Home batteries for solar power is a booming industry tipped to be worth $850 billion, and this Aussie start-up has taken a gamble to get in on the action.
Melbourne-based company Zenaji believes it has developed a world best battery product for residential solar installations that promises homeowners a much longer lasting and safer energy storage solution compared to many alternatives on the market.
Australian households have one of the highest rates of rooftop solar panels in the world, and a growing number of companies are looking to capitalise on the demand for renewable energy and self-sufficient homes.
Because of this, Australia is tipped to become a leader in battery storage — a booming industry projected to be worth about $850 billion in the coming years.
And Dawson Johns, managing director of marketing at Zenaji, is hoping for a piece of the pie.
About three years ago, the company set out to find the best battery solution for storing solar energy. The commonplace lithium-ion battery has established itself as the default battery tech in products from mobile phones and laptops to electric vehicles. The majority of new home energy storage solutions also use some form of lithium-ion chemical composition.
But Zenaji has gone with a different battery technology the company thinks will prove superior for solar energy providers in the long term.
“We patented a way of putting (batteries) under the panels, but one of the problems with putting them under the panels was temperature,” Mr Johns told news.com.au. “You couldn’t put lithium-ion batteries under there, so we started looking around at all the possible technologies.”
After searching around for a few years, the company’s engineers landed on lithium-titanate (LTO) batteries.
The LTO battery is basically a modified lithium-ion battery that uses lithium-titanate nanocrystals on the surface of its anode instead of carbon. The electrode material used is known to have exceptional electrochemical stability and is seen to not have the overheating risk of certain lithium-ion batteries. They also provide a much longer lifespan and have advantages in fast charging.
“We came to the conclusion that these are the right batteries for solar rather than lithium-ion batteries,” Mr Johns said. “It’s the titanium that makes all the difference.”
“Then we started asking ourselves, if we’ve seen this, why hasn’t everybody else?”
He believes it’s down to the high price the batteries once demanded. LTO batteries were initially produced by Toshiba about a decade ago, Mr Johns explained, but were 10 times the price of standard lithium-ion batteries.
Eventually, Zenaji came across one battery cell manufacturer in China that had got the price down and pursued LTO tech as a viable alternative.
In the long run, Zenaji believes it will provide better value thanks to the higher number of cycles and overall longevity of the battery technology.
“With lithium-ion you might get eight to 10 years on a solar installation,” Mr Johns said. Zenaji batteries, however, come with a warranty for 20 years.
“You can cycle that battery every day in that 20 years, top to bottom — absolute maximum to absolute minimum — three times a day, and we warrant the battery will be better than 80 per cent of its original capacity 20 years from now,” he said.
“You can’t do that with any other lithium battery. Not even close.”
The downside of LTO batteries is their heavy weight. They’re about twice the weight of a standard lithium-ion battery — a reason they’re not used in cars and electronics. But the extra weight doesn’t necessarily matter when it comes to home solar storage.
“We believe they’re the only economical battery,” Mr Johns said.
The Zenaji batteries are modular in design and come in narrow 2 kilowatt packs that people can link together and store inside or outside the home.
The batteries, although heavier, are designed to be able to be carried by two people. They can be installed inside or outside the home.Source:Supplied
A chief concern for the company was safety — something that has been an issue for makers of lithium-ion battery packs designed to be installed in the home.
In early 2017, Standards Australia suggested products such as Tesla’s Powerwall home battery should be banned from being installed inside homes or garages for fear they could be a fire hazard. The proposed guidelines were never taken up and were widely criticised, but concerns still remain from some sections of the community, such as firefighters, the batteries could self ignite.
That’s not an issue with LTO batteries. “With LTO batteries you can bend them, put them in a crash, put a bullet through them, and it doesn’t matter,” Mr Johns said.
The company is in the process of finalising deals with distributors both in Australia and overseas markets but has yet to announce any partnerships.
While Mr Johns couldn’t provide details on pricing, he admits they will be more expensive than many other home battery options for solar systems but insists the long-term benefits are worthwhile. The LTO batteries produced by Zenaji will likely cost consumers about 30 percent more, but if the company can find some success, the batteries could be an enticing option for homeowners in a burgeoning industry.
Energy Stuff specialises in Residential Solar with emphasis on Repairs, Replacements and upgrades. We also provide new systems, battery storage, Small Commercial, Off-Grid systems and smart monitoring systems. Energy Stuff is a Clean Energy Council Member and only uses CEC accredited installers. We fully comply with the Victorian Govt. Solar Rebate Program and we are supporting clients in their applications to the new scheme starting July 1st 2019.
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