Redflow takes on Tesla Powerwall with ZCell home battery


Source: Featured in Sydney Morning Herald Thursday 31/03/2016

Redflow executive chairman Simon Hackett owns three Tesla cars but when it comes to home batteries he believes he can go one better than the Californian car maker.

His company’s ZCell home battery using zinc-bromide “flow” technology performed better than the lithium-ion systems dominating the market, he said.

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By Angela Macdonald-Smith

“This is one that’s going to work for you in the house – the harder you work ours the happier it is,” he said. “Everyone else is just taking the same sort of lithium batteries and repackaging them.”

Flow technology involves storing electricity in liquid electrolytes, rather than in electrodes, as lithium-ion does. Two separate tanks of liquid are pumped past a membrane held between two electrodes, producing an electric current.

Mr Hackett said that unlike lithium-ion batteries, the ZCell flow battery lets users discharge 100 per cent of its stored energy every day and is designed to be fully charged and discharged daily, with minimal degrading. A home with a solar panel system that added a 10-kilowatt-hour ZCell system could cut its power bill by 95 per cent, he said.

Even so, at an estimated installed price, including an inverter, of $17,500 to $19,500 including GST, the return on investment for ZCell, as for other batteries, was “pretty marginal”, said Mr Hackett, who is also a director of NBN Co.

Redflow shareholders get a $1000 discount.

“This is exactly the same as for the start of the solar industry,” he said. “If you put one in today, you are putting it in at least somewhat because you believe in something. You’re an early adopter who wants to be part of the future.”

He is forecasting a surge of demand that will bring down costs, and Redflow, which concentrated previously on industrial markets, wants to be part of it.

“The sense I’ve got is that this is the year when home storage goes serious and gets to be globally taken up,” he said.

The launch of Redflow’s home battery coincided with the announcement from Germany’s market leader Sonnen that it would also launch in Australia, intensifying competition in what is a promising market because of the popularity of rooftop solar.

Households with PV panels can use batteries to “time-shift” their electricity use, storing surplus solar power for use in expensive peak periods. Tesla, Panasonic, LG, California’s Sunverge, Australian company Redback and others have also launched storage products in this country.

Sonnen will sell lithium-ion systems based on two-kilowatt-hour units that can be sized flexibly to suit the capacity of a solar system.

“The beauty of it is it’s modular,” Sonnen Australia country director Chris Parratt said. “The customer will get a battery system that suits them.”

Mr Parratt forecasts a rapid expansion in the Australian market, with unit sales expected to more than double in 2017, from 2500 to 3000 in 2016. A two-kilowatt-hour Sonnen system, including inverter, will cost about $5000.

The prices make the Redflow and Sonnen products equivalent or slightly more expensive than Tesla’s Powerwall, which has a capacity of about 6.2kWh.