Battery Storage: Incumbent Utilities Still Don’t Get It

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Originally published on RenewEconomy.

Morgan Stanley, the investment bank that predicts one million Australian households will adopt battery storage over the next four years, says the broader energy market in Australia still underestimates what’s about to hit them.

The comments come in a brief appraisal of the main factors weighing on the Australian energy market and the incumbent coal-fired generators, the big networks and retailers.

Many of these companies have sought to downplay the prospect of battery storage in recent weeks and months, telling investors and conference gatherings that battery storage is still “un-economic” and that installation rates will be slower than thought.

The flip side of that argument is that Australian households already have a powerful incentive to install battery storage – given high electricity costs, abundant sunshine and high rates of rooftop solar installation, and it is likely that many households don’t much care whether battery storage systems pay back their investment in 5 years, 10 years or 15 years. They simply want the product.

“We think the market continues to underestimate the potential for household battery uptake and the resultant reduction in demand for grid electricity,” the Morgan Stanley analysts said in a report last week.

Certainly, that is the view of many major battery storage developers. Tesla has chosen Australia as its primary market, and has already launched its product. Enphase has chosen to release its battery storage product in Australia in late June/early July. LG Chem today announced plans to fast-track development in storage in Australia, a market it says will grow five-fold this year alone. Australia’s Redflow will launch its battery storage product next week.

Morgan Stanley says battery storage will play a vital role in what it  calls the “New Economic Infrastructure”,  and will be one of five key structural themes for an analysis on the Australian economy in Transition, in what it describes as the “renewable energy revolution.”

“Australia has a world-leading solar resource, and one of the highest per capita solar installation rates in the developed world,” the Morgan Stanley analysts says in the report. “Pairing Australian rooftop solar with household battery storage could further disrupt the traditional grid electricity supply model.”

It notes that Australia already has more than 1.4 million homes (15 per cent of the total) with rooftop solar and will extend this “leadership” by adopting new battery technology and pioneering distributed generation technologies.

It says regulation will need to move quickly and collaboratively to establish the right incentives, but may be over-run by the pace of change.

“The preconditions are in place with a highly urbanised, high-income society facing some of the highest electricity costs in the world,” it says.

“To date, the accelerated take-up of household solar has been a result of generous feed-in tariffs. Proposed reforms to electricity tariff structures will need to shift incentives towards more efficient system utilisation, and while economics for new adopters may be impacted in the short term, we expect the trend of sharply-falling solar PV costs will ensure industry growth.

“Cost-effective battery storage will be the game-changer, perhaps even independent of regulatory reform.”

Morgan Stanley is standing by its forecast from last May that 40 per cent of households may take-up battery storage by 2035. Indeed, it now believes that the take up rate – originally put at 2.4 million households  by 2035, could exceed 3 million by the same date, although it  says tariff and incentive reform will be key.

This accords with the broader view in the industry. Battery storage developers – such as Enphase – predict that storage costs will fall by half by 2020. Tesla suggests they may fall further.

But regulators have been batting the ball down the road, refusing in some cases to even consider battery storage as a network or system pricing issue due to a “lack of information”. Many believe regulators will be run over in the rush, along with incumbent generators and networks that are not quick enough to react.

Morgan Stanley says there are clear benefits for the overall electricity system from battery storage, but they are a threat for generators.

“Once at critical mass, distributed battery storage can reduce peak grid demand, which means less network investment will be required, lowering long-run (transmission and distribution) costs through greater system efficiency.

“The impact on the major listed generators is less clear, with demand for stationary generation likely to fall, potentially leaving assets stranded and lowering pool prices. Potential offsets include new product marketing or inter-household electricity brokerage revenues.”

That points to the fact that the battery storage revolution is not just about hardware, but business models enabled by smart software that will allow trading with the market, and trading with other households.

In effect, creating an “internet” of millions of independent producers and consumers, and snatching the power, quite literally and figuratively, away from the old model of centralised generation and vast networks.

Reprinted with permission.

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Giles Parkinson

is the founding editor of, an Australian-based website that provides news and analysis on cleantech, carbon, and climate issues. Giles is based in Sydney and is watching the (slow, but quickening) transformation of Australia's energy grid with great interest.

