Consumers front and centre in new home battery program

Behavioural science will inform a new project that harnesses energy from individual consumer-owned batteries.

A Sydney-based solar startup has set out to boost participation in programs that orchestrate energy from household solar and battery systems.

UPowr’s project will encourage solar households across Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia to aggregate and deploy energy from their home batteries, boosting the capacity of the grid to respond to voltage disturbances and host more distributed energy.

Findings and costs associated with the recruitment techniques will be shared to help the industry grow these types of programs, which have struggled to attract customers in the past.

To date approximately 73,000 household battery systems have been installed in Australia and just a fraction of these are able to be remotely accessed by third parties.

ARENA is providing $446,000 towards the project’s $943,155 total cost, building on past funding for Tesla and AEMO’s virtual power plant programs.

Batteries playing catch-up

ARENA CEO Darren Miller said the rapid growth of rooftop solar makes it important to understand how to incentivise people to sign up for programs that make the network more resilient.

“Despite our record-breaking solar installations, only 73,000 household batteries have been installed alongside them to store solar energy and dispatch it later,” he said.

“It is estimated that only 10 per cent of these batteries are controlled by energy providers including retailers, aggregators and networks who can optimise the charging and discharging of batteries, so it’s vital that we continue to find ways to incentivise customers to join these programs.”

A Sunwiz analysis in mid-2020 found that Australia had surpassed 2.5 million rooftop solar installations, creating challenges for the electricity grid which was not designed for two-directional energy flows.

Home batteries allow excess power from rooftop solar systems to be soaked up during sunny periods for later use, reducing the amount of energy exported to the grid and providing capacity to inject energy when it is most needed.

“As DER will play an increasingly important role in our electricity grid, we need to put consumers at the centre as it is their behind-the-meter assets including rooftop solar, home batteries, electric vehicles, smart appliances and home energy management systems that will be crucial to scaling up VPPs and demand response.”

“It is important that residential customers are made aware of the benefits from enrolling in these initiatives, and we look forward to seeing UPowr’s results in further understanding the customer journey and experience and how the findings can be used to increase participation rates in future projects,” he said.

New way of installing solar and batteries

UPowr’s fully digital platform manages the installation of rooftop solar and battery systems, tackling some of the biggest challenges for the rooftop solar industry.

The company set out to make the process of installing distributed energy more focused on the consumer, while also freeing up installers to focus on the core business of fitting hardware rather than sales and marketing.

UPowr founders Stu Philpot and Daniel Friedman

Using only accredited installers and proven hardware tackles reliability and longevity issues, while UPowr’s algorithm ensures solar systems are optimised for consumer’s rooftops and consumption patterns.

The platform has recently been expanded to include home batteries, projecting savings based on individual households’ usage and providing ongoing support once the system is installed.

UPowr CEO and co-founder Stu Philpot said boosting participation in battery orchestration schemes will have benefits for energy users and the grid.

“Residential solar has created challenges for the industry. But the way it’s currently being addressed – by reducing feed-in-tariffs, export limits and external ‘shut-down’ requirements, is not creating value for the customers who have installed solar,” Mr Philpot said.

“Batteries that are part of an orchestration program, optimised to do the right thing by the customer and the grid, can solve these challenges and still ensure that customers get value – our challenge is to do more in making these programs more aligned to customer values to encourage and incentivise more people to participate.”