Better energy

When's the Right Time to Add a Battery to Your Solar System?

Solar panels on roof at twilight

With the Australian Energy Council reporting that nearly 15% of the country’s households have already installed solar panels on their roofs, it’s clear that the Australian Solar Revolution has already begun. That’s more than 1.5 million homes enjoying the benefits of producing their own solar energy, reducing both their carbon footprint and their electricity bills.

Retail electricity prices are steadily on the rise, and solar power is beginning to provide a cheaper source of electricity. Solar panels create most of their power during the day when homeowners aren’t typically around to use it, however. This means that solar users must sell that energy back to the grid, and then buy energy back again when they are home – usually when the sun’s gone down and their systems aren’t producing.

Australian households pay far more for the energy they draw down from the grid than they earn from selling their surplus solar energy back to it. In 2016 the Climate Council found that Australian households typically paid between 20 - 35c per kWh to import electricity to their houses, but only received 5 - 8c per kWh for their energy exports back to the grid. When you combine this with the rising cost of electricity, it limits how much money you can save from a solar system.

There are alternatives, however. Today, it now makes more economic sense for households to try to use more of the solar they generate themselves, rather than exporting it to the grid.

The benefits of battery storage

Adding a battery to your solar power system is one way to use more of the solar you generate. A battery lets you store the surplus electricity your panels create, so you can use it later in the day, and can, in fact almost double how much solar you use. Figures from the Climate Council show that adding a 4kWh battery to a 5kW solar system can increase the amount of self-generated solar electricity a household consumes from 30 to 60%.

Falling costs

Solar batteries have actually been around for decades but they were expensive, and so out of reach for most of the population. But thanks to recent leaps in technology, batteries are fast becoming a more and more viable option for solar consumers. Battery costs fell by 14% each year from 2007 to 2014, and even more dramatic cost reductions are expected in the not-so-distant future. Analysts predict that half of all Australian households will adopt a solar storage system in the next 10 years.

Does a battery make sense for you now?

If you’re mainly interested in reducing your carbon footprint, then adding a battery to your system is probably a natural next step.

It may also be the right decision if you’re interested in reducing your electricity bills. But to make sure it’s a sound financial decision, it’s important to weigh up the total cost of the battery and its installation against how much you're likely to save over time. Whether it’s the right choice for you will all depend on your personal consumption patterns, circumstances, and motivation. It’s a good idea to get advice from a reputable retailer who can help you to decide if installing a battery is a good idea for you right now and if so, what options will best suit your needs.

Buying a battery

When choosing a battery, there are some important things to keep in mind. Prices for solar batteries largely depend on their storage size, their efficiency level, and lifecycle. The larger, more efficient, and longer the lifecycle, the more you will get from your battery, but the more expensive it will be.

If you think you might want to add another battery later on, consider getting a model that lets you stack batteries on top of each other to increase your overall storage capacity.

Preparing for battery storage

While batteries can certainly make financial sense for some solar owners, others may find that it’s better to wait until the price drops even further over the next few years, and instead invest in preparing their system for battery storage.

If your solar panel system size is small in capacity, you may need to think about upgrading it to a size that can charge a battery on a cloudy day. Your system will also need a battery inverter to make use of the battery. A battery inverter converts DC electricity into AC electricity to discharge the battery, and AC energy into DC energy to charge it again. Unfortunately, not all inverters fit with all types of batteries, so your choice of battery may be directed by the specifications of your current system. Your retailer will be able to talk you through the options that will best suit your system.

Hybrid solar inverters

If your solar inverter is getting on in years, a good solution may be to replace it with a hybrid inverter. Hybrid inverters are relatively new, and contain both solar and battery inverters in one box.

Redback Technologies’ Smart Solar Hybrid Inverter is a great example of a hybrid solar inverter. This smart system can handle all your electricity conversion needs and is designed to be ‘battery ready’. That means it’s built to integrate with a compatible battery of up to 13kWh of energy storage. What’s more, this smart-tech solar solution helps households optimise their energy usage by identifying the most efficient energy source per time of day, and letting you point that energy in the most effective direction.

If you are new to the world of solar, the current climate, prices, and technological advancements mean that it now makes more sense than ever before to buy a battery with your solar system from the get-go, or at least purchase a panel and inverter system that will allow you to more easily add a battery in the not-so-distant future.