Giles Parkinson has 596 posts and counting. See all posts by Giles Parkinson

67 thoughts on “Battery Storage: Incumbent Utilities Still Don’t Get It

  • Do we know which analysts at Morgan Stanley wrote the report? The big brokerages and investment banks are known for having lots of different analysts many of whom issue reports contradicting each other.

    I like to keep track of which analysts are competent….

    • Morgan Stanley are extremely storage friendly. They gave some of the sanest estimates of the cost per kwh of the Tesla powerwall. But I think they also have a stake in Tesla. I wouldn’t call them biased, more like “warmly receptive”.

  • Way to go Down Under! Did not realize oiur Aussie cousin were moving so fast. The article does raise the question of stranded assets which leads to a question of what if any utilities are moving to address roof top and solar garden impacts. What are utilities doing to address their changing markets? Related is a question of who controls transmission lines in the USA. And as a way aside what happened to the prompts on comments. Mine disappeared. Lou Gage

    • G’Day Lou. Not all the utilities are morons… At least 2 (AGL Australian Gas Light – founded in 1837) and Origin Energy are both big investors in Wind power (and other clean energy like Hydro). I believe they also (very unfortunately) have a bad side as well… screwing farmers by forcing them off their land to install fracking wells). So we get the good and the bad, all rolled into one 🙁

  • Maybe people would have a better impression of batteries if the article were illustrated with something besides a dull, common flashlight battery?

    Just a (sarcastic) thought…

    • Can you drape a scantily clad young female model over a battery to any effect? Or invent the superheroine Battery Woman?

      • It appears you can. Google sexy battery. Caution – questionable images 🙂

        • I really don’t want to see the xxx version of the Energizer bunny.

        • I disapprove of this picture. She shouldn’t be naked next to such a large battery. She should be dressed in a protective layer of rubber.

        • Only in Sweden can you show nipple in a battery ad.

          Be afraid about the radio and film camera for example.
          Buy National Battery.

          It becomes always cheapest to buy a regulated battery

  • Australia is an ideal market for PV and storage. They have done wonders with PV installation costs. No one except Germany comes close to their installed cost. But batteries…now there is a different story. They have a history of inexplicably high prices for batteries even before the arrival of the new lithium and flow formats. How do we explain the cranking up or the Tesla powerwall 80% over the price promised by Tesla? It has to be the retailers not Tesla. Whatever the reason, some really clear eyed journalism needs to be done on why this is happening. This price gouging is throwing a wrench into the adoption of storage…which makes me think…utilities?

    • Dude! You’ve got to get past that. It’s a new market with huge demand. Production and sales will grow faster with a higher margin …until the high end portion of this market is saturated. Then prices will start falling ..and there’s already competition from at least three major players:
      Tesla/USA, Sonnenbattery/Germany, and LGChem/Korea. Costs of the underlying technology, the lithium cells, are already quite low as you know well. Low cost systems will be available in a few short years …same as Solar PV in Australia.

      • The “bleeding edge” early adopters always get gouged.
        Whilst having to be guinea pigs for all the early niggles.
        And yet, some are always prepared to take the plunge.
        I’m right there behind them, waiting…

        • True, but higher margin can also help vendors deal with the “niggles” more equitably without going negative on profit. Keep your customers happy and grow your market …for a good company.

          My hat is off to the early adopters. To be fair, some of those will be very happy with what they get even at those high prices. High prices will make sense for many niche applications.

    • I’d be inclined to think ‘shipping and distribution’ before conspiracy. We’re quite use to paying double for niche products which cross the Pacific in a container.

      Things will improve as the volumes crank up.

      • At current rates it should cost less than $10 US to ship 100 kg from the US to Australia.

    • Just look at who is installing the Tesla PowerWalls here… There is your answer to why it costs so much. We have a name for it… The Australia Tax. Everyone else just calls it price gouging.

      • Not to be a stone head but who is in fact installing the Tesla PowerWalls? Private firms looking to max out revenues on a hot selling item? Lou Gage

        • Run a Google search on Tesla Power Wall installers Australia – you will find plenty to choose from.

