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Solar batteries close, but not quite there yet for the typical family

By John Collett / The Sydney Morning Herald / 4 November 2018

Main image: Mark and Julie Donovan, with their children Keira and Bailey at their solar-powered home in Grays Point.CREDIT:CHRISTOPHER PEARCE

With the hot weather returning and pool pumps and airconditioners springing back to life after a six-month hibernation, more householders will be asking themselves if it is time to go solar.

That’s even more so as electricity prices are expected to continue to rise well in excess of inflation, driven by energy policy uncertainty and other factors.

Solar panels are responsible for most of the energy bill savings but the economic case for batteries is less clear.CREDIT:PHOTO: JUSTIN MCMANUS

While the economic case for solar panels is settled, the jury is still out on batteries. Home solar battery prices are falling, but they are not falling as quickly as solar panels.

With costs of about $10,000, batteries are not cheap and usually have to be replaced after about 12 years, whereas solar panels last more than 20 years.

The experts agree that batteries make economic sense for households with higher-than-average energy usage and where the house is unoccupied for much of the day where, without a battery, solar power generated during the day is mostly wasted.

And, of course, some people are also going solar for environmental reasons and want to be as close to “off grid” as possible, so will add a battery.

No greenie fad

Emlyn Keane, the co-founder of Evergen, which makes CSIRO-developed smart technology that drives efficiencies in solar plus battery systems, says renewable energy is not a greenie fad.

“It’s appealing to ordinary Australians who want to take control of their spending and are conscious of the impact they are making on the environment,” he says.

“They want a better and more sustainable future for themselves and their families – and this includes the cost benefits on offer.”

Mark and Julie Donovan, who have two children, Keira, 9, and Bailey, 7, paid just over $20,000 six months ago to install solar panels, a battery and smart software.

They bought their four-bedroom house, which has a swimming pool, in Grays Point in Sydney’s Sutherland Shire 18 months ago.

Solar panels first

Damien Moyse, policy and research manager at Renew, a not-for-profit energy advisory service, says a solar system lowers the annual bill for the typical family by $800, $900 or $1000.

When you add a battery, that gives you another $200 to $300-a-year off, or maybe even $400 a year or more if you have a “big load profile, you use a lot of energy in the evenings and you pay high tariffs,” Moyse says.

Compared to a couple of years ago there are more situations now where you can just squeeze in a 10-year payback with a battery, Moyse says.

But there are still a lot of cases where it is a 15 years or more payback period with batteries, he says.

“It depends on the tariffs and the consumption profile and so on,” he says.

And we don’t know how much power prices are going to rise in the future, he says.

While about one-in-five houses have solar panels, the number with batteries is a fraction of that. That is likely to change as battery technology improves and prices fall, Moyse says.

Carolyn Lee, the founder of The Energy Experts, a solar energy broker, says a mid-range solar system of 5kW would cost, all up, including the inverter (that converts DC electricity to AC) and installation, about $6500 and more like $7500 to $8000 for a “premium” solar set-up.

Jake Elliott, installer network manager at solar broker and comparison site, Solar Choice, says with battery prices falling, those installing solar panels should ensure their inverters are battery ready so that a battery can be easily added later.

Reduce consumption

It is important not to forget that big savings on the power bill can be made just by following a few simple tips to reduce power consumption.

Moyse says putting some batteries in the roof can help, as well as buying energy-efficient electrical and white goods when they are replaced.

Carolyn Lee recommends choosing energy-efficient LEDs. “They last 10 times longer and use 90 per cent less energy than standard globes and halogen downlights,” she says.

She says ceiling fans are the most energy-efficient form of cooling.

“Airconditioning is the mother of all domestic greenhouse pollution,” Lee says.

For those who don’t have the cash to install solar, there are “green loans” from lenders like the Community First Credit Union, where interest rates are as low as 6 per cent.

Energy retailers have interest-free loans, usually where the loan is paid back over a fixed term. There may be an annual fee and, if the loan in not repaid with the term, high interest rates usually apply.

There is also Brighte, which is a kind of “buy now, pay later” app like AfterPay, except it connects solar installers with households wanting to upgrade their homes.

With additional reporting by Cole Latimer.

Energy Stuff specialises in Residential Solar with emphasis on Repairs, Replacements and upgrades. We also provide new systems, battery storage and smart monitoring systems so call us if we can be of support (1300 656 205) or go to our website at http://www.energystuff.com.au

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