A solar sales company is hoping to lure more customers towards batteries by pushing the cause for smart connected systems.

Residential batteries can solve a lot of woes in the grid as solar exports rise and rise, but they are expensive and very seldom optimally employed by disinterested owners. Smart systems of connected batteries can aid the grid in times of stress and make money along the way, sharing some of it with the battery-owners.

Sounds good so far, but there is a problem.

To get more smart connected systems we need more batteries. But to get more batteries we need people to believe in smart connected systems.

Or, to put it another way… “How can we make batteries compelling to [owners of PV systems] in a way in which, when they purchase a battery, we can attach an orchestration program [be it a virtual power plant, demand management capability or some form of energy resilience program],” explains UPowr chief customer officer Kiya Taylor.

UPowr is a solar retail company which runs an online sales platform. It has been given some money by the Australian Renewable Energy Agency to help it work out how to close more battery sales by offering orchestration programs that help get customers over the line. If those batteries are enlisted to serve the grid, everyone benefits.

The objective, Taylor says, is to work out how best to package orchestration programs so that they are “aligned with the values of each customer segment”, where the ARENA-funded research will set out to identify what those segments are.

Positive charge, positive spin

It sounds like a load of marketing spiel, because you’d think a battery is a battery and customers will only want one thing out of it – to get their money back fast. The most efficient way of doing that is to use it to store solar from your rooftop solar system until you want to use it.

But the rapid rise of uncontrolled rooftop solar is becoming a big problem. If batteries are to slowly be included in new PV systems or retrofitted to existing ones then it would be better for all energy users and the networks that their services be recruited to the common cause of grid stabilisation.

About 73,000 household batteries have been installed in a country that hosts nearly 2.5 million rooftop PV systems but only about 10% of these batteries are controlled by energy providers who can optimise their charging and discharging, says ARENA chief executive Darren Miller, “so it’s vital that we continue to find ways to incentivise customers to join these programs.”

ARENA is contributing $446,000 towards the $943,155 UPowr project, which will focus on customers in Victoria and NSW, with Queensland and South Australia possibly being included.

If residential customers are made aware of the benefits from enrolling in VPPs and suchlike, all energy users will be better off when the grid is stressed. It happened in mid-March when a series of unfortunate events in South Australia saw AEMO curtail residential solar as part of its attempt to offset plunging demand.

Phase one of the UPowr project will be spent building a “customer segmentation framework”, where solar-owning battery-pondering prospects will be sorted into six groups. Three orchestration programs will then be designed to match the aspirations and beliefs of the personality types.

Over the line

If they get it right, emotional triggers will be pulled and consumers will see the value in residential batteries beyond the lengthy economic payback periods.

More will be known about the characteristics of the six types of consumer by the end of April, when phase one is due to finish.

“The team has pulled over 15 different behavioural science cognitive psychology and behavioural economic theories to underpin the framework,” Taylor says.

“If you’re someone who, say, really values the environment, how are we designing an orchestration program which aligns with that.”

Plenty of smart people around the country are working on virtual power plants, to see if they work. Some have been struggling because it’s actually not that easy explaining to battery-owners why they should sign up. Research from the University of NSW has shown many consumers are sceptical about sharing the revenue or savings they might get from owning a battery with anyone else. Why should they?

“But what we’re trying to say,” Taylor says, “is that if you start from the perspective of, what does the customer actually want, how do you then build a program based on that.”