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Home hydrogen storage for rooftop solar? UNSW team says it’s coming in 2020

Home hydrogen storage for rooftop solar? UNSW team says it’s coming in 2020

By Sophie Vorrath / One Step Off The Grid / 20 March 2019

A New South Wales-based effort to develop renewable hydrogen storage solutions – including a 5kWh home solar storage system – has received $3.5 million in backing from green investment outfit Providence Asset Group.

Tamworth-based company H2Store is working on the technology in partnership with the University of New South Wales, which promises to overcome one of the key barriers to realising the potential of green hydrogen in Australia – storage and transportation.

“The biggest challenge with hydrogen is it is very low density, and it needs big storage tanks, which makes transporting it not viable,” H2Store’s Llewellyn Owens told the Northern Daily Leader last week.

“We’ve made a metal that absorbs the hydrogen and then releases it, which makes it very easy to transport. We’ve known that you can transport hydrogen this way for a while, but the metal had to be heated up to 300 to 400 degrees for the hydrogen to be released. This one basically operates entirely at room temperature.”

The UNSW said on Tuesday that the money from Providence Asset Group would be used to deliver phase one of the four-stage project, including the creation of a home hydrogen storage prototype to compete with – and even outperform – current home battery systems, like the Tesla Powerwall.

The team hopes to have a 5kWh home storage system prototype ready by the end of this year, and a product on the market late in 2020. This would be followed by a “ramped up” 15kWh commercial-scale storage system.

“We will be able to take energy generated through solar panels and store it as hydrogen in a very dense form, so one major advantage of our hydrogen batteries is that they take up less space and are safer than the lithium-ion batteries used in many homes today,” said Professor Kondo-Francois Aguey-Zinsou from the UNSW School of Chemical Engineering.

“We can actually store about seven times more energy than the current systems.

“This means that in a residential scenario, people will be able to store a lot more energy using the same footprint as Tesla batteries, to potentially power their home, charge their cars and still have excess to sell back to the grid.”

Other benefits to the UNSW/H2Store’s technology, the team says, include a lifespan of about 30 years – compared with around 10 years for some batteries – and none of the fire risk associated with lithium-ion systems.

And at the other end of the energy storage scale, the researchers are also working on system for solar and wind farms that will include the design of storage vessels suitable for hydrogen export, and which could in turn have potential to replace diesel in remote generation and large transport applications.

“As the hydrogen technology develops, we will see a new cost-effective alternative to chemical batteries, remote electricity generation, household heating and increased range of hydrogen vehicles,” Owens said.

According to the Northern Daily Leader, the idea has attracted a total of $7 million in investment, with another $3.5 million previously committed by an unnamed company.

The $3.5 million from Providence Asset Group follows last month’s signing of a 10-year dealbetween the asset manager and UNSW Sydney to accelerate research and development of sustainable energy technologies.

UNSW Dean of Engineering Professor Mark Hoffman said Australia had a real opportunity to lead to world in hydrogen storage, energy and transportation solutions.

“This is a very exciting project and I am very grateful to Providence Asset Group for investing in the pioneering work being done at UNSW.  I look forward to watching the developments over the next 12 months,” Hoffman said.

Indeed, the investment from Pioneer marks the second financial endorsement of renewable hydrogen technology in as many days, with the federal government on Tuesday granting $3.1 million to a Toyota Australia project to establish a green hydrogen hub powered by solar and battery storage at one of its old car manufacturing plants in Altona North in Victoria.

An ARENA report prepared in 2018 by consultants ACIL Allen found enormous potential in an Australian renewable hydrogen market, including $10 billion in exports over 20 years, and 16,000 new blue-collar jobs, mainly in regional areas.

Energy Stuff specialises in Residential Solar with emphasis on Repairs, Replacements and upgrades. We also provide new systems, battery storage, Off-Grid systems and smart monitoring systems so call us if we can be of support 1300 656 205 or go to our website at http://www.energystuff.com.au

Tesla’s base Model 3 may not arrive in Australia until 2020

Written by Bridie Schmidt / 7 March 2019 / The Driven

The most affordable version of Tesla’s Model 3 electric sedan is now available in the US, but there will still be a wait for those in other parts of the world, according to CEO and founder Elon Musk.

The Tesla Model 3 has been a game changer for the electric vehicle market, becoming the best-selling car in its class in 2018 and its arrival in Australia in mid-2019 will also mark a major milestone for the local automotive market.

With an asking price starting at $US35,000 (just under $A50,000 at today’s rates, but before GST and other add-ons)) before incentives and fuel cost savings, the addition of the “Standard range” Model 3 last week to Tesla’s US configurator was so gladly received it sent the EV maker’s website into meltdown.

Tesla also added a second upgraded version of the base Model 3 to its website, known as the “Standard Range Plus”, which for an additional $US2,000 gives the driver 20 miles (32km) more range, 10mph (16km/hr) higher top speed and a slightly faster acceleration of 0.3 seconds from 0-60mph (0-96.5km/hr).

