Reposit Power is pioneering a new take on the traditional power station. It doesn't have a generator running on dirty coal — but neither does it have huge fields of wind turbines or solar panels. Instead, Reposit's 'power station' consists of a network of homes across Australia that have solar panels and battery storage, and want to sell their power back into the grid in a smarter way.
"At the end of 2014, there was 4.1 GW of solar PV in Australia spread over 1.8 million roofs," says Reposit's chief operating officer, Luke Osborne. "Reposit aims to help the solar households to become tiny but effective power stations. Combined, they will eventually be the biggest power station in the country — beating Loy Yang brown coal fired station in Victoria which can generate up to 3GW."
With the current state of feed-in tariffs across Australia, most homes with solar panels are not getting the best deal for the energy they're selling back into the grid. For most of these people, their excess energy is constantly leaking back into the grid as soon as it's collected, which is generally at off-peak times when demand is low. Reposit Power seeks to change this for their customers, with a system it calls GridCredits. Under Reposit, customers store their excess energy with their battery of choice, and sell said energy back to the grid in times of peak demand — that way, they get the best price for their power, and the strain on the grid is lessened.
It's currently the only company of its kind in Australia, although as Osborne points out, "it's such a compelling idea, there will definitely be copycats." Overseas, other companies worldwide are involved in innovating the way we buy and sell electricity, like the Dutch startup Vandebron — a "peer-to-peer energy marketplace" that's been described as the Uber or Airbnb of the energy world. Vandebron launched last April, and is already making waves with its innovative approach — with the end result, just like Reposit, being the consumer taking back control of their home power network.
Reposit Power is also still small, in the early adopter phase, but with Australia having the largest percentage of private solar installations in the world, it's the perfect market to start with. The Canberra company started with a pilot program in NSW and ACT, and now has a presence in every state in Australia aside from Western Australia.
It all started with a simple idea, as Osborne explains: "Reposit is for people who have a home energy system — that is solar panels to generate electricity, a battery to store it and appliances that use and consume energy. By learning from your consumption patterns we can make all these components work together to get the most energy from your own roof as possible."
The key difference between this system and a regular feed-in tariff is, of course, the battery. "The Tesla Powerwall has just been enormous for us, in the amount of interest we're getting. There are an awful lot of prospective customers on our social media channels asking about when the Powerwall is going to be available." Indeed, Reposit's partnership with such a huge and revolutionary industry figure as Tesla speaks to the innovation of the service it is providing. As John Bradley, the CEO of the Energy Networks Association said, "Reposit is the energy solution of the future".
The Powerwall most likely won't release until next year — but there are still other options on the market for those who want to take control of their power. The most popular, according to Osborne, is the Australian-made battery system from Magellan Power. Magellan have a lot of experience with what is a relatively new technology, having started out in the mining industry, making batteries for use in the mines. Accordingly, their home battery is a sturdy, outdoor rated unit with surprising storage capacity — with a choice of 9.9 kWh or 13.8 kWh, as compared to the Powerwall's 7 kWh. Reposit also has the Resu 6.4 from LG Chem on offer — a smaller battery at 6.4 kWh capacity, but also offering 'expansion packs' if you want to increase the amount it can store.
A New Market For Energy
While they're essential for Reposit's service, batteries are still not the element that makes them so unique. That claim lies with the GridCredit system, which is essentially a stock market for energy. Buy when the price is low, sell when the price is high. It's not going to provide a constant stream of income of course, as Reposit's system is designed to wait for the optimum moment to sell back into the grid. These opportunities, called "GridCredit events" by the company, are still unpredictable occurrences.
Similarly, over in Europe, Vandebron is offering an open market for electricity. Instead of Reposit's system of buying and selling between the grid and the customer, Vandebron is directly linking energy suppliers to the consumers. A look at their market page is quite similar to something like Airbnb — a number of windfarms or bio energy plants are listed, each with a photo showing the people who own the utility standing in front of it. It's a very personal approach to an industry that has a tendency to be seen as remarkably impersonal. Of course, as Vandebron points out, once energy is in the grid it is all just energy, and there is no guaranteeing what source the energy you're actually using comes from. Their peer-to-peer concept instead operates on a system where Vandebron makes sure that the supplier you have chosen is putting as much energy back into the grid as you are using in any given year.
A Greener Grid
Despite their different modus operandi, Vandebron and Reposit both have one major thing in common — they want to green up our electricity grids. While these services are innovative and offer a number of benefits, they can't sell themselves entirely on price yet. Instead most of their early adopters are far more interested in the environmental impact.
Vandebron only sells energy from renewable sources — solar, wind, water and bio energy — with the end goal of replacing The Netherlands' big energy suppliers with hundreds of renewable micro energy suppliers. According to Vandebron, 90% of the electricity produced in the Netherlands came from fossil fuels at the time the company was launched — with 80% of the market being controlled by three large companies. By cutting out the middleman and giving more money to suppliers for the energy they're generating, Vandebron hopes that these suppliers will be able to invest in an even greater renewable energy capacity for The Netherlands.
In Australia, Reposit is taking similar steps. Already it's seeing huge interest in South Australia and Tasmania where the grid is already very green and the market is becoming volatile — South Australia even has the highest concentration of household solar installations in the world. In New South Wales and Victoria, however, there is an oversupply of coal fired power stations, although Reposit's Luke Osborne doesn't see that lasting. "They're going to have to come out of the market soon. In time, tech like this will flatten prices out, but right now we just have to provide an alternative to dirty power."
This comes at a time when Origin is planning to retire some of their power stations, and AGL has vowed to close all of its coal fired power stations by 2050, but there is still a long way to go. "Eventually we will be able to out-compete the things we need to remove from the grid — like dirty power," says Osborne, but these are his long-term goals. For now, Reposit is committed to helping their small but growing customer base to take control of their power and become self-reliant.
For Australia's power network, it's likely that Reposit is only the beginning of a trend of disruptive and innovative companies. "I think we can expect to see more of those providing a gateway between customers and utilities," says ENA CEO, John Bradley. With 1.4 million Australian households having solar panels installed — and the game changing Tesla Powerwall coming into the market soon, it's not too much of a stretch to imagine more companies coming up with systems that take advantage of all the solar energy being collected from Australian rooftops.