Written by Maria Beck
We were delighted to host Steve Blume (SB), president of the Smart Energy Council at the VARTA Storage HQ in Nördlingen. It gave our General Manager, Gordon Clements (GC), the chance to have a conversation and ask him some interesting questions about the Australian storage market.
GC: Steve, we’ve noticed the Australian market has undergone a lot of changes, how does it look to you right now and what further changes can you see coming?
SB: The Australian market is about to take off. We have around 70.000 energy storage systems installed, residential mostly. And the majority was installed in the last two years. A lot of companies came to the market and built distribution partnerships. Also in the last two quarters of 2018 two state governments announced their battery support schemes, South Australia and Victoria. And there is a Queensland scheme as well. Combine these reasons and there will be around 450,000 systems over the next five years.
And I actually think there will be more than that. We have a potential change of government in May. The potential new government has promised 1 Million batteries by 2025 with federal government support. That would make Australia the biggest storage market in the world. This year, based on the forecasts, Australia will be the biggest PV market in the world. We are installing 6 panels a minute, 250 W per person/per year. And the new government will also fund technical colleges to increase the number of trained installers.
22% of residential rooftops in Australia have PV systems, which has just passed 10 GW. These are government numbers. And it’s really conservative because it doesn’t count who installs off the grid or without government support. Which are around another 400-500 MW that are not counted. And the remaining rooftops potentially available for PV are about 45-65 GW.
GC: And why do you think people will buy batteries in addition to their PV system?
SB: Let us take New South Wales as an example. By the end of 2017 there were 286,000 households with PV installed. And for six years they got $AUD 0.60 gross feed-in tariffs and now it’s only 6c or even nothing. So people get batteries because they say, the utility provider is buying the energy for 6c and sells it for 30c. So by self-consumption, they’re saving money.
So people get freedom with buying a battery and using their own energy. And there is not a big green push, the prominent reason for buying a battery is saving money. The quarterly bill is around $700-900 and with solar and battery it’s maybe $100.
The public is really supportive of renewable energy. The public support for solar is about 93% and for wind it’s about 86%. Peoples’ intention to buy a battery is about 80-85%. So there is a high public awareness because of saving money but also being independent.
GC: And are there any standards for the battery and the installation at the moment?
SB: We have a Draft standard AS5139 at the moment open for public consultation. If you’re product is following a whole series of international safety standards and quality standard for production, you produce a single all-in-one-unit and you fulfill the criteria for the Tier1 list, you can sell your product in the market. Tier 2, who sell separate inverter and battery, have a slightly more robust compliance requirement.
GC: How do you plan to ensure compliance?
SB: At the moment we’re partnering with VDE. We expect to brand Smart Energy Council and VDE certification for the Australian market. We want to get away from “every region needs a new process”. There is a certification program in place, Germany does it very well. VDE does it in Germany. So we let them deliver the process and we work on the politics and marketing. So that’s where we’re heading. This was all PV. And we have the same form of accreditation for batteries for training and for the system.
The Clean Energy Council (CEC) started to accredit batteries and has established a battery register. You have to be on it for the SA and Victoria support scheme because there is no other list. But it’s going to change. And because of the “one million batteries”-program safety and compliance will be really high.
The Clean Energy Regulator (CER) has a random order inspection program for PV systems with the government support which includes safety and quality issues. And we do about half of it under government contract. We do about 2200/year. And we suggest the government that they establish a similar compliance program for batteries. And the process we recommend to them is, you do the random order compliance and then you have the tier-response based on what’s on the order.
So when you do the order, you randomly choose the installation, send a team which is qualified to make the assessment. The list has about 64 checkpoints and if you don’t pass 85% of it, you have a conversation with the installer and they have to remedy. So you have an order on the installer and then you may inspect the next five installations of the installer.
And then you have the tier-response which starts with education. This response can be that the installer is no longer allowed to install the systems or have to go back to training. And if there is a number of orders and if they’re okay, the installer can go back in the pool and if not, you’re response might be another. So you can get rid of the people who aren’t good and lift the standards. And that combined with an accreditation scheme gives good consumer outcomes.
GC: Do you know if there have been any issues with batteries?
SB: So far no!
We also worked on a battery installation guide with 5 other organizations and various state regulators (see: http://www.batterysafetyguide.com.au). It’s just a guideline and not mandatory but offers best practice on safety and how to install batteries. And we’re going to restart the committee, because things have changed and there will be a version two.
We also have a master installer program which we trying companies to sign up with. So you as VARTA can include your internal VARTA training on the master installer training so you have both.
GC: So you’re inspecting 3-4% of the installed PV systems. That’s around 30,000. That’s not much. Do you think this is a reasonable number for batteries as well?
SB: The point of the installation standard is that you rely on the quality of the companies that the tier 1 and tier 2 doing the vast majority of those installations. There is some product standard work being done international. 3-4% for PV is reasonable. But I personally think for battery it should be doubled, maybe 10%. So with the new government we will try to set up a process and implement it.
GC: What’s about the installers? How many are there in Australia?
SB: There are about 5,000 accredited PV installers and some of them are doing batteries as well. The number of the battery accredited is around 1200.
GC: And how many installers are registered to the Smart Energy Council?
SB: Probably about 400 installers. But that’s because we’re currently not allowed to do the accreditation for them. When we will have the accreditation, we hope it will be around 50% of the accredited installers.
GC: The federal states announced several subsidy schemes. What’s do you think of them?
SB: There is one in SA. But I don’t think they have the installer capacity at the moment.
Victoria has one too. It’s just started to take off but it’s not available until July.
GC: Thanks Steve, for this great insight in the Australian Market!