Battery storage systems are exceedingly popular in Australia, which has some of the highest energy costs in the world. Battery storage systems like the Tesla Powerwall are seen as the answer to high electricity costs when coupled with a rooftop solar installation. There are currently 1.6 million homes in Australia with rooftop solar and the majority of those home owners say they are interested in adding battery storage to help them reduce the amount of electricity they draw from the grid.
On February 13, a report leaked in the Australian press saying that Standards Australia, a non-governmental group similar to Underwriters Laboratories, was about to recommend that any storage devices using lithium ion cells not be installed inside homes but rather in free standing kiosks or bunkers added to the exterior of buildings.
According to Australia’s RenewEconomy, the new standard would add thousands of dollars to the price of a complete solar power system and imperil what is considered to be a multi-billion dollar business opportunity. Bloomberg New Energy Finance believes there could be as many as 6 million residential storage battery installations in Australia in the next 15 years.
The leaked report created a whirlwind of protest. No other country has such restrictions on storage battery installations. John Grimes, head of the Australian Solar Council, says that other countries like Japan and the United States do not have bans on lithium ion storage batteries in homes. He adds that there are already 30,000 such devices in Germany, where lithium ion devices are banned only in sleeping areas.
Apparently Standards Australia grew concerned when reports surfaced that the Samsung Galaxy Note had a disturbing tendency to burst into flames. That device has now been banned from all commercial aircraft whether in carry on or checked luggage.
The proposed rules could have a devastating effect on a virtual power plant program being promoted by AGL Energy in South Australia. That concept would link up to 1000 home solar systems together with a sophisticated digital control network designed to manage each system remotely and maximize the efficiency of the entire microgrid.
Australia is ripe for solar power development because of the abundance of sunshine it receives every day. In fact, there is already a planned community near Melbourne, Australia that has been dubbed Tesla Town because every house has a rooftop solar system mated to a Tesla Powerwall storage battery. Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is one of those Australians who has a 14.5 kW rooftop solar and battery storage system installed at his home.
Some people have expressed concerns that owners of electric cars with lithium ion batteries such as the Tesla Model S and Model X might be prevented from parking their cars in their garages if the Standards Australia rules are adopted.
LG Chem and Tesla are the two leading storage battery suppliers in Australia. Both use lithium ion battery cells, as do the products from Sony, GCL, BYD, Panasonic and Samsung. Companies that offer storage batteries that do not use lithium ion cells include Sonnenbatterie and Enphase (lithium iron phosphate batteries), Astralia’s Redflow (zinc bromine flow batteries), Ecoult (lead acid batteries), and Aquion, which uses ionically charged water molecules as its storage medium.
The storm of complaints has forced Standards Australia to rethink its position even before its new rules were officially announced. On February 14, it released a statement denying it is proposing a ban on lithium ion batteries in homes. It said that the public discussion period for its proposed rules would now begin in April instead of later this month and would extend for 9 weeks instead of the usual 6.
“Standards Australia is working with stakeholders to develop a new draft Australian Standard AS/NZS 5139, Electrical Installations –Safety of battery systems for use in inverter energy systems that will enable the safe installation of battery energy storage systems,” the organization said in a statement. “It is proposed that the draft document will contain provisions for:
- Installation requirements for all battery systems connected to inverter energy systems, covering all battery types
- Mitigating hazards associated with battery energy storage system installations
- Classifying batteries based on hazards, and not chemistry type
Those are reasonable and sensible proposals, considering that Australia currently has no national standards governing the installation of residential solar systems, which leaves consumers open to shoddy work by poorly trained contractors. The best defense against charlatans is to let Tesla manage the entire process. It uses only trained, certified installers and stands behind each installation with its reputation for quality and customer service.
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