With rising electricity prices, powering up Australian households with battery powered solar energy is becoming more appealing.
Professor John Buckeridge from the School of Civil, Environmental and Chemical Engineering takes us through a few of the advantages and disadvantages of this technology.
Tesla has recently announced a plan to provide Australian households with a new solar energy battery system which will transform the way we energise our homes. What is your understanding of this technology (and other similar emerging products coming into the market)?
The fact that the sun sets each day has traditionally been a major impediment to solar power.
An efficient storage system such as the one Tesla appears to be offering could be a game changer, as it will provide a relatively cheap system to store excess power generated during the day, and make it available at night. In the medium to long-term, it will save households considerable money.
Ultimately, I see systems being set up in streets where neighbours can link solar panels and surplus power can flow through to others nearby.
Past storage systems, such as lead storage cells, were just too bulky and too dangerous (they contain acid) to have in domestic situations.
What is the significance of this new technology to Australians?
Australia is ideally situated to take advantage of solar power - it is free and sustainable. We receive a good dose of solar radiation here, and our skies are not too polluted. In addition, we have the space to set up solar farms.
What are some of the challenges we may face in shifting from electricity to solar power?
There will be costs, and these may be higher than some families can afford. Retail electricity providers may well see this as an opportunity (rather than a threat) to lease systems to households. This should, of course, be much cheaper than the current supply.
Why do you think it has it taken so long for a sun-drenched country like Australia to embrace solar power?
The lack of storage for off-peak generation time usage has been one of the main issues.
The other issue is that we need to educate the broader public about the advantages of a move towards self-sufficiency with energy. There’s a plethora of new systems available, including solar panel design and inverter types. The public must be able to make informed choices about these with confidence.
For potential buyers of this new technology, what might be the first and subsequent steps in choosing a solar power product?
There are new advances on the horizon which might offset some of the visual pollution that current solar panels provide.
I was in Germany recently and noted that new panels are on the market (apparently not available here yet) that look just like roof tiles.
Other innovations in Germany include a paint that behaves as a solar cell. Not a big generator, but who cares? You can paint the whole house with it. In Amsterdam, there are solar cells in roads, which provide sufficient electricity to power street lighting (they have storage systems of course).
- A new solar battery from Tesla will enable users to efficiently store and use power throughout the day (including night time).
- Solar batteries will be relatively affordable, but beware of providers who want to exploit consumers.
- Sunny Australia is well-placed to switch to solar energy.
- Attractive options such as solar roof tiles are now widely used in Europe.