          • Sorry about the confusion but my real question was whether the private sector, or power companies or govt or NGO was doing so to generate the comment. Here in the States I assume most will be done by the private sector. Lou Gage

          • Private and utilities. Tesla-approved installers for the Powerwall. Other battery suppliers have their own installers. The utility, Origin Energy, also offer the Powerwall + Solar ($15.5k-16.5k).
            Two other utilities, AGL ($13K-14.5K). Energy Australia have smaller solar+Enphase ($11K). In most cases, Government rebates cover for the cost of the panels. Rebates are around $700 per kWp. More or less the nominal price of the panels.

          • Adding to Peters comment… The Utilities are also privately owned, so in effect, it is only private companies doing Tesla installs.

  • The more who go ‘off-grid’, the higher the cost of the grid per customer remaining, the greater the incentive to go ‘off-grid’. It is a virtuous / vicious circle depending on where you stand.

    • If you’re *lucky* the people who go off-grid first are the deep rural customers who cost a fortune to run distribution lines to. Removing those lines *lowers* the cost of the grid per customer remaining, so the grid gets cheaper for the city dwellers. That’s the optimal result.

    • Sorry, that is popular propaganda (IMO). The grid costs are just the same as they always were. Except before privatization, the Govt owned them.

  • Why are Australian retail electricity prices so high? The parallel usually drawn is with Germany, but there it’s part of a conscious policy of cross-subsidising industry to maintain the country’s manufacturing exports. Australia doesn’t have much of a manufacturing sector.

    • I have often wondered the same – I believe a large part of the reason is due to the relatively spread out population making costs more expensive.

      I also believe the utilities had very “optimistic” opinions of electricity demand growth, so invested massively from about 10 years ago. A mixture of the recession, greater efficiencies, and distributed solar generation meant demand was actually a lot lower; but the investment had been made and so rates were increased to recoup the money.

      • The spread out nature of Australia’s grid is not the reason for our high electricity prices. Our grid was just as spread out in the past when electricity prices were among the lowest in the world. And our population has continued to grow in cities and towns while shrinking in rural areas, so the cost of supplying electricity to remote areas has become relatively smaller over time.

        You are right that future demand was overestimated and the grid overbuilt. This wouldn’t have been a problem if it had been possible to lose money by building too much infrastructure, but instead all costs were passed on to consumers.

        Recession? There was no recession in Australia. We decided not to have one. It was quite simple. We had a pamphlet entitled, “How Not To Have A Great Depression – by A British Dude.” It’s a continuing mystery to us why the UK, US, etc. decided to have one.

        It’s like the developed countries of the world were all standing on a railway track when a locomotive started approaching at high speed. Australia stepped off the track and then turned around to see the other countries had hardly moved at all. Australia said, “Excuse me, but you do know the proper thing to do in this situation is to get off the railway track?”

        And the other countries said, “Nah, it’s okay. Some of us think we should get off the railway track while others think we should stay where we are, so we’ve decided to compromise and just move to the edge of the track. We’re sure that will be sufficient.”

        • You mean — “How Not To Have a Great Depression, by John Maynard Keynes”, of course.

          • I’m pretty sure he was a British dude. He had a British accent anyway. I distinctly remember his voice from my time in Eton, threatening to do horrible things to me if I bit a hole in his pillow and so on.

          • there definitely was some pillow biting going on

          • Whoa on the sniggers about Keynes’ rich sex life. Remember that the co-architect of the initially successful postwar financial system, Harry Dexter White of the US Treasury, was also a KGB agent. Weird guys that get it right are more useful than fine upstanding blockheads like GW Bush.

          • I thought we were talking about Kevin.

          • “Weird guys that get it right are more useful than fine upstanding blockheads like GW Bush.”

            So true! Except I’m not so sure GW was “fine” and “upstanding”.

    • In theory rates are based on the cost of materials (Gas, Coal, etc) plus the cost of man power, plus paying back debt, and of curse a decent profit margin. The facts at least in the US is they are generally set by state boards that the company’s goto to find out what they can charge.

      • Over the past ten years the wholesale price of electricity in South Australia has averaged 3.8 US cents. Last year I paid 33 US cents per kilowatt-hour for grid electricity. So personally, the cost of generating electricity was 11.5% of what I paid and transmission, distribution, retailing, regulation, 10% tax, and a few other bips and bops came to 88.5%. This has got to be the highest ratio in the world of generating price to retail price for any developed country. Quite possibly any country, since ‘lecky is usually cheaper in poorer countries.

