Are opportunities increasing in the renewable energy sector?

Simon Hackett with the ZCell battery enclosure

Simon Hackett with the ZCell battery enclosure

With the push for greater development of clean renewable energy sources continuing to gather momentum, is there likely to be an increasing focus on potential opportunities for involvement of Australia’s manufacturing industry in supplying this market segment?

 Action to phase out coal fired power plants, the escalating cost of gas, and moves to prohibit onshore gas exploration are factors that could assist in opening up increasing opportunities in the solar and wind power sectors, and in particular in the development of battery storage technology which has been described as ‘the missing link’ in greater uptake of solar power.

According to the Clean Energy Council’s Director of Large-scale Energy, Alicia Webb, one of the biggest challenges with renewable energy is actually keeping up with the latest advances.

“Not only is the cost of various technologies like large-scale solar and wind falling in price compared to fossil fuels and other competitors, but every week there is some new system, software or technological platform that helps everything talk to each other better and squeeze the maximum amount of value out of it for energy consumers,” she told PACE.

 “Wind turbines are getting bigger, both in their size and generator capacity, which means more energy can be generated for less money and with less turbines. Solar panels and inverters are also getting more efficient too.

“There are really two parts to the solar industry – one that is mostly focussed on smaller-scale household and commercial solar, and the other that wants to develop major projects. Large-scale solar is still relatively new in Australia, but the cost of solar panels has come down rapidly over the last few years and it won’t be long before it is competitive with wind power.

“The three largest solar plants in the country have been developed in NSW by AGL and First Solar, with assistance from the Australian Renewable Energy Agency, the NSW Government and the Clean Energy Finance Corporation.

“There is still plenty of activity at the household level as well, with more than 1.5 million solar power systems installed across the country.

“Cheap battery storage is really the last piece of the puzzle for renewable energy. While Australia can accommodate a much higher level of variable renewables such as solar and wind than we do at the moment, at some point battery storage will be required to help smooth out the supply of renewable energy. That is, we can store energy when the wind and sun are generating more than we need, and use it later on.”

Alicia believes manufacturing is an emerging space for the renewable energy sector.

“Like a lot of industries, many of the components are currently made overseas due to the lower cost of labour, but there are opportunities for high-value manufacturing of components,” she said.

 

According to the Clean Energy Council’s Director of Large-scale Energy, Alicia Webb, one of the biggest challenges with renewable energy is actually keeping up with the latest advances.

“The national Renewable Energy Target is locked in now, and we can get on with building projects over the next 4-5 years.”

Subheading: Solar panels

Based in Adelaide, Tindo Solar has some 30 employees and is Australia’s only solar panel manufacturer.

The company is vertically integrated, from local manufacturing to installing and owning rooftop solar systems, and then selling the power to residential and commercial customers under a power purchase agreement.

According to Tindo’s Founder, Adrian Ferraretto, the company is doing very well in the developing market and has just implemented a second shift in its manufacturing operations.

“There are certainly opportunities for Australian manufacturers in the renewable energy sector, but it’s important to have the confidence to proceed and take calculated risks. For us, a key factor in our success is our integration strategy where we go from the solar panels production line to rooftop installations, which enables us to compete against solar panels from China,” he said.

“There has been significant improvement in the efficiency of solar panels in recent times. Our solar panels are manufactured specifically for Australian conditions and we control the entire process from our robotic production line to commissioning the solar generation system at your residence or commercial premises.

“Developments in battery technology are also allowing excess energy to be stored and this in turn is enabling the installation of more solar panels. As feed-in tariffs are wound back, instead of feeding surplus solar energy into the grid, it can be stored in batteries instead for night time use.”

Adrian says that as energy prices continue to rise, solar electricity is the best way to control and manage the cost of your future energy needs.

Subheading: Battery technology

Based in Brisbane, Redflow produces solar energy storage batteries for homes and small businesses, and according to the company’s executive chairman, Simon Hackett, its core ZBM2 module can also be easily clustered to support large commercial and grid scale deployments.

“It is ideally suited to a number of energy storage and delivery applications including on-grid solar-self-consumption and off-grid diesel/renewable hybrid deployments,” he said.

“It is still early days for battery storage in Australia and the world generally, but there are signs that the industry is about to hit a huge growth phase globally.

“Australia is a world leader in residential rooftop solar and this means that the majority of overseas innovators in this space are interested in using Australia as a test bed. Renewable energy related manufacturing work is certainly a new opportunity for Australian manufacturers,” he said.

“Redflow has designed its globally unique flow battery in Australia. It manufactures the core battery in North America for a world market, and makes the ZCell enclosure for residential Redflow battery deployments in South Australia.

“The Redflow ZCell flow battery is unique in terms of its capabilities and suitability for hard-working (daily deep cycle) applications. It’s the only flow battery small enough to work in a residential setting and it comes with an internet-savvy battery management system that provides remote access, monitoring and control of the battery system.”

Simon believes further development of battery storage technology is critical to growth of the renewable energy sector.

“Battery storage is the missing link to allowing solar energy to become a 24/7 base-load energy source,” he said.

“Energy storage, especially storage that can handle daily 100 percent deep cycling without long term loss of capacity, which the ZCell is uniquely capable of, is the element that frees solar, wind and other renewable sources from the fallacy that they are only useful when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing, so it’s a pretty fundamental change.”