Blog Post

How SimpliPhi is Joining Forces in the Fight Against Australia’s Possible Battery Ban

Recently I travelled to Australia and New Zealand to meet with distributors, transmission companies, and inverter manufacturers, as well as test facilities and policy advocates engaged in the debate around the safety of lithium ion batteries for the residential markets. Beginning back in 2015, we partnered with DPA Solar to bring our products to the company’s vast network of electricians, solar installers, power companies and commercial businesses in Australia and New Zealand.

The first year of battery system sales and SimpliPhi’s performance in the Australian market has been a big success. We met with organizations and people using our batteries for training PV installers, testing facilities and large power generators.

An additional goal of my trip was to assess the level of demand for small-scale residential and commercial battery storage products, as well as its utility-scale solutions in the pan-Pacific region. We confirmed during our meetings with utilities and transmission and generation companies that there is a tremendous opportunity in Australia and New Zealand, driven by the country’s high solar uptake, soaring electricity prices and falling PV tariffs. These entities are actively working on new economic models to weave storage into their existing business operations; a sharp contrast to the U.S. where vendors develop the economic models with the aim of attracting more than just lukewarm interest from utility providers.

We met with Stance Tzamtzidis at Schneider Electric, which is partnering with SimpliPhi on utility distributed assets to improve energy access beyond the economical reach of transmission lines.

In our conversations, I found Australian energy companies to be more progressive than their U.S. counterparts in the way they ‘get’ the economics of battery storage, coupled with any generation source. While many people in the U.S. might only focus on the initial price point, those we spoke with in Australia and New Zealand understood that the levelized cost of energy is a more accurate way to assess the costs of a battery system over its useful life.

As the market there is farther along in implementing energy storage, the concern about the safety of these systems is becoming a highly debated topic. Currently, there is an ill-conceived suggestion by some in Australia that lithium-ion battery storage devices as a whole should be banned from being installed inside homes and garages. This is not only misguided, but also threatens the ability for the country to modernize its grid.

Catherine meets with Glen Morris at his test and research center to discuss the Australian Energy Storage Council’s standards and the safety of LFP chemistry.

This generic reaction to lithium ion battery storage comes from a misunderstanding that the toxic and flammable element in lithium ion batteries is Cobalt, not lithium and contrary to the general perception of customers and policy makers alike, not all lithium ion batteries use cobalt – which is the cause of hoverboards and cell phones to spontaneously catching fire. This cheap and controversially-sourced mineral cobalt is found in the majority of lithium-ion battery chemistries, except for Lithium Ferrous Phosphate (LFP) and is being considered as a candidate for ‘conflict mineral’ status in international trade. Indeed, most of the cobalt supplies are currently mined in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where at least 40,000 children, some as young as 4 years old, are documented to work in the mines for pennies a day, subjected to severe abuse, never realizing the immense profits that companies like Apple, Tesla, LG Chem and others realize based on the backs of their labor.

The philosophy at SimpliPhi has always asked the central question of why take renewable energy and store it in a toxic battery, fraught with supply chain environmental and human abuses abuse with, and then add onto that the risk of thermal runaway and fires? Our technology only utilizes the latest innovations in patented, licensed LFP cells that do not pose the threat of thermal runaway and do not require any cooling for performance safety, either internal to the battery or external to maintain optimal ambient temperatures in the installation. Unlike lithium batteries that utilize cobalt oxide, the nature of the LFP cell chemistry is non-hazardous and incapable of spontaneous thermal runaway under any condition. Additionally, our exclusive battery management system (BMS), proprietary architecture and assembly methods of the LFP cell packs deliver the least amount of internal resistance and heat buildup, even at high capacity discharge rates, compared with other technologies.

Conflating lithium-ion chemistry with cobalt chemistry that causes thermal runaway and the risk of fire as if they are one in the same, is effectively mischaracterizing all lithium-based batteries as hazardous. This simply is not true. At SimpliPhi, we work hard to educate consumers on battery safety, using our solutions as an example, and we participated in lengthy discussions in Australia to educate those we met.

Even if this proposal to ban energy storage inside homes and garages doesn’t become law, it may lead to changes in insurance premiums, becoming an avoidable requirement by proxy. Considering that regulatory policy issues stand to impact Australia’s energy storage industry, the education of safe, non-hazardous technology is more prevalent now than ever before.

Catherine Von Burg of SimpliPhi Power (center) and Richard Baker of DPA Solar (left) meet with Robert Downs of Downs Environmental.