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Sunday, February 22, 2015

As Battery Costs Fall, Australia Is a Test Case for Grid Defection

Jason Deign writes:
Australia has some of the highest electricity prices in the world due to an overbuild of network infrastructure. Could falling battery costs cause increasing numbers of customers to abandon the system altogether?
Solar power installers in the country say the cost of batteries is the only thing holding back more widespread consumer grid defection in the residential sector.
Australia is already in the midst of a rooftop solar boom as grid customers look to offset the rising cost of utility power.
Almost one-fifth of Australian households now use solar panels for electricity or hot water, tempted by three- to four-year payback times and national rebates that reduce the upfront cost of a PV system.
The rebate is one of a number of renewable energy support systems under threat from the current administration.
An elimination of the PV subsidy could add a couple of thousand dollars to the price of a typical residential solar power system, which currently costs between around AUD $5,000 (USD $3,890) and $10,000 (USD $7,790) for a 5-kilowatt setup.
For now, attempts to cut back on Australia's renewable energy commitments have been met with spirited opposition, leading utilities to resort to other measures to keep customers on the grid.
"Once the battery technology improves and becomes more readily available, then I think there will be a certain tipping point. I'm convinced of it," said Paul Thompson, who runs an installation business called Green Sun Solar in Perth. "I speak to a lot of people, and they would be extremely happy if they could give the middle finger to the power companies. I think people would love to go completely off-grid or hybrid, but it boils down to [battery] price," he said.
Thompson said he sees a lot of interest from consumers, but once they find out the price, "they back off a bit."
Nevertheless, he said, even the elimination of solar power subsidies likely would not be enough to halt Australia's growing trend toward reducing grid-based consumption, and possibly grid defection.
Even as the economics of batteries and solar improve, the lifestyle adjustment needed to defect from the power system may be too great for consumers. But some analysts are warning utilities in Australia that they should expect some consumers to consider the option.