However, although the more expensive Long Range and Performance versions of the Model 3 are now being delivered to long waiting customers in Europe and China, there will still be a wait for those wanting to purchase the cheaper versions.

Following the announcement of the Tesla Model 3 on Friday, Musk stated via social media channel Twitter that the base versions would arrive in Europe in around 6 months, with Asia in 6 to 8 months.

The Model 3 is slated to arrive in Australia in mid-2019, but it is expected that the Long Range and Performance will be the versions first made here in Australia, as has been the case overseas.

If the arrival of the base Model 3 follows the same delay as its appearance in China (about 4 months), this means that Aussies may not see the base Model 3 until early 2020.

That is of course dependent on when right hand drive versions of the base model begin production – Musk confirmed in a press conference on Friday that a blend of high and low-priced models would be in production at the same time, which suggests that the RHD base Model 3 production could start sooner than later.

With both the UK and Australia are patiently awaiting the start of RHD production, reports that Tesla has registered at least 2 RHD VINs has many reservation holders hopes up that a mid-2019 arrival in both countries will be achieved.

Of course, registration of VINs does not mean those cars have yet been built, but it is a step in the right direction.

When the base version of the Model 3 does arrive, it’s worth taking note that Musk himself has suggested that the Standard Range Plus version is better value for money.

“For a small amount more you can get basically a whole lot more like roughly 6% price increase gets you … almost 10% range increase and a 6% power increase and … mostly towards the premium interior,” he said at Friday’s press conference.

Worldwide, demand for the Model 3 is expected to be up to 500,000 units per year (annualised). Although Tesla has not released numbers of how many reservation holders there are in Australia, Musk said on Friday that those holding reservations would have first choice to purchase the base Standard Range Model 3 once it arrives.

Energy Stuff specialises in Residential Solar with emphasis on Repairs, Replacements and upgrades. We also provide new systems, battery storage, Off-Grid systems and smart monitoring systems so call us if we can be of support 1300 656 205 or go to our website at http://www.energystuff.com.au

Researchers Are Turning Windows into Green-Energy Farms with See-Through Solar Panels

Written by Louise Bevan / The Epoch Times / 8 March 2019

Solars panels, while a game-changing feat of engineering, have historically been—depending on your aesthetic preferences—a bit of an eyesore. But this is changing since researchers from Michigan State University have developed see-through solar panels. Completely transparent. Think windows. These ingenious panels will be able to provide numerous functions in future architectural design, not to mention other fields such as mobile phone technology, and cars.


The see-through cells can be used on buildings, mobile phones, and even cars

The American inventor Charles Fritts created the first commercial solar panel way back in 1881, describing it himself as “continuous, constant and of considerable force.” But the panels were somewhat inefficient: the design was perfected for commercial use in 1939 by American engineer Russell Ohl, who created the solar cell design that we have become familiar with today.

The Michigan State University research team, already having an engineering formula that worked, focused on transparency instead. What they came up with has been termed a “transparent luminescent solar concentrator,” or TLSC, which can function as a coating over clear surfaces like windows, harvesting solar energy without affecting the function of the window to let in light.


Dr. Richard Lunt leads the Michigan State University research team

The technology employs organic molecules, which function on a light wavelength not visible to the human eye. Dr. Richard Lunt is the assistant professor of chemical engineering and materials science at MSU’s College of Engineering, and he explained in more detail: “We can tune these materials to pick up just the ultraviolet and the near infrared wavelengths that then ‘glow’ at another wavelength in the infrared. The captured light is transported to the contour of the panel,” he continued, “where it is converted to electricity with the help of thin strips of photovoltaic solar cells.”


TLSC could make a huge impact on energy efficiency

The design is ideal for use in architecture. As more solar energy can be harvested from the larger surface area of a building’s facade, as opposed to its rooftop, TLSC could make a huge energy impact on tall buildings. Especially glass ones. TLSC does not affect the overall look of the building or compromise the focus of the architectural design, but lends the benefits of a hyper-efficient energy technology to existing properties. TLSC can also be integrated into old buildings.

The New York Times reported favorably on the new technology: “If the cells can be made long-lasting, they could be integrated into windows relatively cheaply, as much of the cost of conventional photovoltaics is not from the solar cell itself, but the materials it is mounted on, like aluminum and glass,” they wrote. “Coating existing structures with solar cells would eliminate some of this material cost.”


The university team’s ongoing research is funded by the Center for Excitonics

Boasting a triple whammy of appealing characteristics— being transparent, impactful, and cost effective—the TLSC transparent cells could change the face of solar power completely. And if they prove commercially viable, Dr. Lunt continued, the power they generate could “significantly offset the energy use of large buildings.” The university research team has received funding from the Center for Excitonics, an Energy Frontier Research Center financed by the Department of Energy, to continue their innovative research into the energy-producing efficiency of the transparent cells. Dr. Lunt believes that some basic modifications, such as stacking the cells, could increase TLSC efficiency from 1 percent to around 10 percent.

