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Solar smarts offer households control without complexity

By Mary O'Callaghan

February 13, 2017

rooftops with solar panels
Image: Flickr/Duncan Rawlinson

You brought home a household battery system to store your excess solar energy and become even less reliant on the grid. Your power bill should no longer give you palpitations, and you’re loving the control you now have over your household energy usage.

It is 7:34 am, and the sun is shining. There’s just enough time to make a dent in that pile of laundry before you head to work. Your decision to draw power from the solar panels seems like a no-brainer. However, over the radio, you hear that tomorrow’s forecast is for rain. Better to use the grid and allow your battery to charge up. But, no, it is shoulder tariff time. Better wait till later tonight and get the off-peak rate. Again, no, you are out to dinner this evening. Ah… too many decisions.

With control comes complexity

Imagine a system that makes all the hard decisions for you, leaving you to get on with your life in the comfort of knowing that your home’s energy needs will be drawn from the source that is best for your hip pocket.

Launched in August 2016, Evergen is Australia’s first intelligent solar and battery management system designed for home use. Unlike other systems, Evergen’s inbuilt intelligence understands your energy usage patterns and checks the weather forecast, choosing the most efficient source for your home’s electricity supply at any given time, switching between solar, stored energy and the grid.

The system stores excess solar energy produced during the day, so you can use it when you need it the most. Also, the integrated battery can be charged from the grid at night, allowing you to store cost effective energy for the day ahead.

How does Evergen’s system work?

The Evergen system comprises of solar panels, battery, an inverter, an energy management technology and an app for your smartphone. Like other systems on the market, Evergen’s batteries store the energy produced by the solar panels, allowing the energy to be used as needed through an inverter.

What elevates Evergen above the competition is the CSIRO-developed energy management technology which, over time, learns your energy usage patterns so that it can predict your needs, and factors in the weather forecast to make the best decisions for your home.

man standing in front of standup computer
CSIRO’s Renewable Energy Integration Facility test facilities in Newcastle.

“You could manually optimise your stored or generated energy by switching things off and on. However, accounting for the weather or demand, it is complex; you need to be fairly tech savvy. The last last thing people want in their lives is more complexity. All they want is a small electricity bill,” says Dr Sam Behrens who leads some of CSIRO’s energy storage research.

“CSIRO-developed energy management technology solves this problem by learning when you turn the lights on at certain times, for example, or that you are at home all day. It also accounts for the weather, and solar shading effect from trees and buildings,” explains Dr Behrens.

“What’s really cool…,” adds Dr Behrens, “is that when you use Evergen’s app, you can see CSIRO’s science [energy management technology] at work.”

Evergen’s app shows what the system is doing. It also displays what it has done, and what it is going to do in the future. For example, it displays when the system is analysing the household usage and weather forecast, when it is charging and discharging the battery, and when it is powering your home with solar energy. It even shows potential cost savings.

What happens if your internet connection goes down? The system always has at least three days’ worth of instruction on what it needs to do in the future. After that, it operates in a non-forecast mode, which is all that other competitor systems can do.

Increase battery life

Charging and discharging batteries can reduce their useful lifespan, so an important role of CSIRO’s energy management technology is to preserve the life of Evergen’s battery by managing the flow of energy.

“All batteries wear out quicker if you push them hard,” explains Dr Behrens. “CSIRO’s technology knows when to back off the accelerator, if you like, so that the energy flow is more progressive. It is a balancing act; balancing financial return without degrading the battery life. It also does all this without you knowing.”

The changing market

In New South Wales about 150,000 homes have been getting 55c/kWh for the solar energy they export to the grid. However, that has recently ended, and the price has rolled back to 6c/kWh solar feed-in tariff.

“At the moment there’s no longer any incentive for those [NSW] households to export solar energy to the grid. They may be better off storing and using excess solar energy later,” says Dr Behrens.

It is in the context of the changing electricity market that Evergen was conceived by AMP Capital in discussions with CSIRO. The renewable energy start-up was founded with the backing of AMP Capital and its former chief executive Mr Stephen Dunne to the tune of $2.9 million.

man and woman standing in front of roof with solar panels
Evergen home storage featuring solar panels and Emlyn Keane, Operations Manager from Evergen, and Natalie Kikken from CSIRO.

CSIRO’s energy management technology is licensed exclusively to Evergen. CSIRO also provided research expertise to help the company commercialise its product.

“Business models are changing, and CSIRO saw an opportunity to partner with a start-up and be part of that venture,” says Dr Peter Mayfield, CSIRO’s executive director of Environment, Energy and Resources. “We see Evergen as a good avenue to demonstrate CSIRO’s research, and for Australian business to benefit from our science.”

“The phenomenal growth trend of renewables in Australia and globally, has countered the doubters who, less than ten years ago, did not believe that renewables would become cost competitive with energy from fossil fuels,” says Dr Mayfield.

“Today we are facing a very different challenge,” says Dr Mayfield, “and that is the management of the electricity system of the future with a high content of renewables.”

“Evergen is an example of what needs to be done to promote grid integration—an application where we enable Australians to save both on energy costs and emissions at the same time.”

Availability

Evergen CEO Emlyn Keane suggests that, with a starting price of $8,700 for homes with existing solar panels installed, Evergen could save households approximately 20% more than other domestic solutions.

The system is available now, and enquires should be directed to www.evergen.com.au

2 comments on “Solar smarts offer households control without complexity

  1. Steve Brewster says:

    $8700 seems expensive but what would that cover?
    Would it be the entire system less batteries and PVs? Including inverter, charger, max power point tracking, mains interconnect and safety systems?
    Logging perhaps?
    Thanks
    Steve

    1. Thea Chevrant-Breton says:

      Hi Steve, The price includes Evergen’s complete intelligent energy system (4.8kWh), fully installed, including battery, inverter, charger, etc, but excluding solar panels. The technical specifications for this system can be found on Evergen’s website https://www.evergen.com.au/system-specs/

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