Solar batteries are top of mind for solar households wanting to get in control of their energy and reduce their reliance on the grid. Falling prices and government incentives are fuelling the rate at which Australians are buying batteries, but, like many prospective buyers, you might be asking – is the technology really up-to-scratch yet?
The simple answer is yes.
While new solar battery models are released every year and it may be tempting to wait ‘until the next one’, what we’re seeing today are mainly incremental improvements. We’re mostly seeing better energy density (lighter batteries) and/or manufacturing efficiencies.
The core technology inside a solar battery, while certainly sophisticated, has been tried and tested over decades. We’re getting continuously smarter and more efficient with using this tech, and these advancements have made solar storage increasingly affordable for the average Australian homeowner.
The technology inside a solar battery
In simple terms, solar batteries are energy storage units that use chemicals to absorb, store and release energy on demand. While there are several different types, lithium-ion is the most common for storing energy today. It is widely used in solar batteries and electric vehicles, as well as our mobile phones and computers.
There are only a handful of lithium-ion cell manufacturers in the world, such as CATL, BYD, ATL, and Samsung SDI. They supply cells to the solar battery makers, which include the likes of Tesla, Sonnen and SunGrow.
These companies then create the storage solutions we see on the market and the lithium-ion cells become just one of many components in the final product. The other components include:
- a battery management system – helps control parameters such as battery temperature, depth of discharge and state of charge so the batteries aren’t over or under charged, which can affect their life
- other electronics – including a charge controller and in some instances an electronic cooling system.
The key differences between solutions available in the market today include:
- capacity (battery storage size)
- monitoring options
- premium features (such as blackout protection)
- warranty duration
- depth of discharge (amount of useful battery capacity)
- package components (some are sold with the required hybrid inverter)
- design aesthetics
- ease of installation
Lithium-ion is tried, tested and here to stay
As you can see, most of the solar battery brands available today have more in common than most of us realise – their lithium-ion cores. And in basic terms, the function of a solar battery is simple: it needs to absorb (charge), store, and dispatch (discharge) energy in line with your needs.
First generation (non-re-chargeable) lithium-ion batteries were released in the 1970s, while the re-chargeable units were commercialised in the early 90s. Lithium-ion batteries have been powering our consumer electronics (like phones and laptops) for around 30 years.
While there are key differences and we have of course seen an evolution, it is largely the same technology that is now powering our electric vehicles and is increasingly connected to the grid.
The lithium-ion industry is booming. Battery manufacturers are building out their factories and worldwide manufacturing for lithium-ion batteries has almost tripled in the five years to 2018.
Looking at planned manufacturing for the next few years, we are only just getting started. These economies of scale and other advancements have reduced the cost of lithium-ion battery packs by around 85% in 8 years.
While promising new battery technologies are emerging, they are unlikely to challenge lithium-ion’s market dominance in the foreseeable future.
What about safety?
There are billions of lithium-ion battery cells produced every year and most of us carry one in our pocket all day with no issues. While re-calls of lithium-ion batteries in mobile phones or laptops do pop up in the news from time to time, it is important to keep things in perspective.
The number of faults required to trigger a consumer recall are usually low and manufacturers tend to act quickly. And rightly so when customer safety may be on the line.
But there is a big difference between a small battery pack that’s squeezed into increasingly thinner mobile devices with a warranty of 12-24 months and a much bigger, pure storage solution with a warranty of 10 years.
What’s important is to step back, consider the facts and seek out quality products and installers. Leading solar battery brands have sophisticated safety mechanisms in place which begin with their choice of lithium-ion cell production partner and include other means such as smart battery management systems and adhering to strict manufacturing and installation compliance.
There are also new safety standards being introduced in Australia, including AS 5139:2019 (Electrical Installations – Safety of battery systems for use with power conversion equipment).
Thinking of taking the next step toward energy independence?
If you’re considering a solar battery as your next renewable energy investment, you’re no-doubt doing some research. While most solutions will have a lithium-ion core, the brand of the battery cells and the system’s capacity, additional features and warranties are what sets them apart. We can help you make sense of it all.
We’ve analysed over 1500 of our customers, researched the market and created a modular battery solution with blackout protection, extended warranty and a price-point that’s hard to beat. Using smart technology, the DC Power Co Solar Battery Package is a streamlined battery package that looks good on the wall.