Dr. Lunt’s excitement reflects that of the team at large. “We’re not saying we could power the whole building,” he clarified, “but we are talking about a significant amount of energy, enough for things like lighting and powering everyday electronics.”

The future is looking clearer and clearer.

Energy Stuff specialises in Residential Solar with emphasis on Repairs, Replacements and upgrades. We also provide new systems, battery storage, Off-Grid systems and smart monitoring systems so call us if we can be of support 1300 656 205 or go to our website at http://www.energystuff.com.au

Rooftop solar trading platform cuts out energy market middle man

Written by Sophie Vorrath / One Step Off The Grid / 7 March 2019

A ground-breaking rooftop solar trading platform that cuts out the energy market middle man and allows consumers to buy and sell renewable power at prices negotiated among themselves has been launched across four Australian states.

The platform – which, among other things, provides access to solar for consumers otherwise unable to invest in the technology – was opened for registration on Thursday by upstart retailer Energy Locals, in partnership with solar trading software developer, Enosi.

Under the new partnership, customers can negotiate the sale of excess rooftop solar generation at rates individually agreed upon with their chosen buyers, in a way the two companies hope will take pressure off the grid and – for consumers – eradicate hidden fees.

As Enosi CEO Steve Hoy explains it, customers of Energy Locals will be able to trade with each other, set their own price – a maximum buy price, or a minimum sell price – and nominate a person or business they wish to sell to.

The buyer pays the grid tariff – which of course varies on different parts of the NEM – while the seller gets the price negotiated, which could range from zero, in the case of charitable or family solar donations, or might be slightly higher than the applicable solar export tariff.

For households with no one party nominated to buy their excess solar, they can trade into a pool of buyers, which is set up like a stock market, with maximum and minimum prices set every half hour, and trades are reconciled at the end of the month.

All Energy Locals customers, meanwhile, pay a flat, GST inclusive membership fee of $4.50 a week, and default grid electricity usage is charged at Energy Locals’ wholesale prices.

But as Hoy points out, the solar trading platform is about more than helping customers save a few dollars on energy bills.

Indeed, the two companies share one overriding goal in this venture, which is “lifting the veil on a deeply distrusted industry and giving customers transparency and control over pricing.”

“We’re removing the need for someone to be reliant on a traditional retailer with integrated centralised generation, that is produced a very long way away,” Hoy told One Step in an interview on Thursday.

“At the moment, customers are just purely price takers. They’re really completely exposed to whatever games (gen-tailers) choose to play in the wholesale market.

“There’s not a lot you can do about it if you can’t invest in solar or your property isn’t suitable.”

According to Energy Locals CEO Adrian Merrick, this has been particularly evident in the Victorian market, of late, into which the company is set to launch, but has been holding off, on account of it “looking nuts.”

“What we’re seeing in the market is the integrated generators and retailers have actually been choosing to run their generation less,” Merrick said.

“At the end of January, we saw people taking some very odd decisions about when to run and not run their plant, and all sorts of strange forced outages.

“We believe there are a lot of offshore derivatives backing their position, which means they were covered from a financial point of view.

“So if you’ve got four units and you take one of them off-line in a major heatwave, you’re going to make a lot more money running three units at high prices than if you had all four running,” he said.

“I think it would be very interesting to look at the next set of financial results… (it would likely reveal) yet more evidence of just the extreme amount of money that people are making from what is a completely broken wholesale market.

“It’s actually a relatively small number of people that are screwing the market in this way. Less than 100 people. Some smart rule changes would deal with this.”

For now – and Energy Locals will be opening for business in Victoria in the next few weeks – the two companies are working with the market they’ve got, and doing what they can to offer customers what they believe is a better and fairer system.

But Hoy and Merrick both note that a few tweaks to market regulations and structure would be very welcome.

“We have designed this so it fits into the market the way it is, but it would benefit form more cost reflective tariffing in many ways.

“We’re trying to support people who don’t have solar, so we would like to see grid tariffs being shared between sellers and buyers.

But they’re not holding their breath in the wait for progress.

“This kind of product directly challenges vested interests in the industry,” Merrick said.

“Customers are going to be much better off when the status quo in this industry is broken.

“What we’ve got here is a platform and proposition for customers that will be able to demonstrate how a rule change would find its way through to lower bills for customers.”

That said, adds Hoy, “the main reason (we’re doing this) is to give people a little bit of control on where they’re getting their energy from.

“It’s a way of proving the providence of (the electricity), and we can prove that the generator didn’t sell it twice – that he doesn’t get a feed-in tariff from (Energy Locals too).”

A neat example Hoy puts forward is based the local primary school.

“Schools struggle to justify solar on the roof, because the school day ends at 3.30pm, and then there are weekends and school holidays.

