, “investment in 4kW of solar PV on its own was financially attractive for larger energy homes – but not for those who have lower day-time consumption.

“Adding batteries did generally deliver savings over the ‘solar-only’ systems,” the report added – with annual savings
ranging from $132-$335 for a small battery and $187-$513 for a larger battery, dependent upon household type, location and grid tariff.

The study also found that the smaller 4kWh battery was always more attractive than the larger 7kWh one; and in no case did adding batteries significantly speed up the solar system payback time.

The following chart shows how different solar and battery system combinations work with different tariffs, and how much they save on electricity bills for a “young” Sydney family in 2016.


Of course, the report found that “smarter” battery systems – which could work with a given household’s time-of-use tariff to maximise both cheap energy storage and solar self generation – would deliver greater savings, especially if they incorporated weather forecasts.

“It remains to be seen when batteries this smart become available in Australia,” the report said.

The report also found that the economics of investing in storage would obviously be improved if households were paid to provide and share in associated benefits to the electricity grid.

The chart below analyses a scenario where an energy company co-invested $300 per kWh, off-setting the solar
household’s upfront costs.


ATA suggests energy companies could co-invest in such systems, for example, by selling batteries cheaply to households and, on critical days, could control the batteries remotely, discharging them at peak times.

Likewise, though, it remains to be seen when energy companies this smart will become available in Australia.

Until that time, or until batteries drop further in price, the ATA suggests households try cutting their bills through more effective investments, including LED lights; gap sealing, insulation and window shading; efficient appliances; ditching the gas network; and solar without batteries.

Finally, the report calls on Australian consumers to get to know their own energy profiles and to embrace energy efficiency.

“There’s a lot of hype in the community about battery storage, and while we think it is a great thing, we urge people to understand their own electricity consumption patterns and choose the most suitably sized and designed solar and battery systems,” said Moyse.

“Different consumption levels and different lifestyles require different solutions – no one size fits all.

“Having a more energy-efficient home will mean you need smaller sized batteries, which will ultimately be better for your overall energy costs and the environment,” he said.

“Batteries need to be considered in the context of an overarching, holistic energy management approach – whether that be for a household or business.”

Posted on November 17, 2015 .