How batteries are lighting up our energy future

September 1, 2017

How batteries are lighting up our energy future

The surprising potential of new storage methods is creating big opportunities in renewable energy. We look at where the sector is headed.

Electricity used to be like mains water – consumers had no say in where it came from and prices were dictated by a handful of retailers. But as the world slowly moves towards a clean-energy future, rapidly advancing technologies in wind and solar generation, along with battery storage, are giving households and businesses the power to generate and store their own electricity, signalling a seismic shift in how the nation keeps the lights on.

Dealing with Disruption

The advent of disruptive technologies, including massive improvements in battery capacity and manufacturing costs, are delivering improved on-demand supply and making home solar power more cost effective than ever before.

The cost of a solar-panel system is less than a quarter of what it was a decade ago and competition for the home-battery market is fierce. Tesla is leading the charge with its Powerwall lithium-ion battery units, which have 13.2 kilowatt hours of storage, while Panasonic’s smaller 5.2kWh battery, using similar technology, is also claiming a stake in the market. Another player, California-based Enphase Energy, says it received orders for 60,000 of its 1.2kWh batteries within two weeks of hitting the market last year.

Then there’s Printed Energy Pty Ltd, which is developing paper-thin printed batteries that could be in-built within solar panels within three years. Australian innovator, Redflow, has manufactured a longer-lasting zinc-bromine battery, ZCell, which it plans to target the industrial and telecommunications markets.

Green Power gets Cheaper

In concert with the battery revolution, the Clean Energy Council’s director of smart energy, Darren Gladman, says that solar and wind are now the cheapest modes of power generation that can be built today. And we can expect the energy sector to become less centralised in coming years as small-scale green power generation and battery storage muscle in on the big power stations.

“Home owners have already recognised that solar can help them save on their power bills and, as energy storage units get cheaper over the next few years, these units can maximise the value of home renewable energy investments,” Gladman says.

There’s also a change in the industrial market as well as the domestic. “One of the biggest trends we are seeing from the United States is that big businesses are acting directly to either build their own renewable energy or buy it from a third party such as a wind developer,” Gladman says.

The transition to a new energy future won’t be seamless but with wave of technology arriving in the coming years, the shift is inevitable. And batteries will play a driving force behind that. 

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