“But if they can sell that excess solar to the parents, then you’ve got this natural marketplace and the parents are likewise supporting the school.

“In the same way, at the middle of the day, when the school’s energy needs are highest, they can buy from the parents, who are mostly out at work.”

So who can opt in? At the moment, any customers of Energy Locals in south-east Queensland, New South Wales and the ACT can register their interest to take part. Victorian customers can also register to join the platform, but will have to wait around three more weeks until Energy Locals launches in that state.

Energy Stuff specialises in Residential Solar with emphasis on Repairs, Replacements and upgrades. We also provide new systems, battery storage, Off-Grid systems and smart monitoring systems so call us if we can be of support 1300 656 205 or go to our website at http://www.energystuff.com.au

Your silicon solar panels are limited to 32pc efficiency, but scientists are working on it

By science reporter Belinda Smith / ABC News / 5 March 2019

Main image: While silicon solar panels do pay for themselves energy-wise within a few years, they really could be better at converting light to electricity. (Freepik: jcomp)

Solar panels now grace the roofs of more than 2 million Australian homes. But when it comes to solar cell efficiency records, the numbers aren’t so clear-cut.

These days, the best silicon solar cells operate at 26.7 per cent efficiency.

Hang on. Only 26.7 per cent? That seems pretty low, especially when you find out that’s under ideal lab conditions.

But don’t diss the efforts of chemists and physicists — 26.7 per cent, and the tiny efficiency gains that led to it, is a big deal.

Put simply, there’s a limit to how much of the sun’s energy can be converted to electricity by solar systems.

In the case of your standard rooftop silicon panels, efficiency tops out at around 32 per cent.

(And that’s a theoretical figure. Out in the real world, silicon panels are around 20 per cent efficient.)

So why does this 32 per cent limit exist, and can we work around it?

How do solar cells work?

First, we need to understand the nuts and bolts of how solar cells, which make up panels, generate electricity from sunlight.

Let’s go with silicon solar cells, given they’re the most familiar.

These cells are made of a silicon wafer that’s “doped” with small amounts of other elements, so electrons flow around a circuit in a particular direction to give us electricity.

Electrons in silicon atoms usually hang out in what’s called a “valance band”. While there, electrons aren’t free to move around, so the silicon acts like an insulator.

But if an electron gains enough energy, it can jump into a higher energy “conduction band” where it’s mobile and — voila! — able to produce electrical current.

The amount of energy needed to bounce between the valance and conduction bands is called the “band gap”.

In solar cells, sunlight in the form of photons provides the energy kick electrons need to traverse the band gap.

And for silicon, that band gap is 1.1 electron volts.

Where does silicon’s efficiency limit come from?

Named after the physicists who calculated it in 1961, a material’s maximum efficiency is called the Shockley-Queisser limit.

It’s a fairly complex calculation that takes into account a bunch of factors. A big one is that not all photons are created equal when it comes to energy.

The sun spits out a wide spectrum of photons, from ultraviolet through to infrared.

Visible light only makes up part of the spectrum of sunlight that falls on Earth. (Wikimedia Commons: Fulvio314)

But redder photons carry less energy than their bluer counterparts, said Andrew Tilley, a chemist at the University of Melbourne’s Bio21 Institute.

“So light with energy below the band gap passes through the silicon, unabsorbed.”

That ends up being a large proportion, too — around 20 per cent of sunlight falling on a solar cell simply does not contain enough energy to provide that 1.1-electron-volt boost.

What happens to two-thirds of the sun’s energy?

Photons that aren’t energetic enough provide a large chunk of wasted energy. This is called the transmission loss.

And then there are heaps of photons that are tooenergetic.

Take, for instance, an orange photon with 2 electron volts hitting a silicon solar cell. It kicks up an electron from the valance band to the conduction band, but traversing the band gap only requires 1.1 electron volts.

This leaves 0.9 electron volts of energy left over, which manifests itself as waste heat or, in fancy physics terms, thermalisation loss.

“It’s a massive challenge,” Dr Tilley said.

In the case of silicon solar cells, thermalisation and transmission account for about 35 and 20 per cent, respectively, of efficiency loss.

The remaining 15 per cent or so is energy lost due to other quirks of optics and thermodynamics.

Are we stuck with max efficiency of 34 per cent?

Of course not. Physicists and chemists are finding ways to capture energy that would usually be lost in transmission and thermalisation and turn it into electricity.

Let’s see how we can get around the big thermalisation problem. One way is to stack layers of solar cells, with each absorbing a different part of the spectrum.

The key is to use old tried-and-tested silicon with another semiconducting material to create a “stacked” solar cell.

Stacked solar cells have been used for years, but generally only in solar-powered devices where space is a premium, like satellites and spacecraft.

Triple-layer solar panels that were popped on the now-dead Spirit and Opportunity Mars rovers back in 2003, for instance, boasted a 27 per cent conversion efficiency.

