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Solar batteries: Leading the charge towards energy independence?

Energy blog feature image of people power.

Don’t talk to me about energy suppliers. And don’t talk to them either, it seems. You’ll struggle to get through.

If you haven’t been on hold for 40 minutes at some point in your life, I must question if you own a telephone. Assuming you do, and you have, I’ll bet you’d struggle to find anyone who doesn’t, or hasn’t.

We love a good moan about our energy providers, don’t we? Slow or no response to email enquiries, or the frustration when faced with a call handler following a pre-determined script when a simple solution is evident. Even before the first whispers of the cost of living crisis, our relationship with energy suppliers was hardly a bed of roses.

With seemingly no alternative, we resign ourselves to our fate; a begrudging reliance on our supplier. Impotent, devoid of choice and therefore unable to make our own decisions about what works best for us.

But what about Solar PV? I hear you cry.

I’m glad you asked. It’s great. As the proud owner of a 6kW array on a south-facing roof, I am continually grateful to those silicon cells and their relatively efficient use of photons to generate electrical current. Solar PV is not new, with the first private UK installation taking place in Southwell in 1994. Over 1 million homes have followed since.

We are certainly generating a higher proportion of our own electricity, through private Solar PV or wind turbines. What was once a whimper is rallying to something… something slightly louder, if not the battle cry needed to send energy suppliers running for the hills to redraft their company policies.

And yet, it seems they might be doing just that.

Savvy suppliers foresee a shift in momentum and are building bridges with customers to ready themselves for a new era of energy supply. The tone has changed, and consumers are starting to see the benefits.

Octopus Energy are a prime example. Founder Greg Jackson emails customers with a personal message, outlining how Octopus aim to soften the blow of rising energy prices. Trained energy experts are visited 500,000 homes to help customers reduce their energy bills this winter. From an environmental standpoint, green energy from wind or solar farms as well as domestic grid tied installations is offered to consumers. There is a realisation that discerning and socially conscious consumers want to do their bit for the planet, and we are being presented with a choice as a result.

Marketing ploys or otherwise, as an Octopus customer I must admit that these measures are working – to an extent. I feel more valued. My heart is softening. Am I ready to love again?

And it’s not just Octopus, with others such as EON Energy following suit. We are seeing not perfect, but improved supplier-consumer relationships, a levelling of the playing field. But it’s not really thanks to our ability to generate our own energy.

Solar Battery Storage

This is the big one. The game changer. Positioned very much at the forefront of the collective energy suppliers’ mind, these predictably cuboidal and reassuringly heavy lumps of capacity are leading the charge in the energy revolution. Batteries are sticking it to The Man.

Battery technology has come on leaps and bounds in recent years, leading to a surge in domestic and commercial installations. Both have their positives and negatives (pun very much intended) but lithium-ion is increasingly giving lead-acid the elbow thanks to impressive depths of discharge, battery life and maximum output rates, as well as off grid capability in some systems.

Failure to include a battery in your Solar PV installation in today’s market is essentially waving the white flag to suppliers. Whilst the days of working from home during the recent pandemic perhaps convinced some that their solar PV was providing power when needed, the more recent return to the workplace sees solar generation slip through the fingers of householders and back to the grid. Unless blessed with the foresight to install way back when the government still offered attractive feed-in tariffs (FIT), it is likely that the supplier pays a pittance in return, with one notable exception. There is nothing powerful about giving away an asset on the cheap.

A battery, or a bank of batteries, is arguably the biggest factor in the softening of energy suppliers’ facades, and the key weapon in your arsenal to regain control and make your energy work for you. Click here to find out more about the energy storage systems on offer from the good folk at iJo Power.

Whilst power generation is great, the ability to store energy allows you to choose when and how you use it. After all, the sun doesn’t shine on those dark evenings, arguably when we need that energy the most. Out at work while the sun shines? No problem. Don’t need the lights, or the heating on while the sun shines? Great, save it for later.

Having considered the sizing of your storage solution carefully (click here for more on solar battery storage sizing…) your batteries will inevitably reach capacity at some point. This is a good thing. You can rest easy, knowing that your requirements for the rest of the day are taken care of, and then continue to export any excess energy to the grid. Alternatively, you can also choose to discharge your battery to the grid, if you want to. When? You choose.

Cashback – the Smart Export Guarantee and more

So feed-in tariffs are no more. But not all is lost as the government backed Smart Export Guarantee ensures some payback for electricity exported to the grid. How much depends on your provider, with many fixed rates leaving a lot to be desired. Octopus Outgoing Agile is currently the exception, offering very favourable prices ranging from 27p-53p on the day of writing. Half hourly prices are visible the day before, and so it is possible to choose to discharge a battery to the grid at peak times. This may be a good decision if satisfied that you can still generate and store your own energy requirements later that day. These attractive export rates are offered because it works for Octopus, and the consumer. It’s win-win, and further strengthens the bonds of our fledgling relationship.

If decisions about when to discharge sound a bit too much like hard work, fear not. can manage this for you, by reading solar forecasts for your area as well as outgoing price data for the coming day. Automated commands to your system take care of the energy trading for you, so you can spend your time doing what you do best. This is system optimization; getting the very best value from your investment.

Going completely off-grid is a tall order in a domestic setting and a working relationship with a supplier is needed in most cases. It is encouraging to see things moving steadily in the right direction, thanks in no small part to solar battery storage.

Batteries provide choices and those choices put us in the driving seat. Off grid? Not yet. Energy independence? Nearly.

Suppliers are getting the message – the power is shifting.

If you have yet to take the plunge on a solar and battery system, the iJo Power Cost Calculator will give you a personalised quote and idea of payback in just 2 minutes.