Want to go off the electricity grid?

Electricity in Australia is on the verge of colossal change. The announcement came this month that powerful solar-powered batteries, capable of independently powering an entire home, are on the near horizon.

"You can actually go, if you want, completely off-grid."

"You can actually go, if you want, completely off-grid," Tesla CEO Elon Musk said at the premiere of the company's new Powerwall batteries. "You can take your solar panels, charge your batteries, and that's all you use." 

The introduction of the new batteries (which could be as early as next year) will have a huge impact on Australia's energy suppliers, potentially bringing prices down. This is great news for businesses and homes alike, as according to a 2013 Productivity Commission report, electricity prices have shot up by as much as 70 per cent between 2007 and 2012, meaning people have had to learn to be more efficient with their energy.

Batteries that are charged by solar power are nothing new, but they've only ever been used for smaller tasks, such as heating water or as a backup generator in case of a power outage. The oncoming charge of high-tech energy storage devices is looking to put a change to all of this.

Despite the huge advancements, the batteries are still only able to store power while the sun is shining. It is therefore recommended that the batteries are only used at peak times and in cases of normal power outage. Going entirely off the grid would be hindered by the reliance on the sun, as well as being quite costly to set up.

The batteries fill when the sun shines.The batteries store power while the sun shines.

Sanjeev Mukerjee, director of the Northeastern University Center for Renewable Energy Technology (USA), believes it is a "very good first foray", but not quite the "ultimate solution". He stated that for homes to be off the grid, the batteries and solar panels still need to be cheaper and more efficient.

He foresees a bright future for solar energy and energy storage devices, though, using the example of how much cheaper solar panels have become over the last few years.

"Right now solar panels are below $1 per watt, or $1,000 per kilowatt. That's pretty amazing considering a few years ago they were $5,000 per kilowatt," he explained.

If you're looking to save money in the meantime, the best thing to do is to compare your electricity suppliers, and see which one suits you best. Having done that, consider being smarter with your energy; if you can use what you have more efficiently, there's no reason to invest in solar just yet.

Posted by Nikki Wilson-Everett