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Battery big guns eyeing 2015 launch for UK PV storage systems

Sharp and ABB are among the international players in solar preparing to launch energy storage products in the UK in Q1 2015, with an apparent emphasis on the residential market.

The pair were among a number of big names exhibiting battery-based storage for use in combination with PV systems, integrated into a central inverter during the Solar Energy UK show last week in Birmingham, England. SMA already launched its offering, Sunny Boy Smart Energy, in September, while Bosch expects its inverter-plus-storage product to be ready by summer of next year.

According to Bosch representatives, the company is expecting to have its latest inverters, which include various new features for interactivity and communication for ease of use from both the installer and customer perspective, certified under G83 and G59 standards by February. In common with several other new inverters at the show and elsewhere on the market for residential and small commercial users, they can interface with a home computer, tablet or mobile device for data readings. The storage version is expected to follow a few months later, in summer.

Bosch’s product will be a modular system that can house between two and six batteries. According to the company it can allow a PV system owner to use around 80% of the generated electricity, increasing independence from grid supply.

Solar Energy UK in Birmingham, England.
Meanwhile smaller companies including Germany’s Solutronic are also preparing to hit the UK market. The company’s managing director Reinhard Lenz told PV Tech Storage at the show that it is targeting a Q1 2015 launch for its range. Solutronic’s products provide modular systems from 3.1kWh of storage up to 12.4kWh, providing lithium iron phosphate battery-based storage.

Sharp technical officer Jens Mayer told PV Tech Storage his company’s storage product uses lithium manganese spinel batteries provided by Samsung. The company was showing a range of products aimed at the residential solar market in the UK, including a ‘no money down’ finance option scheme for installers and related technologies such as LED lighting. However, the storage unit took pride of place and according to Mayer and Sharp’s general manager for solar Andrew Lee, was the main focus of the company’s offerings at the show this year.

Mayer explained that while the product was launched first in Germany, where subsidies for lithium-ion batteries exist, before being readied for the UK, comparisons between the two markets are difficult to draw. This is because of subtle differences in the existing feed-in tariff (FiT) schemes in the two countries and Mayer also pointed out that rather than being a subsidy scheme that pays out over the lifetime of the battery in the manner of a feed-in tariff (FiT), Germany’s incentives are a contribution to the initial purchase price of the battery system.

“You cannot directly compare this, because in Germany we don’t have a subsidy scheme for lithium-ion batteries, we have a support scheme on the buying price when you buy a system as such. In Germany we have a different FiT to the UK. We only get paid for what we actually export to the grid, whereas in the UK you get paid for what you generate and you get an additional benefit when you export to the grid. This is obviously declining every year. The key point with Germany is the electricity prices are so much higher than the UK, compared to the FiT that we’re getting, there’s a big gap. So that means if you store the energy by yourself and you consume the energy by yourself, then you don’t have to pay for the electricity that you consume by yourself, so you really save on your energy bill. In the UK, it’s slightly different because you still get paid for what you generate but also you can save electricity costs by consuming it yourself.”

Mayer said that storage products going to the UK market need to be especially cost-effective. He claimed that the manufacture of Sharp’s product as an ‘all-in-one’ unite which includes an a lithium-ion battery unit integrated with an inverter and battery charger unit, capitalises on economies of scale. Mayer also said it was an advantage to customers that if anything were to go wrong with any individual part of the system, there would be only one company to contact to rectify it.

The UK arm of German inverter manufacturer SMA launched Sunny Boy Smart Energy in late September. The 2kWh system has a battery supplied by LG Chem. SMA claims it can supply a four-person household with around three hours of electricity in the evening.

Scotland-based CCL Components, is one of three distributors carrying the SMA range in the UK, with Sunny Boy Smart Energy launched together with another storage product, Sunny Island, which can be retrofitted into an existing installation, providing increased self-consumption as well as back-up power. Managing director Paul Brooks described self-consumption of PV generated electricity as “the next natural development in the solar industry”.

“Self Consumption using the Smart Energy system from SMA offers customers who are currently generating power from their solar installation to store the power and utilise at other times of the day.

CCL’s second system using the SMA Sunny Island can be integrated into an existing solar installation, not only to offer storage but have the security of backup power, should the mains power fail.

Installers will now have the benefit of returning to their existing customers with solar installations to offer a retrofit system particularly to those who are currently receiving feed in tariff.”

Other companies presenting storage products suitable for use with solar included Chinese solar module manufacturer Renesola, which was showcasing a complete off-grid version of the battery product the company has already rolled out in UK pilot programmes. Renesola also launched a series of smaller-sized kits for the camping and outdoor leisure market.

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