A SYDNEY family has reduced its Energy Australia power bill to $0 a quarter after turning to solar power and battery storage to meet the household’s energy needs and guard against future price rises.
While some members of the government cling to coal, advances in renewable energy systems are providing genuine alternatives for Aussie households — and the Fenech family is cashing in.
The family was one of the first in the country to adopt a home solar power solution from German company Sonnen that provides solar panels and battery storage and links the system to all the other Sonnen batteries in Australia — essentially creating a virtual power plant for its users.
“Sonnen links us all together so basically Sonnen becomes our energy retailer,” Steve Fenech told news.com.au.
Users can choose between different plans to receive a guaranteed annual allowance of energy for a monthly fee of $30, $40 or $50 (plus GST) and in return some of the energy stored in your battery is used to assist in the stabilisation of the electricity grid resulting in reducing your energy bills, Sonnen says.
The German company promotes its SonnenFlat product as taking away all the risk of a rise in future energy prices.
The Fenechs were among the first Australians to install a SonnenFlat system in their Pagewood home in Sydney’s east after it launched in July last year and are expecting to save more than $2520 on their yearly power bill in 2018.
It now costs them just $44 per month to power their two storey, four bedroom home with three bathrooms and fully ducted airconditioning.
Previously, the Fenechs were paying $379.40 a year just for grid access without a cent being charged for power usage. Those charges no longer apply as the monthly fee covers both access and power charges with no additional costs applied.
You still need to be connected to the grid, but the battery and Sonnen take over.
“I’m still with Energy Australia but my bill says $0 now. I just don’t need their electricity,” Mr Fenech said.
The whole system cost him $19,000 to install but he expects it to have paid for itself in about five to six years.
“I could have built a system with way more panels, bigger batteries and been completely off the grid but it probably would’ve cost me two to three times more than what I paid for this system now,” he said. He was happy to go with the smaller overhead and have a monthly power bill that was less than what he pays for his mobile phone each month.
A big part of the motivation was to take more control of the household power supply and protect the family budget against rising energy prices.
Without the SonnenFlat system, the family’s power bill would be about $3000 a year. But now, they are expecting to save upwards of $2520 throughout the year by just paying the fixed monthly fee.
“Whose to say the $3000 (a year) is not going to be $4000 or $5000 in two years’ time,” he said. “I thought here’s a chance to get outside of that inevitable price rise.”
The day he sat down with solar battery installer Natural Solar last year to talk about making the move, it just so happened to be the same day that Energy Australia announced a 19 per cent increase to electricity prices in NSW.
“The timing was kind of ironic,” he joked.
Chris Williams is the CEO and founder of Natural Solar — Australia’s largest installer of solar batteries. The company “hand-picks” the best solar energy products and installs a range of battery solutions including the Tesla Powerwall, but Mr Williams said Sonnen is the firm’s “main focus” and was quick to praise the product.
“The Sonnen battery uses Sony-made lithium-iron phosphate cells and, put simply, what that gives you is 10,000 cycles (before the battery stops retaining 100 per cent) and effectively a 20-year life expectancy of the battery unit itself. Most of the solutions on the market are at 10 years and only about 3000 cycles,” Mr Williams said.
“As far as the virtual power plant, sharing of power, aggregation of batteries — that’s really where the SonnenFlat solution is head and shoulders above any other product on the market,” he said.
According to Mr Williams, the cheapest SonnenFlat option, which offers 7500kWh of energy per year for no additional cost “is generally going to be ample to power a three-bedroom household”.
However it’s a modular system, so if you want to increase the battery capacity it is easily done.
“For a 5kW system and an 8kWh battery installed you’re looking at around $17,000 to $18,000 and that’s going to have a return on investment of around six to seven years, if not lower,” he said.
“We’ve been installing batteries for some years now and to see return on investment get to a point like this is great. It’s not just the early adopters that are interested but the mum and dad households who are running the financials and saying this makes sense, we want to save money.”
SONNEN’S BIG AUSTRALIAN PUSH
In February, Sonnen announced it will set up a battery manufacturing hub in South Australia to tap what it sees as the fastest global growth market for solar rooftop storage. The plant will make around 10,000 solar batteries a year for the first five years, once it is set up in six to nine months, said the company’s Australia/New Zealand managing director Chris Parratt.
“We believe that Australia will be the biggest market for storage over the next five years,” Mr Parratt told Reuters.
“At the moment, Germany is the biggest. But we think given the conditions in Australia — high energy prices, an affluent society, high penetration of solar — these things all add up.”
To use the SonnenFlat system, households must be connected to the National Electricity Market. The SonnenFlat solution cannot be offered in Western Australia or to houses connected to the Ergon Network in Queensland.