While Opportunity’s solar panels were pretty great in terms of efficiency, in the end, they were no match for the Martian dust.(Supplied: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Cornell University/Arizona State University)

But they were made of gallium-arsenide which, even now, costs up to $300 per watt — about 100 times more expensive than silicon panels.

A new and quite promising candidate is a group of materials called perovskites, which have “shot from obscurity to being awesome in a short period”, said Niraj Lal, a visiting fellow at the Australian National University.

The beauty of perovskites — aside from the fact they are cheap and made from plentiful materials such as lead — is that their band gap can be “tuned” depending on their chemical make-up.

Last year, Oxford researchers stacked a perovskite capable of catching high-energy, blue photons on top of a silicon cell, which then caught lower-energy photons towards the red end of the spectrum, to create a stacked or “tandem” solar cell that was 28 per cent efficient.

Tandem solar cells can harvest more energy from sunlight than perovskites or silicon alone. (Supplied: Niraj Lal)

“When you start combining these cells, then you can really go past the Shockley-Queisser limit,” Dr Lal said.

“Just in the past year, they’ve cracked records to be better than silicon alone.”

Then there are tricky and complicated methods that take high-energy photons and manipulate them so solar panels can use them without producing as much waste heat.

There are also efforts to catch and manipulate two low-energy photons to create one high-energy photon. This is called photon upconversion.

Other materials, like zinc telluride, can be designed to have a mid-band-gap stepping stone of sorts. These are called intermediate band materials, Dr Tilley said.

“The idea is electrons can use a low-energy photon to get halfway between the valance to conductance bands, then another to get them to conductance.”

While Dr Lal thinks tandem perovskite-silicon solar cells will likely be the next phase of commercial solar cells, there are still quite a few kinks to iron out.

Perovskites are often made of toxic materials like lead and they degrade faster than silicon, especially if they get water on them.

Silicon solar cells tend to come with a guarantee that after 25 years of use, they’ll still operate at 80 per cent of their initial efficiency.

“The challenge is how to make perovskites stable, so they last in a harsh climate like Australia’s,” Dr Lal said.

Energy Stuff specialises in Residential Solar with emphasis on Repairs, Replacements and upgrades. We also provide new systems, battery storage, Off-Grid systems and smart monitoring systems so call us if we can be of support 1300 656 205 or go to our website at http://www.energystuff.com.au


Top 3 Reasons Why You Should Consider Buying Solar Batteries

Written by PowerArk Solar

There is no doubt that 2018 has been a huge year for solar PV, with number of significant achievements and milestones indented up through the past years, including the 2 million solar-powered households. The number of homes installing their own solar PV systems is drastically increasing year by year as they are trusting more clean energy to provide them electricity.
And yet another challenge faced by solar industry are the customers who are still skeptical in buying solar battery storage. Many are still convinced that solar batteries are unnecessary and will only add up to the cost of a PV system. Despite of the public’s partial trust on solar batteries, different labor governments are ready to dedicate some funds in order to help Australian communities to be totally independent from the grid. In fact, 2018 proved that the government is serious about their positive actions toward solar batteries. As a review, below are some of the battery incentive programs that are ready and soon to be ready in subsidizing the cost of battery storage in different states.


(Source: SwitchDin, A roundup of existing & proposed battery incentive programs in Australia.)

2019 will be the year to find out if there will be bigger incentive programs for Australia or similar home battery storage plans from other state governments.

Nevertheless, we can be sure that even without the following loan schemes, solar batteries are something worth considering when installing a Solar PV system in your home.

Reduces Electric Bills

One of the best benefits of having solar batteries is the ability to practically reduce your solar bill to a lower amount. Due to its capability to store excess energy produced by solar panels, it is possible to utilise this saved energy in powering a whole household all day. As a result, you won’t be needing electricity anymore from the grid and become totally independent from it depending on the size capacity of your battery storage.
As we all know, and have experience the cost of electricity is going up every year, and as such installing a home battery something to seriously consider. According to finder.com.au, the price of electricity increased by 3% from 2017 to 2018. Imagine the total amount of money that you can save in a long run if you have a backup system for your PV system without relying from the grid at all the times – simply providing another level of power security for your home.

Acts as Backup System

No matter how efficient you think your PV system is, it is still smart to have a backup system for your home. For example, when times that your solar panels for whatever reason don’t generate enough electricity for your home, your system gets energy from the grid to compensate for the shortage. In essence, you will be paying for this energy as if you don’t have solar panels that are supposedly reducing the cost. But if you have battery support system, you can actually sell back to the grid the stored energy and secure a discounted electric bill. Sound practical, right?
Another practical example of the importance of backup system is when we experience instability of power sources in some areas. Solar battery storage system helps to stabilize the flow of electricity without you worrying for a power interruption. The PV system will automatically pulls energy from the batteries giving you a full control over electricity. Thus, battery systems allow your home to be more flexible when it comes to energy consumption.

