Households in Australia urged to install batteries amid solar power boom

Workers installing solar panels on the rooftop of a residential property in Sydney last Monday. Australia's home solar power uptake is among the highest in the world, and if more households also install batteries to store the solar power, it would gr
Workers installing solar panels on the rooftop of a residential property in Sydney last Monday. Australia's home solar power uptake is among the highest in the world, and if more households also install batteries to store the solar power, it would greatly increase the use of renewable energy. PHOTO: BLOOMBERG

Australia is experiencing a solar power boom as a growing number of households install photovoltaic panels on their roofs and turn their houses into power plants.

There is also a growing push to lift the currently low rates of battery installation - a move that would enable solar power storage and greatly increase the use of renewable energy.

Data collected by the federal government's clean energy regulator shows that Australia's home solar power uptake is among the highest in the world, with panels installed on the roofs of 2.7 million - or about a quarter - of properties, as at the beginning of this year.

In 2007, just 0.2 per cent of households had solar power.

New analysis, published last week by the nation's science agency, the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO), shows that the solar trend is currently surging.

Last year, a record 362,000 sets of solar panels were installed across the country, a 28 per cent increase from 2019. Most were for residential properties.

The growing roll-out has been attributed to government subsidies as well as the shift to working from home during the Covid-19 pandemic, which has led to an increase in home power usage.

The pandemic has also led to an increase in spending on home improvements. For many households, installing the panels leads to sharp drops in electricity bills, and the cost can be recouped within six or seven years.

Sun-drenched Australia has massive potential for solar power production and supply. CSIRO scientist Michael Ambrose said Australia now has the world's highest solar power output capacity per person.

In recent years, the federal government and states have run schemes to subsidise the installation of solar panels. The most populous state of New South Wales, for instance, is currently offering to install solar power systems for 3,000 low-income households.

Each household is expected to save about A$600 (S$618) a year from reduced electricity bills.

But the surging roll-out of solar panels is not being matched by installation of batteries. While many households can save on power bills when the sun is out, and many can also make some money by effectively selling their excess power to energy providers, they are unable to store the power for future use.

Analysts say batteries - which can cost about A$11,000 or more, including installation - are often considered by the average household to be not cost-effective.

Recent analysis by solar energy consultants SunWiz found that about 110,000 homes - or 4.4 per cent overall - have installed solar batteries. It found that only 9 per cent of households installing solar panels last year also installed batteries, down from a peak of 12 per cent in 2017.

The difficulty for many households is that batteries are still expensive and that they effectively allow solar power to be used at night, when usage and electricity prices are often lower.

But governments and retailers are now pushing households to install batteries and are providing a range of incentives and subsidies.

South Australia state, a world leader in promoting solar energy, offers subsidies and loans of up to A$3,000 for installing batteries. Victoria state offers battery rebates of up to A$4,174 for households in areas with fast population growth and high uptake of solar panels. New South Wales is offering interest-free loans of up to A$14,000 for installing solar panels and batteries, though the offer is limited to certain areas.

The authorities in Australia are currently considering a controversial move to effectively charge a fee to households that feed solar power to the grid during busy periods. The proposal is aimed at preventing overloads.

If adopted, it could discourage some people from installing solar power, but it might be a further incentive for many to finally add a battery to their rooftop panels.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on May 23, 2021, with the headline 'Households in Australia urged to install batteries amid solar power boom'. Subscribe