AllGrid Energy, an Indigenous-owned company has emerged as a hopeful minnow beside corporate giants poised to drive the expansion of Australia’s fledgling home solar battery industry.
The Brisbane-based upstart looks forward to the looming entry of the global industry’s marquee player, Tesla, as a shot in the arm to the Australian market.
While orders for Tesla’s Powerwall have officially begun in Australia amid a reported spike in customer queries – driven by interest in the electric carmaker’s brand – AllGrid Energy is already delivering its system to customers in South Australia and Queensland.
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The company claims its 10 kilowatt-hour GridWatt system at $12,000 is up to 30% cheaper than the Powerwall.
The GridWatt is cheaper because it features older tubular lead acid gel batteries in an aluminium cabinet that must be installed outside a home, as opposed to Tesla’s smaller, indoors package based on lithium batteries.
But AllGrid’s marketing manager, Deborah Oberon, said the company hoped its “cost-effective” offering would encourage take-up, particularly in the remote Indigenous communities where its parent company operates.
The company’s chief executive and majority shareholder, Raymond Pratt, is a Darwin-based Indigenous man who parlayed his trade ticket as an electrician into founding the electrical and construction services outfit Dice Australia.
A key opportunity for AllGrid beckons in remote Indigenous communities which rely on costly and emissions-heavy diesel generators.
“Obviously as an Indigenous company working with Indigenous communities, it’s a really big area of traction for us,” Oberon said.
The end result of these “commercial scale” solar systems would be “energy wealth and energy autonomy” for those remote communities.
AllGrid has a number of feasibility studies under way for Indigenous communities both on and off the national power grid, Oberon says, with plans to train local Indigenous electricians to install those systems.
Tesla and AllGrid are among a broad field of players looking to capitalise on a promising market for solar batteries in Australia, where per capita take-up of rooftop solar panels leads the world.
2016 will be the year that storage energy systems really start to kick off in Australia
Energy storage systems give households with solar power the opportunity to further cut reliance on the nation’s largely coal-fired electricity grid, even during peak demand times when the sun has gone down.
AllGrid claims its storage systems, which are assembled at a factory in Brisbane’s south, can cut household grid power consumption by 75%.
Oberon said that although orders were “ticking along” thanks to the interest of early adopters, 2016 would be “the year that storage really starts to kick off in Australia”.
“Once Tesla’s system is available in February, that will be the moment the game really starts to change,” she said. “With the coverage and publicity that a company like Tesla get, we’re really confident the market will heat up.”
In the new year, the company was also slated to build a solar power storage system for a student housing and crisis accommodation group in Sydney, which earned an innovation grant through the city council this month to fund it.
“Students are a demographic that typically experience energy stress and energy poverty so once again our clients’ commitment to community means we’re really looking for models where people who are in those kind of situations, we can advantage them through the types of systems that we supply and the types of funding models we use to get those in place,” Oberon said.
Oberon said the company was about to strike a deal with an unnamed electricity retailer to offer an increased “feed in” tariff – or the price paid for surplus power fed back into the grid – a key incentive for solar panel owners who missed out on the generous rates offered to early adopters in previous years.
Bendigo Bank also offers relatively cheap finance at 6.7% a year for customers buying the systems, and they can also roll that over into their mortgages.
The WattGrid is being sold for about $12,000, about $3,000 less than a comparable set-up being advertised for the Powerwall.
AllGrid has also released a solar energy system, the PortaGrid, for remote locations where tapping into the national power grid is not an option. It comes with the option of a weather monitor that automatically closes up the solar panels in severe weather events like cyclones.
Oberon said the company was talking to the national parks and wildlife service about using the PortaGrid to replace diesel generators in remote sites.
Oberon said the technology, developed with AllGrid’s second parent company, the renewable energy company Consolidated Industrial Holdings, could be particularly attractive in developing countries.
AllGrid also has its sights on developing storage systems with saltwater batteries that it says could last twice as long as lead acid batteries.
Oberon said the current AllGrid systems were designed so that the tubular gel batteries could be “easily swapped” with more advanced batteries at the end of their life.
Read the article on The Guardian.