Is Australia’s Energy Market Becoming a Sharing Economy?

The energy sector could soon face a massive overhaul thanks to rapidly improving battery technologies, leading one Energy Minister to declare the electricity industry is being “Uber’d”.

Households are now able to install batteries capable of storing enough solar energy to cover most of their daily electricity needs. This reduces the demand to draw energy from the grid and could one day see households become completely self-reliant. The International Renewable Energy Agency has predicted the global market for battery storage will grow from $US220 million ($302 million) in 2014 to $US18 billion by 2023. As part of this, Morgan Stanley estimates that 2.4 million east coast Australian homes will have batteries installed within the next few years.

Not only will homes have the capacity to self-sustain their energy needs, but state governments across Australia have considered allowing stored battery energy to be exported back into the electricity grid. Western Australia has gotten on board with this idea and as of December, households in the state will be able to export their unused battery energy.

West Australian Energy Minister Mike Nahan said: “The electricity industry, like the taxi industry, is getting Uber’d… This arrangement now means eligible customers can install battery storage or EV facilities to complement their solar systems and export unused electricity onto the network. This is an important development given the emerging future trends which forecast widespread installation of solar PV, plus storage systems.”

WA Greens Energy Spokesman Robin Chapple added to this, saying battery storage is clearly “the way of the future” and said the party was reviewing its state vision for energy to incorporate the technology.

“Battery storage systems are going to completely revolutionise the way that we use energy, offering West Australians the opportunity to simultaneously save money and cut their household emissions,” he said.

So what does this mean for your power bill?

Battery devices are quite expensive right now, pricing anywhere from $2,000 to $15,000, though it is expected that prices will fall as the battery storage industry grows more competitive.

Even with the hefty price tag on the initial purchase, a household battery may still be a smart investment. Your battery can drastically reduce your energy usage; it allows you to store the large amounts of solar energy collected through the day to use during peak evening hours or rainy days.

Any energy that is exported back into the grid will be metered and your household will receive a rebate, helping further reduce your electricity bill. The size of this rebate will depend on your energy retailer and any government incentives.

Could you sell electricity directly?

Services like Uber connect a driver with a passenger, however, there is no such peer-to-peer platform in Australia’s energy market to connect private electricity producers (i.e. households with solar batteries) with other consumers. This means that there is currently no way for households to directly monetise their electricity excess and cut out energy retailers as of yet. Services such as this have begun to appear Europe with some success – connecting producers and consumers of electricity to trade, bypassing the central energy system.

It’s difficult to say for sure how the electricity sector will respond to “Uberfication” as battery technologies continue to grow. The only thing for certain is that change is coming.

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