Last week I caught up with the man himself, Mr Nigel Morris to chat all things storage.
Formerly heading up consulting firm, Solar Business Services, Nigel has jumped into the thick of the industry to head up a fresh new solar company call RoofJuice. Formally Sungevity, the company has been taken over by a cracking crew of industry professionals to be a 100% Australian owned brand (and if I know Nigel at all he’s set to shake up the industry with something seriously cool).
SG: Before roofJuice you were running a successful solar business consulting firm. What made you decide to leap into the thick of the industry at this time specifically and take a job as CEO of a solar retailer?
NM: The short answer to this question is that I am a huge fan of this company and what they stand for. I have known the founders since before they started it, the investors and many of the staff. I’m personally really excited by where the energy revolution is heading and instead of sitting on the sidelines as an analyst and commentator this is my chance to get deeply involved. The owners convinced me that time is right and I agree 100%.
I have been a huge advocate for the protection of solar consumer rights over the years and see some great work being done in the company on that front too.
SG: With the launch of Tesla’s powerwall, battery storage has been the talk of the town. But you were selling storage for solar 20 years ago. To me it seems a bit like fashion’s cyclical trends…What do you think has caused this reemergence of storage popularity? And is it a trend that’s here to stay?
NM: True; it’s like groundhog day for solar veterans. Although Tesla have captured the headlines there are a huge number of products hitting the market so we are watching very carefully before we leap in. The price and performance levels of storage today make it a compelling case in some situations and as prices fall it will become even more widely adopted. Already today, the storage market is alive and kicking in Australia and we have a unique set of dynamics that makes this market one of the best in the world. This is just the beginning of a massive surge in the use of energy storage.
(SG NOTE: Nigel writes more about the Tesla Powerwall battery storage on Business Spectator here)
SG: At your previous company, Solar Business Services, you did a huge amount of industry research and analysis. Can you tell us about a couple of your favourite storage solutions/products and why?
NM: This may sound strange, but my favourite storage solution is energy monitoring! The fact is, until you truly understand energy profiles, you are guessing at what an energy storage solution will achieve. So, step one is great monitoring. Once you understand the demand profile then you can choose a product that is optimized; there are at least a dozen different types of products that suit different situations for example. Having said that, I think Lithium based batteries have proven that they offer some very real advantages; I doubt very much we’ll offer any lead acid products.
SG: There are lots of good battery storage solutions already on the market. How will they compete against the celebrity status of Tesla’s Powerwall?
NM: We don’t know exactly what Tesla is offering yet, how it will be made available of what its true installed cost is; at the moment there is lots of conjecture. I’m sure it will be good, and we may sell it in time, but right now I can get storage products from many of the companies that helped develop Tesla’s battery and some of their competitors who have huge experience. These companies have also worked hard at developing great systems and products that complete the package; control systems, solar inverters, chargers, communications and so on. I’m most interested in awesome packages that are well integrated, well priced and fully supported. So, I think the major battleground will be on how to superbly “execute” the whole solution rather than just marketability.
SG Note: one of my personal faves is enphase and their coming Energy Management System which you can check out in this simple video.
SG: What are 3 reasons that people should invest in a storage system for their solar?
NM: First, because it captures excess energy and can deliver a better financial return than simply exporting it. Secondly, many homes aren’t home when they need power so shifting the time that it’s available allows you to increase your renewable energy consumption. Thirdly it extends your control. Taking control of energy rates – and usage – and generation – is what empowers us as individuals and why solar is so popular. It leverages everything that’s cool about solar!
SG: What things do they need to consider? Is it different for homes vs businesses? And for new solar systems vs retrofitting existing systems?
NM: They key thing is that there are many products which have different features and suit different applications. As I mentioned earlier, our strategy is monitor first, optimize second, install third. For existing solar customers, energy storage is a fabulous deal because it can use the (virtually free) energy from your rooftop assuming your system has paid for itself. This is what has the energy utilities scared!
SG: Are there any dangers associated with battery storage that consumers should be aware of?
NM: The new breed of Lithium systems don’t emit explosive gases like lead acid batteries so that is a major safety advantage. However, all large energy storage systems contain immense amounts of energy and that can be extremely dangerous if it’s not treated with respect; this is not a DIY product. The systems that we are looking at include redundant safety systems, protection systems and really good enclosures to protect the equipment and keep things out of harm’s way.
SG: Can you explain to our readers the difference between a hybrid system and off-grid. What are the pros and cons of each?
NM: A hybrid system joins together various inputs – solar, grid power, wind or generators for example. With today’s technology we can control, balance and merge these together, optimizing the output from preferred sources. The advantage of (for example) a solar/grid hybrid system is that you can top up from the grid as needed (it’s almost an infinite power supply) giving you huge flexibility but also allowing you to maximise your solar contribution. This also means you can reduce the amount of storage to a minimum and add to it over time if your needs grow.
An off grid system works on the same principle but has finite power available depending on the inputs it has. This means that your energy storage needs to be designed to meet your largest demands under the worst possible conditions and all your energy needs to be ready at any point to deliver 100% uptime. This tends to push the size of storage up to five or even ten times more than a hybrid system. The advantage is that you’ll never get a power bill again. The disadvantage is you have to own and operate your own little power station and if the lights go out you have to fix it yourself.
SG: Finally, you talk about the smart energy revolution. Can you explain briefly what this means?
NM: Energy used to be dumb. Flick a switch, use it, don’t worry about the cost because it was cheap. So we didn’t care or have to get involved. Today, it’s different. It’s expensive, can be extremely polluting and is a precious commodity. Perhaps more of a privilege than a right today, if we want to protect our world.
The smart energy revolution to me is a combination of things. Firstly knowledge is power. If we know what we use, when and why we can take action to use it more wisely and reduce costs. Secondly, this helps society because we don’t create needlessly huge power systems that we all ultimately pay for through taxes and high power prices. Thirdly we can leverage smart technology like energy storage, intelligent meters and solar to generate, store, control and manage our own personal situation. We spend a little, save a little and get control by engaging in the process.
(SG: Here’s a snippet of Nigel Morris talking all things storage and electric vehicles at the Solar Conference 2015 in Melbourne earlier this year)
Nigel’s experience in energy storage comes from his formative years more than two decades ago when he supplied off grid solar systems all around the world. Not only that but he is electric vehicle crazy! Start him chatting and he’ll quickly steer the conversation to electric motorcycles, his other huge passion. He owns two electric motorcycles and hasn’t bought a single litre of petrol for his daily commute in more than three years! Of course, his view is “it’s just a battery on two wheels” and is part of the reason he understand the technology so well.