        • Apparently you don’t have any equivalent of our Public Utility Commissions, whose job it is to refuse the grid operator’s requests for unreasonable rate increases.

          • No, we have regulators who job it is to refuse retailers unreasonable rate increase requests, and these regulators said, “We think your unreasonable rates increase requests are perfectly reasonable.” For year$. I believe in the United States it’s called “regulatory capture”. In Australia we call it, “I’m rich, you’re dumb”. Or at least those of use who are rich call it that.

          • G’Day. One of the problems is the coal fired power stations, and the transmission lines were privatized, and sold to the highest bidders. They were guranteed a w% return on their investment for x number of years, plus a z% increase every year (generally well more than inflation). This has seen a 72% rise in retail electricity costs in the last 10 years in Melbourne (Victoria) where I live. I believe the State Govt & the power companies collude to see how much they can squeeze out of everyone – then there is another layer of greedy grubby little group called the power retailers.

    • Just to further back-up the point on a spread out population, the population density of Australia is 8 people/square mile, in the UK it is nearer 700 – even America has a density of 85. Whilst there are large “empty” areas in the Australian interior, even the urban and suburban areas tend to have a lower density; think how many of the suburbs in Australia are bungalows whereas in the UK such buildings are very rare.

      The makes grid electricity expensive, but on the flip side it will ultimately mean it is easier for renewable electricity to compete.

    • In the old days state governments would provide electricity. Generators could be publicly or privately owned or both. Electricity would be offered at very low rates to industry, at around “cost” while residences would be charged more and the extra money added to general state revenue. In other words, residential electricity was a cash cow with a mostly invisible tax component. Despite this, Australians still paid some of the lowest household electricity rates in the world because the people involved had an incentive, and a duty, to keep costs low.

      But thanks to successive waves of reform and privatization, we ended up with a situation where instead of state governments having an incentive to keep costs low, private companies had an incentive to build as much transmission capacity as they could get away with because they received a guaranteed return from it and could pass on costs to consumers. Regulators completely failed to keep costs in check. There appear to have been basic misunderstanding about just what the words ‘price’ and ‘competition’ mean.

      We also have layers of middle management and regulatory bodies in the electricity sector that we never had before when the states provided electricity. And we have to pay extra so we can have competition to keep prices down. This is not terribly bright. State governments solutions to these problems involve more privatization. Fundamental mistakes have been made, and are still being made, on how to regulate a natural monopoly and provide public goods.

    • A summary of a report on what went wrong can be found here:

      The points they highlight being:

      * Price rises have been highest in States with privatised electricity networks;

      * Customer dissatisfaction jumped, with complaints to the energy
      ombudsman in privatised States leaping from 500 to over 50,000 per

      * Resources have been diverted away from operational functions to
      management and marketing, resulting in higher costs and poorer service;

      * Reliability has declined across a wide range of measures in Victoria;

      * Promised increases to investment efficiency have not occurred;

      * Real labour productivity has reduced as employment and training of
      tradespeople was gutted and numbers of managerial and sales staff

      * Private owners are receiving unjustifiably high rates of return based on the low investment risk; and

      * Consumers in privatised states bear the cost of approximately 10 per
      cent per annum interest on private owners’ debt, compared to
      substantially lower government borrowing costs of three per cent.

      • Private monopolies are a terrible, terrible idea. Looks like this is what you now have in most states in Australia.

        • No, we have an electricity market which is actually the longest in the world, and it works very well for keeping generation competitive. Sure the wholesale price system is occasionally rorted (dishonestly or unethically worked to extract money while staying within the letter of the law) but that doesn’t happen so much anymore thanks to renewable energy helping to keep prices down

          But where it completely falls down is pretty much everything else. Up to and including an illusion of choice on the part of consumers being able to choose between retailers. Which is nonsense on the face of it because the retailers have no effect what so ever on the actual electricity provided to homes. And ridiculous in practice because consumers have no way to compare retailers. Quite intentionally so. I don’t understand my electricity bill. The only way I can work out how much I am paying per kilowatt-hour is to divide what I have to pay by the number of kilowatt-hours I’ve used.