No Noise Pollution

Whilst many homes have a generator these days, remember the days when you used a generator to power your home during blackouts? Noisy, isn’t it? This won’t be the case with solar battery system. We all know that battery storage don’t create noise pollution that surely bothers your neighborhood. Batteries are efficiently made to power a home without the cost of the environment or even your neighbor’s peace of mind. Installing a battery is so easy with the help of a certified solar installer. They can assure you to experience solar energy with ease. Solar battery systems also allow homes to consume fewer energy resources in the years to come. This is an important consideration for those who want to reduce pollution and use clean energy as an alternative power source.

These three key benefits are only few of the obvious advantages of using a solar battery system for a home. In actuality, installing  a backup system creates a lot of benefits for the users as time goes by. The longer you use a solar battery system, the bigger the savings it will be. If you are planning to install your PV system soon, never doubt to have a solar battery storage as a backup plan so you can experience grid-free solar PV system.

Energy Stuff provides a full range of new smart solar systems which can include battery ready inverters or systems with integrated battery storage. All our systems come with smart energy management to provide real time monitoring and energy efficiencies. Finance can be arranged for as little as $2.96 a day. For further information call 1300 656 205 or go to our website at

https://ongrid.energystuff.com.au/new-solar-system/

So which solar company in 2018 impressed the most?

By Mark Osborne / PV Tech / 21 February 2019

Main Image: SolarEdge Technologies impressive revenue and shipment figures were out of step with its public listed rivals in 2018. Image: SolarEdge

A personal perspective on why a solar company could take on its rivals and thrive in a year full of disruptions to the industry but report record results and revenue growth that is unlikely to be topped by any other PV manufacturer in 2018. 

We all know about the Top 10 rankings, such as PV Tech’s annual solar cell and module supplier lists, while other rankings apply covering EPC’s, inverter suppliers et al. All these help understand the ‘real’ leaders in their fields of expertise by taking some of the hype out of these companies’ claims. They should also identify those that continue to dominate as well as highlight up and coming competitors through to those struggling to keep market share. 

Understandably, such ranking lists prove really popular but a question often raised in my line of work from outsiders to insiders, from residential installers to executives at large corporations in the solar industry, often revolves around what technology or what company(s) have impressed me, whether that’s been long-term or short-term. Of course, the question needs responding to and reasons given. 

A reasonably long flight late last year (one of the more uncomfortable), got me thinking about why I had agreed to that particular excursion in the first place, and then I realised it was because the company in question had really impressed me in 2018. 

There are lots of reasons that will come apparent, but the old grey matter questioned the validity, especially when some of the other candidates would easily come into the fore.

A good example (don’t worry I will not be giving a Top 10 list) would be LONGi Group, which has been instrumental in the upstream solar industry kick-starting and leading the transition away from multicrystalline wafers to monocrystalline. Add-on becoming a member of the SMSL as well and this company ticks all the boxes in recent years. 

Leading SMSL, JinkoSolar also meets the criteria on a successful business model that has proved ‘asset-lite’ viable when most companies were going ‘fully-integrated’ and has set annual module shipment records that are now in the 10GW range. Not bad for a company I remember back in 2010 having a grand total of 150MW of module capacity.

Finally, not considering the likes of First Solar, which has dominated the thin-film sector for 10-plus years and was once the leading module manufacturer in the world, would be foolish. Indeed, its ongoing transition to its Series 6 large-area CdTe modules remains an impressive sight to watch, albeit still a great work in progress. 

Bucking the trend

Many may be surprised that of all the companies that impressed the most in 2018, the winner was not a polysilicon, wafer, cell or module manufacturer. I surprised myself with that realisation. 

It all started a few years ago when the PV inverter market became increasingly competitive and technology shifts were starting to shake-up market rankings. 

Huawei had shot to number one in the PV inverter market rankings with its string technology breaking the central inverter grip on the utility-scale market and long-standing market leader, SMA Solar was continuing to lose market share, enabling Sungrow to surpass the company on a revenue basis for the first time in 2017. 

However, another inverter manufacturer, SolarEdge Technologies really started to gain new business momentum in 2017, although well below the horizon in comparison to Sungrow and SMA Solar, but momentum continued to build each quarter. 

Spin forward to 2018 and the impressive revenue and shipment figures were out of step with its public listed rivals. In a turbulent year for SMA Solar and Sungrow, while Enphase was still getting its act back in order after several years of restructuring and senior management changes, SolarEdge became the most exciting player in the inverter space to watch.

By the third quarter of 2018, SolarEdge had continued to post record revenue and product shipments, also surpassing the 1GW of quarterly inverter shipments milestone, for the first time. 

PV Tech had been covering SolarEdge well before its NASDAQ IPO in March 2015, yet clearly, 2018 had been a landmark year for the company. It should be noted that despite China being the largest end-market, SolarEdge is also approaching revenue levels closer to Sungrow, a market dominated by the likes of Sungrow and Huawei. 

