Company Updates, Renewables, Solar, Storage

Plenty of room in this solar boom: Fronius

Selling commercial and residential storage systems is a hard task – but it’s worth the effort, Fronius international sales director Adrian Noronho tells EcoGeneration.

When is the commercial and industrial solar sector going to take off in Australia, or is it already happening?

It’s already happening. In the past year we’ve seen wholesale electricity prices rise dramatically while the price of an installed commercial solar system has fallen by double digits. In many cases this has created a return on investment period of less than five years. The constant rises in electricity costs have been a catalyst for some businesses to stop and think, ‘OK, we need to do something about our electricity costs,’ although contemplating a large investment in a solar PV system is something still foreign and complex to many.

Over the past seven years I’ve seen many solar companies go from offering 100% residential systems to completely overhauling their approach in order to acquire commercial clients. In turn, this has also meant changes for us. In 2011, customers were not very interested that we had invested in a large support team in Australia and built up a network of Fronius Service Partners.

Today, however, it’s common to see a commercial client travel to Melbourne to see our support facilities – in some cases, commercial clients have even flown with me to Austria to visit our production and R&D facilities.

Why is there such a big difference between Australia and the rest of the world when it comes to uptake of commercial solar?

In most countries initial solar PV uptake has been the result of government incentives. Only a decade ago it would have been very difficult to find a solar investment that would pay off within 10 years. I think the Australian industry, having taken off in residential solar because of the Small-scale Renewable Energy Scheme, has had to change significantly when it comes to commercial.

Even though commercial solar has been economically attractive for some time now, if you’re a solar business and you can sell a hundred 5kW systems every month, it’s hard to justify working on a 500kW project for 6-12 months.

In countries where incentives haven’t been concentrating on smaller systems, there has been a more even spread. In large economics (such as India or China) where the average household disposable income is low, it has been more effective to start at the larger end.

Which Fronius technology has been selling well recently?

We’ve been very happy with the sales of the Fronius Eco range. Our 25kW and 27kW string inverters feature in the Fronius Power Package. The Fronius Power Package has been installed in projects from 50kW to the multiple MW range. Our biggest seller in Australia is still the Fronius Primo series for single-phase residential systems – we’re currently selling over 4,500 units a month.

How can installers best communicate to householders the advantages of retrofitting storage?

This is where system monitoring can play an important part. If an installer has lots of systems out in the field (which they have customers’ permission to monitor) they are able to calculate which customers have a low self-consumption rate. This is a great place to start because the value of storage today depends on whether a customer is able to directly use their solar energy or not. In order to do this effectively, a customer needs to have installed a consumption meter as well as the standard solar production monitoring.

As more households install smart systems with storage, what will be the effect on stability in the grid?

There is a massive potential to improve stability in the grid as the marginal cost to provide electricity from solar and solar storage is virtually zero. The grid isn’t able to store electricity to keep itself in balance when demand forecasting is out – this is where storage could really help. Smart homes, smart PV systems and smart grids are the way of the future in my opinion.

Has Australia ever been used as a test market for Fronius solar?

Yes, in the summer of 2013 sixty Fronius Galvo inverters were installed in Australia’s harshest areas. These ran for 6-8 months before we launched the product.

Australia is a great test market – especially in summer. Oversizing of our inverters is one of our strengths because we build them to take a much higher DC load than required. One of the test systems we installed in Perth had 6.6kWp DC installed on a 3kWAC output and in the summer it was producing its maximum output from 8am until 7pm.

We’ve learnt that if the products perform well in Australia, they’ll perform well anywhere.

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