Solar is a brilliant form of energy but equally troublesome. The more PV generation you build the more power you must use. Batteries, of course, are a great way to level out supply of solar so that it better matches demand – but they are expensive. Some homeowners are taking the bait, mostly thanks to generous subsidies in a few states, and large battery storage projects are planned for utility-scale solar plants and parts of the grid suffering congestion.
The middle ground, however, isn’t getting much attention. Commercial and industrial operations are still getting their heads around solar – and an investment in a battery is a long way down the list.
Local battery-maker Evo Power has seen the potential in the gap between home and utility-scale storage and has launched a range of batteries using cells and modules sourced from Korean giant LG Chem. The plan to create what managing director Jamie Allen calls a market-specific battery manufacturer was inspired by installers’ regular inquiries about supplying larger turn-key battery storage systems.
“We decided to make solutions from 24kWh up to a couple of hundred kilowatt-hours, using the world’s biggest battery brand,” Allen tells EcoGeneration. “It’s a completely separate business [from LG Chem] … it’s more of a close partnership; LG Chem is focusing on the residential and utility-scale spaces and they’ve chosen us as a partner to target the middle space”, which includes higher-end off-grid and commercial and industrial.
Evo Power’s Prime battery units, available in one-phase and three-phase versions between 5kW and 22.5kW, are standardised scalable products fit for all sorts of applications. The goal is to provide commercialised solutions to fit flexible requirements. For example, Allen says Evo is working on a solution where 100kW of inverters is matched to 200kWh of storage, which can be stacked together to make 2-3MW battery blocks. “That’s our model,” he says.
Commercial and industrial businesses have been slower to take to storage than homeowners, probably because the technology is expensive but also because they may have more latitude as to how they consume energy. Allen says local governments and larger retailers have expressed some interest in batteries, mostly to reduce peak demand and to earn green credentials.
Businesses with solar must size their PV systems for self-consumption, but an investment in storage would open up the opportunity to add more panels and use extra energy generated around midday during the late afternoon or evening operations. “Batteries can enable more PV,” Allen says, “if the bigger utility networks are happy with the export-limiting functionality of the battery system.”
Australia is a vast landscape where many users are served by spindly connections, and businesses in regional areas with limited grid supply should have a good think about the extra power and production that would come with installing a battery where, say, at times they need 50kW of power but the line only delivers 15kW. “Having a C&I battery solution enables more power, more production on the site, with a combination of solar and batteries,” Allen says.
The Evo Power Prime technology comes as part and parcel with inverters from Selectronic and energy management software from SwitchDin, which allows integration with a menu of virtual power plant programs. That’s not to say owners of regional businesses around the country have intimate knowledge of the revenue streams available to them via VPPs. To be frank, they probably have never heard of VPPs in the first place.
“It’s early days for VPPs,” Allen says. “There needs to be an education piece in the market. It’s a matter of the installers and retail businesses knowing these solutions are available. [A VPP] can be a very big enabler of future energy savings.”
Ready to go
It’s a tough time to get a Melbourne-based battery brand off the ground, as the entire state of Victoria tolerates lockdown to control a sudden and sharp second wave of covid-19 infections. “It’s challenging, to be honest, with staff working from home, but there is a pipeline of sales ahead of us and we have started shipping units,” Allen says.
The units come pre-registered, pre-programmed and ready to go, which should make installers and consumers happy, he says. “We see it as a really easy sell for installation business and for consumers to understand – that takes a lot of the hard work out of the sales and installation process. Our systems can be installed in under a day, and that’s off-grid or grid-connected, whereas batteries of a similar size might take three to five days to install.”
Local manufacturing means local technical support, along with mechanical and electrical engineers in Melbourne’s eastern suburbs.
Pressed for a price, Allen suggests “around $1,000/kWh mark, with inverters and batteries”.