Does the rise of residential energy storage spell the end for the grid as we know it? No, says Redflow executive chairman Simon Hackett, who caught up with EcoGeneration at the Australian Energy Storage Conference and Exhibition in Sydney at the start of June.

Your ZCell flow battery, designed for home use, is up against a number of lithium storage solutions. It’s a busy market. Are consumers about to catch on to home batteries?

Public attitudes are hitting a tipping point — we are very much herd animals. [Storage] has become dinner party conversation and you get self-reinforcement happening in a social sense, with people saying, “Oh, I think I might put a battery in,” and discovering they’re not the only one with that point of view. The idea’s good, but the economics are arguably not obviously great. We’re still in early-adopter territory. The point is it’s the early adopters who drive the take-up which drives the costs down — and that will bring another layer of people who are doing it simply for the economics.

But buying a battery for home is not so simple, right?

When you buy a battery you are buying a ticket to a large number of choices to what you do with it. You need somebody who can guide you through the process of making good use of it. That’s a challenge for the industry, independent of which battery you choose, is to produce results which are easy for consumers to relate to.

Is the installation industry up for the task?

The installation industry itself will effectively become the advisers to their customers. For us as a battery manufacturer I don’t want to sell our battery to an installer that doesn’t know how to deliver a good result. I want to sell it to an installer that can show me they’ve done an accredited training course in how to add a battery in general properly, so that the outcome for the customer is useful to them.

How can consumers understand return on investment when it comes to residential batteries?

This is like solar panels 15 years ago, where only the hardy bought them, and damn the cost. The way you convince yourself is by deciding that that single investment has multiple returns, some of which are financial and some of which are qualitative. Losing a feed-in tariff is a reason to buy a battery, but let’s talk about the non-financial reasons: it makes you feel greener, which is a valid one for a lot of people; and because the power stays on when there is a failure – there is a material benefit if you have any perception of unreliability on your power grid – and also; a sense of more control over the outcome rather than just being beholden to whatever the power bill turns out to be next month.

But bills will rise faster as fewer people pay for the infrastructure, right?

I don’t think so. There is very little business case for going right off the grid. A lot of people say that’s what they’re going to do when they buy a battery but it seldom happens in practice. Why? Because some percentage of the time, the battery will run out. You’ve got two choices at that point: be the only house in your well-to-do suburb where the lights are off, or put a generator in. Over a 10-year period it’s probably cheaper to use the grid as a back-up than using a generator. The other reason to stay on the grid is the industry thinks, me included, that within five years smart grid operators will want to pay a battery owner to send battery energy back into the grid when the grid is in desperate need of it. Thousands of batteries distributed throughout a city constitute en masse a distributed on-demand generator than can replace a gas-fired peaking generator. Batteries can replace that role incredibly smoothly, and then you can be paid a bit of pocket money to be part of the solution.

 

Simon Hackett spoke to Jeremy Chunn, Editor of Ecogeneration