SolarEdge isn’t a player in China, which has proved highly beneficial as SMA Solar’s foray ended recently and could have been behind the exit of its CEO, Pierre-Pascal Urbon, who suddenly stepped down from his executive role in October 2018 and planned to leave the company altogether at the end of December.

Having also surprised on news it had sunk to a €67 million loss in 2018 and revenue right at the low-end of guidance, SMA Solar is more than likely to be passed by SolarEdge on a revenue basis in 2018.

In the unfolding SMA Solar saga, despite highlighting challenging business environments in China and the US, SMA Solar would seem to have been having other problems than simply geographical. 

Indeed, one of the long-standing touted strengths of the company came from it having the broadest geographical market footprint, something the likes of JinkoSolar have benefited from successfully in the module market.

Away from the hustle and bustle of trade shows near the end of the year, PV Tech had the opportunity catch-up with SolarEdge and get their perspective of why 2018 had been one of such success.

However, when we stay away from the hustle and bustle of trade shows, meeting members of the SolarEdge team at their headquarters, is not anything less than high activity. The company has grown its headcount massively in the past few years and now populates a group of office blocks that house all the usual HQ operations as well as R&D and new project/product development operations and long-term product testing.

Indeed, its R&D organization had a headcount of 367 employees in 2017, compared with 258 at the end of 2016. Total full-time employees in 2016 were 718, compared to 1,007 at the end of 2017. This had increased to 1,737 employees in 2018 (Latest investor presentation February 2019) with roughly 60% of these to be found in and around the headquarters.

Putting all that into perspective, at the time of SolarEdge’s 2015 IPO, it had 440 full-time employees, including 188 in R&D.

As always, it is great to get the opportunity to visit product development operations and testing facilities, even if you really cannot reveal much of what you were shown. A guided tour though was illuminating on several fronts, not least the number of engineers hard at work in packed rooms on many floors at the headquarters, while remodelling work areas and the general bustle never stopped.

It was also clear that the pace of new product development was not slowing down, while testing and evaluation was busting at the seams. Hijacking a conference room as we didn’t know when a team of engineers were expected to take over the space, PV Tech sat down with one of the founders of SolarEdge, Lior Handelsman who is the VP of Marketing & Product Strategy. 

Therefore it was a case of getting some of the intriguing questions answered first, not least what in Lior’s view was behind the success of the company and failures of a key rival in 2018. 

“In some respects, when looking back, it is unsustainable to think a company can retain an 80% market share but there are some important lessons for all of us, which is having a constant focus on new technologies and technology patterns and retaining a customer orientation from small to large,” noted Handelsman. “In such a competitive market the little things also matter but everyone has recently had supply issues, due to the shortage of key components such as semiconductors and capacitors and everyone is constantly trying to limit the impact on customers.” 

Handelsman was alluding to what has been a significant shift in demand for critical components such as capacitors, not only the growth in demand for the solar industry but really across the automotive industry, including electric vehicles’ insatiable demand, because electronics, notably power electronics, make up an increasing percentage of the BOM (Balance of Materials). 

“We are all having to deal with the component issues as these manufacturers were only geared-up for single digit demand growth and adding new capacity is a multi-year capex cycle that is billions of [US$] dollars as they need to now double production,” noted Handelsman. 

Adding to the challenges of dealing with industry-wide supply issues, SolarEdge was forced to increase product pricing in one of its key markets, due to the US trade war with China, which underlines that it was not just simply a year of market growth and normal business execution behind the milestone year for the company. 

Diversification

It would be understandable then that SolarEdge would have focused on consolidating its position in 2018, instead it went to the next phase of potential growth with the acquisition of South Korean-headquartered Kokam, a small-scale manufacturer of lithium-ion battery cells, batteries and energy storage solutions.

“We want to become a more diversified company and continue to have strong growth in the future,” noted Handelsman. “This was also the reason behind the acquisition of Gamatronic Electronic Industries for entry into the UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) market. We want to grow that business organically. So it’s a case of diversification into related technology markets that we can leverage, as well as diversification outside solar such as Kokam.”

In early 2019, SolarEdge announced the acquisition of Italian-headquartered S.M.R.E Spa, which provides integrated powertrain technology and electronics for electric vehicles, reiterating SolarEdge’s diversification strategy into the connected sectors but also outside the solar industry. 

This may include both new products and acquisitions in the field of energy networks in the future where cybersecurity and network interoperability are critical factors across an energy market dominated by renewable sources.

However, not only are there recent acquisitions of manufacturing-based companies but SolarEdge is reinforcing its inverter product offerings with more manufacturing control over its OEM supplier base.

According to Handelsman, SolarEdge is responsible for the automated production lines at the OEMs and expanding what he described as “self-manufacturing” as the company is building up its own in-house manufacturing capabilities. 

