As more battery makers enter Australia to get a bit of the action, Chinese giant BYD has found traction especially with consumers who just want to get off the grid.
It’s been a busy year in battery storage but good business attracts more participants and that’s what’s happening in Australia, says global sales director of BYD batteries Julia Chen.
The Chinese industrial giant launched its B-Box high- and low-voltage lithium battery range here in February, pitching storage solutions suitable for the residential market and commercial and industrial applications. Seven months down the track BYD has installed more than 1,500 storage solutions in Australia, Chen told EcoGeneration during the All-Energy conference in Melbourne in October.
What’s been interesting for the new entrant is the number of sales made to buyers installing off-grid systems. Families in remote areas that rely on air-conditioning and are suffering soaring electricity charges are moving towards energy independence, and batteries are a must-have. A customer in Victoria has installed 25-30kWh of storage to support critical load (read, air-con), and a joint project with wholesaler RFI has seen storage installed in 200kWh commercial system – just two examples.
“In the market everybody has a unique solution to support,” she says. “We are happy talking to installers who are looking for solutions that support back-up and off-grid functions, and can help design systems.”
Off-grid residential systems in remote areas are about 30kWh, in BYD’s experience so far, where residences often also support farming activity. One job included three air-conditioning systems. SMA Sunny Island inverters are often used and BYD works with the inverter maker to engineer optimal solutions using minimum battery units.
Residential buyers have a lot to learn about storage, and so do installers. BYD has run more than 50 training sessions for wholesalers and installers so far this year, says Chen, pointing out the modular BYD system – which is a bit like a stack of Lego blocks – can take as little as 30 minutes to install because there are no cable connections. The B-Box system is scalable from 2.5kWh to 442kWh. “Installers are quite smart, it’s just that they are not used to battery systems,” she says. “And some need support.”
The residential market is in transition from early adopters to the next level, and inquiries will only accelerate.
BYD has massive industrial capacity in China, including electric vehicles and monorails, solar farms and sustainable transport solutions. In 2010 it signed a joint-venture with Daimler to launch electric car brand Denza. It also makes batteries for many mainstream phone and IT brands.
One cheap energy scenario seldom mentioned is that you don’t actually have to own a solar PV system to get use out of a battery. Renters, for instance, or apartment dwellers without roofspace can buy a small battery and smart meter and straightaway push costs down by buying off-peak from the grid and using that energy during peak times. Not many people do it in Australia, yet, but it’s quite popular among small business owners in China, where Chen is based.
“Some [owners] will use a battery to avoid peak power, where the electricity price is extremely high for industrial charges; so they use a battery to reduce the peak and can easily cut their bills,” she says. A well-designed storage-only solution, she says, can pay for itself within about three or four years. (BYD runs a 40kWh batteries-without-solar system in Shenzhen.)
“In China it’s mostly storage without solar. We don’t have a lot of space to build solar on the rooftops.”