Solar battery installs surge amid rising electricity bills


Surprisingly, Tesla wasn't the most popular solar battery brand among Australians.

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The potential to save up to 85% on electricity bills at a time when Australians face an energy crisis has led to a surge in solar battery installations in the first half of the year, a report reveals.

The rampant rise in battery installs comes as electricity providers increased prices across Australia by as much as 20% in July, sparking an inquiry into the market by the Australian Competition and Consumer Commission.

Consultancy firm SunWiz estimates 7000 solar batteries were installed in the first half of 2017, outpacing the 6500 batteries fitted to homes and businesses throughout the entire year of 2016.

And installations are expected to more than double by the end of this year, as customers begin to receive their orders from Tesla for the Powerwall 2, says Warwick Johnston, the managing director of SunWiz.

"Financial return may not be the key driver for battery purchases, but it sure has improved thanks to skyrocketing electricity prices," he says.

"People basically buy them for bill reduction purposes. You get typical bill savings of 80 to 85% by storing solar energy in a battery."

We've taken a look at the first real-world case study of a Tesla Powerwall. The yearly electricity bill dropped by more than 90%, but can every owner expect such a saving?

The number of home and business solar battery installations is expected to grow to 17,500, according to market projections, but SunWiz anticipates it'll reach 20,000 as manufacturing obstacles are overcome.

"The Tesla Powerwall 2 was absent from most of the first half of this year in terms of installs. We expect about 50% of the growth in the second half of the year to be from the Powerwall 2," Johnston tells CHOICE.

"There was also some supply constraints from other manufacturers, which we expect to ease."

Home solar batteries have been hard to manufacture inexpensively and in bulk. But as manufacturing efforts across the industry ramp up, Australians will be able to buy larger capacity batteries at lower prices.

Installing the original Tesla Powerwall when it was released last year, for instance, cost approximately $12,000 for a capacity of 7kWh. The following Powerwall 2 still costs about the same, though it has doubled in capacity to 13.5kWh.

The cost of solar batteries has dropped marginally since the beginning of the year, by about 5%, Johnston says, but they are expected to drop significantly in the coming years.

The nascent solar battery market is fiercely competitive. There are approximately 90 different models to choose from, with two brands emerging as the frontrunners.

But despite the pervasive brand recognition, the company selling the most solar batteries throughout 2016 and the first half of 2017 was not Tesla.

LG Chem, a subsidiary of the South Korean electronics company, sold the most solar batteries in Australia, with Tesla putting up fierce competition.

The majority of household batteries are being sold as a package with a rooftop solar system, rather than customers buying the battery alone and trying to retrofit existing solar installations.

The batteries are proving most popular in the state of NSW, accounting for 21% of solar installations this year, followed closely by Queensland at 18% and Victoria at 12%.

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