          Basically the only real choice picking a retailer gives consumers is who answers the phone when they ring up to complain about why their electricity bills are so high. And since complaining doesn’t normally do any good, it’s not a very useful choice.

          • We’re not permitted to watch that video in Australia. It’s probably far to revolutionary.

          • Sorry Ron, but as a consumer of this so called ‘competitive’ generation, how come I’m paying 35c/kwh (peak) from 7am to 11pm Mon-Fri. That is ridiculous, and is primarily because I installed my solar panels AND managed to lock in to a 66c/kwh export contract before it expired (locked in until 2025). The current FIT (feed in tariff) in most places is now down to just 6c/kwh – which, once I move houses, is what I will get (unless I can buy a house with pre-fitted panels and a Premium FIT just like mine), because my current 68c FIT is tied/locked to this address. (BTW it is transferrable to the next owner if you are interested in buying !) 😉 With such a good FIT, it is not economical to install batteries, but at 6c it is a no brainer. As for choosing a retailer, we are spoilt for choice (unlike many USA consumers) I have not counted them all, but I’d guess there would be at least 10 competing for most consumers business. If you can’t find a good one in that pile, you have not done your homework. Simply THREATENING your current provider that you will move to a different one is usually all it takes to get a discount…. Then move anyway if it still isn’t good enough.
            BTW, do you actually HAVE solar installed? And if so, what are the rates you are getting / paying ?
            Regards, Greg.

          • Greg, over the past ten years the average wholesale price of electricity in New South Wales has been about 4.3 cents (3.2 US cents). That is what is paid to have grid electricity generated. It’s very low by world standards and so the electricity market appears to work well at keeping the wholesale price of electricity down,

            You ask why are you being charged so much for electricity. It is because people who control electricity and electricity policy prefer to take as much money as possible from your pockets and put in in theirs and their friend’s pockets than to not take as much money as possible from your pockets. Basically you have been ripped off and are paying more than eight times what electricity costs to generate when in the past the ratio was less than half that large. I have touched on some of the details of the rip off in other comments I’ve made in this thread. If you want to see why what you pay for electricity has about doubled since 2007 this chart shows the components of a New South Wales electricity bill. It’s a bit old, so ignore the carbon price.


            You wrote that is is possible to get a good retailer if one does one’s homework, but you also write that you pay 35 cents a kilowatt-hour for peak electricity. If that’s the best you can get after doing your homework then clearly being able to chose a retailer isn’t doing you much good.

            PS: Congratulations on being an early adopter and locking in such a high feed-in tariff. I’m guessing you probably paid quite a bit for your system.

          • G’Day Ron. I chose Red Energy because they can provide 100% renewable (few others can). As for why am I paying 35c/kwh it is BECAUSE of the 66c FIT. I will ask again… Do you have solar, and what are your rates ?

          • You are acting a bit weird, Greg.

            The last rooftop solar system I bought was in Queensland. The marginal cost of grid electricity is a flat rate of 22 (17 US) and a bit cents per kilowatt-hour while the daily supply charge is 107 (81 US) cents. That makes for an all up cost of about 37.6 (27 US) cents per kilowatt-hour with an average grid consumption of 7 kilowatt-hours a day. The feed-in tariff is 8 (6 US) cents per kilowatt-hour.

          • G’Day Ron. I am a bit weird, but in a good way (I hope) 😉
            The rates I have supplied do not include the daily fee, which is about the same as yours. I have a time of use plan, unlike your flat rate. Prior to solar (4 years ago) I was paying AU$1800/year for power. Since installing 2kw of solar panels (AU$7000 at the time including all rebates) my bills have all been under $200/year. Note that we only receive 4 to 5 hours of sunshine on average per day here in Melbourne (37 degrees South) unlike you lucky buggers up North ! $1800 x 4 years = $7200. Less $800 paid out = $6400 rate of return so far, meaning the system will be paid off this year. Way sooner than the supposed 10 to 20 year many other people have been talking about. Even with today’s 6.6c FIT it is still a no brainer IF you use all you can whilst the sun is shining – or dump it into a battery / Tesla Power Wall – it is a shame about the price though 🙁

          • I know exactly what you’re talking about. This is the downside to deregulation. Separating the natural monopoly of distribution from generation might be a good idea, but you need to be very careful how you design the market. Time and time again, deregulation only spurs innovations in marketing and price discrimination.

