Interview: Australian market settings “favour advanced solutions”

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pv magazine: 2018 has seen SolarEdge introduce a number of new offerings to PV markets in various parts of the world, but Australia seems to have been targeted by a number of key innovations including the Immersion Heater Controller, the VPP solution and the EV Charger. Why is Australia so high in your priorities for these products?

Because it makes sense financially for the customer. Australia is a market where the combination of energy price, market education and understanding of the customers, and the incentive regime which is not net metering. All of this favours advanced solutions like smart energy management, VPPs, and storage.

Also, Australia is quite unique in how much the large energy players – companies like AGL, Origen, and even smaller ones – are involved in PV. Many of the classical utility players in other markets are not very pro-PV. Australia is one of the markets where a lot of solar is pushed in and deployed by utility players, which makes it the perfect market for things like our VPP.

And because of the high levels of rooftop PV penetration. Does that also play a role?

It is a well-informed market in the residential space. The percentage of Australian homes [with rooftop PV] is very high and as that grows in specific areas the more you can offer sophisticated solutions like VPP, storage, demand response, maximisation of self consumption and others.

In fact, there is somewhat of a campaign in some parts of the media and by some market participants, arguing with some saying there is too much PV in some areas. How do you respond to those kind of claims?

Obviously, I am very much pro PV, not only because I am in the PV industry, but because I believe that humanity needs clean and renewable energy sources. But I would say that too much PV, without the suitable grid solutions, would be a bad thing.

If Australia had an incentive regime such as net metering, then yes there could be too much PV – because there is not motivation other than to feed into the grid. Then you start to see phenomena like the ‘duck curve’. [This occurs when] too much PV power is produced around noon time that destabilize the grid and pushes the baseload production to a very, very low level, and then demand ramps up in the evening. But that is not the case in Australia, as there is no net metering, this [the duck curve] has been, most likely, prevented.

With a more stable incentive regime involving the maximisation of self consumption, like you see in Australia, then what you get is that PV is a stabilizing force and not necessarily a destabilizing force – because PV takes some load off the grid and evens out the fluctuation as much as possible.

There is only one entity around the home that knows all of that and has all of the processing power needed to control the loads

Weather-wise, there is winter and summer [in Australia], but the variance between those are not as extreme as you see in some other places around the world. That also means that the variance between solar irradiation between the seasons is not as extreme as in other places – which again helps PV to be a more stabilizing force than a destabilizing force.

 Are you seeing demand for things like smart home in Australia? The Immersion Heater looks to be quite an elegant solution – based on its simplicity.

The control of the hot water was initially more of a cost efficient energy storage solution. But it has grown to become more of a complimentary solution [to battery storage]. You can maximise the level of self consumption to some degree, but you can go even further when you couple hot water energy control with battery storage – they complement exactly what you need so you become more energy self sufficient.

Further along with the smart home concept, you then need a higher level of home automation. How does SolarEdge expand into these areas?

Our smart energy hot water controller is already providing home automation. Not only can you control when to heat water, but it will also do it automatically in order to optimize self consumption – while making sure you have hot water when you want it. To that end we are also bringing to the market our EV charging inverter – delivering more control and convenience for your life. By convenience, I am talking about the ability to control all of these loads with the SolarEdge app. So, you can program them and condition them, and on top of that, the inverter will trigger the on and off in order to optimize your energy bill.

And is there really an advantage in doing all of that over the one platform, over SolarEdge?

In order to really optimize your energy consumption, the information has to be centralized: This is what our inverter does. You have to know how much [energy] is consumed, which our inverter does. You have to know how much energy there is stored in the battery and how much more capacity there is, how much PV energy is being produced currently and to forecast it in the coming hours. There is only one entity around the home that knows all of this information and also has the processing power needed to control the loads.

And with the EV charging inverter, which was released at Intersolar Europe this year. What is the advantage of also adopting a SolarEdge EV charger over an alternative one? And what’s the status with the product?

The product is already being manufactured, but it is not yet sold in all regions. It is already being sold in the U.S. market.

The clear advantage is the integration with energy management and solar production – from one app with one control to maximise self-consumption.

The second is that our EV charging solar inverter makes the installation more cost effective, because if you install a separate charger then there is an electrical installation for the inverter, and another for the charger. Our integrated solution saves time and money for the installation.

We also have a ‘solar boost mode’ meaning that you can charge your car with the maximum power that you can take from the grid, depending on local codes and regulations, but we can increase the charge power and shorten the time, by adding power from the PV. This means that if you are charging during the day you can decrease your charge time.

How would you describe the importance of the Australian market for you?

It is a very good market for SolarEdge. We have managed to grow and take market share in the Australian market. I think first of all we have strengthened our position in the commercial and large-scale PV system market significantly versus previous years. And we have been able to grow share in the residential space – which is more of a core market for us in Australia.

The growth in the past year has been quite significant, largely related to the fact that we are also investing a lot in the Australian market. We have almost doubled the team [in 2018] in terms of support, marketing, and sales.