A big takeaway is that SolarEdge is embarking on its next wave of business growth and the challenge will be coming up with a short but new (accurate) description of the company, as labelling SolarEdge as just a ‘major PV inverter supplier,’ will not cut it in the near future. 

Mark Osborne has nearly three decades of experience in covering both the semiconductor and photovoltaics manufacturing industries. In his current roles as senior news editor for PV Tech and sister technical journal, Photovoltaics International, Mark covers the key developments in the PV industry on a global level and continues to provide insight and analysis via his editor’s blog.

Energy Stuff specialises in Residential Solar with emphasis on Repairs, Replacements and upgrades. We also provide new systems, battery storage, Off-Grid systems and smart monitoring systems so call us if we can be of support 1300 656 205 or go to our website at http://www.energystuff.com.au

Amazon-backed Rivian says Australia a target for all-electric utes

Written by Bridie Schmidt / The Driven / 19 February 2019

CEO and founder of electric vehicle startup Rivian, RJ Scaringe, has said that he considers Australia is an important market for his EV company, firming up reports of the company’s intention to create a right-hand drive version of its rugged all-electric SUV, the R1S, and the R1T ute.

The comment, which was made on Twitter in response to a query from Tim Washington, the CEO of Australian-Based EV charging company Jet Charge, follows news that internet giant Amazon is investing $US700 million ($A980 million) in the EV startup.

As Washington points out, Australia is a perfect fit for Rivian’s EVs which are what it calls “the world’s first electric adventure vehicles”.

And so it seems, does RJ Scaringe:

It’s not just idle talk either; Washington believes a real opportunity exists for Rivian in Australia, where made-to-last, rough-and-tumble vehicles form part of the country’s psyche.

“We’re really excited to see a company like Rivian considering coming to Australia,” Washington tells The Driven.

“Our two best sellers are the in Australia are Toyota Hilux and Ford Ranger, both of those being dual cabs. Amarok, Navarra, Triton are all staples …. which means Australia has a love affair with dual cabs,” he says.

Washington draws a comparison between Rivian’s R1T pickup (ute), and says that the fact that Rivian are offering their all-electric vehicles with up to 800kWh batteries and 600km range is significant.

“Rivian’s story is all about electric adventure, and almost one of the final barriers to mass EV uptake [in Australia] is the Australian dream to drive where ever you want, we want to go camping and go offroad,” he says.

“We have this perception of a big brown land and freedom associated with motor vehicles, more so than other countries – we are more like the US in that regard.”

The dreams of freedom and adventure that are embedded in a brand like Rivian could be a game-changer for Australians that want long range electric vehicles – but the size of the batteries also fills other needs, such as powering camping kit such as kettles, lights and so on.

“Rivian will have 180kWh batteries (which would need to be kept charged at campsites) – you don’t need a big campervan or trailer, you can just use your car,” Washington says.

Of course, that’s where companies like Jet Charge come in – for Washington, the prospect of a company like Rivian bringing EVs to Australia highlights the need for ultra fast chargers.

“With the first 350kW units are starting to go in, it comes at the perfect time,” he says.

“We want Rivian to consider having Australia as one of their first markets.”

With distinctive oblong headlights and no-nonsense solid design, the R1S and R1T that Rivian says boast an incredible 370-660km range depending on battery option (105 kW, 135kW or 180kW battery packs are on offer), and good torque that starts at 560Nm for even the lowest spec’d model.

Add to that a 5000kg towing capacity for the R1T ute and 3,500kg for the R1S SUV – plus a wading depth for both of 3 feet – and you have a pretty good setup for some offroad adventuring right there.

The Rivian R1S. Source: Twitter/Rivian

While Rivian is still a little known name for many, it does look like big things are on the horizon for the company which first hit the media spotlight last November when it launched its electric SUV and ute (referred to in the US as a pickup) at the 2018 LA Auto Show.

The deal with Amazon brings Rivian’s total fund raising to date to around $US1.15 billion ($A1.6 billion), and will enable the EV startup to cement strategic relationships that will be valuable as it works towards a scale-up.

“We will bring on additional partners, but less because of capital reasons and more because of a need to have strategic relationships as we scale towards our broader vision,” said Scaringe, per Bloomberg.

Rivian are also in talks with GM reportedly, although further details about that are under wraps until an agreement is reached – if this happens, it could balloon Rivian’s value to $US2 billion, people familiar with the matter have told Bloomberg.

The Rivian R1T. Source: Twitter/Rivian

When will Rivian make it here, though? Washington says that while pre-orders for Australia were supposed to open last year, this still has not eventuated on the Rivian website.

Both are still for the moment available for pre-order in the US, and only (of course) in left-hand drive – there is no firm pricing yet for either vehicle.

Energy Stuff specialises in Residential Solar with emphasis on Repairs, Replacements and upgrades. We also provide new systems, battery storage, Off-Grid systems and smart monitoring systems so call us if we can be of support 1300 656 205 or go to our website at http://www.energystuff.com.au