            Take natural gas sales in Atlanta, Georgia. You get to choose your supplier, but pay a regulated rate for distribution. It sounds good in theory, but in practice, all of the gas suppliers have chosen a cable company pricing strategy. You can sign a 12 month fixed price contract for about $0.65/therm, but once the contract is up, you are automatically moved to the price-gouging “variable rate” of $1.10/therm. This isn’t about price hedging or anything. The price difference is stable long term, and the only purpose is to exploit consumers’ ignorance, poor memories, or apathy to extract excessive profits. What a giant waste of time and effort. Every customer has to call to switch plans every 12 months just to avoid getting price gouged. And it’s not even like the fixed price rates are any cheaper than in regulated states. How could they be? There is no innovation. They just buy the same wholesale gas on the same market from the same terminal and send it through the same distribution pipeline.

          • The electricity retailers here do the same thing with contracts and I’ve been caught out and charged a higher rate because my contract had run out.

            I didn’t even know I had a contract. We never had them before, but now suddenly households need them? It must be more of this “competition” stuff that is supposed to save us money.

          • “When the contract is up you are automatically moved to the …variable rate.” – Where have I heard that before. Oh yes. Home mortgages just before the GFC.

        • This is incorrect. There is lots of competition between retailers – but that does not mean cheap prices !

    • Classic economic problem of misaligned incentives, with some good old-fashioned corruption thrown in for good measure.
      Ronald should be able to give you a short history lesson.

    • I don’t understand the claims of high tariffs. At least in the major cities of Melbourne and Sydney, flat tariffs of less than 25c/Kwh apply. My new contract is cheaper than the last. It’s worth noting that the minimum wage in Australia is $16.87/hr. The problem must be the kangaroos – they don’t work hard enough.

      • That minimum wage is almost $13 an hour even with the strong US dollar. Good for your country and its civilization. The US minimum wage is $7.25. Half of Americans are about to vote for a political party whose presidential candidates mostly oppose the very existence of a minimum wage, despite our consistent experience that letting the real value of the minimum wage fall has done nothing good for wages overall. Trump is considered the “populist” even though he says that American workers are overpaid.
        Keeping us desperate on short rations is the way our masters keep us from risking anything new.

        • The Aussie minimum wage is a myth… Technically it is the law, but lots of companies import & hire Indian and Chinese students, pay them $5 (or whatever they can get away with before they get caught). Some 7 Eleven stores were 5recently exposed on a current affairs TV show for the wonderful rates they pay illegal workers.

      • Kangaroos have nothing to do with power you dill Peter. It is the wombats!

        • And the bunyips.

      • A flat tariff is only ONE option, there are many others at well (time of use for example).

  • Since my peak rate is $0.28/kWh more than the nighttime low, if I can get the storage cost lower than that, I will be putting in enough storage to kill that peak. Looks like it will happen.
    The prices are not yet to the place where storing my PV output is cost-effective here, but I can see that it will not be very long before that happens.

    • It looks to me like you can get the storage cost lower than your target if you:
      (a) buy Tesla Powerwalls
      (b) shop around for an approriate inverter (you may have to wait a year or two)
      (c) design the system yourself so as to avoid massive profit margins from the installers

      • Neroden, I think your suggestions match my thoughts. The inverter piece is something that I have been looking at, and may be available at a decent price next year. I also think the price of a PowerWall will drop in the next year or two and the performance will go up a bit more.
        While I want to kill the peak now, it may have to wait for a year or two. This year I will be adding to my solar PV array, as that is still a reasonable investment currently.

  • Vattenfall/Nuon plans super-battery in Eemshaven/Nl:

    Machine translation:

    Technically very interesting: the storage is done with ammonia from the air. So no metals like lithium or lead etc. are necessary, the storage capacity is infinite.

  • It will be huge!…when there are 100,000 half-charged, short-lived batteries, asynchronously outputting as much as 2KW each…maybe… weather and self-consumption permitting, and where each household pays AUD $15,000 to show the grid who’s boss.

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