Thermal Battery That Could Revolutionise The Solar PV and Battery Industry

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Curtin University of Western Australia and international renewable energy companies ITP Thermal and United Sun Systems, have teamed up and are working on a project which could revolutionise the solar PV and battery industry forever.

The project is based around establishing a thermal battery which will be capable of producing electricity at night, when a solar PV system is not able to generate energy.

A thermal battery would make switching to renewable energy easier and less of a risk for all, including commercial and mining industries who rely heavily on fossil fuels.

The project is being led by Professor Craig Buckley from Curtin’s School of Electrical Engineering, Computing and Mathematical Sciences.

“Storage has long been a stumbling point for renewable energy, but our prototype thermal battery is able to store and, as required, release solar energy without reliance on sunlight at all times,” Professor Buckley said.

How The Thermal Battery Functions

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While current solar battery storage such as lithium batteries store energy from solar panels, that can be used to provide electricity when the sun is not shining, this thermal battery stores heat from concentrated solar thermal.

The Curtin of University has explained that the battery will use a high-temperature metal hydride or metal carbonate as the heat storage medium and a low temperature gas storage vessel for storing the hydrogen or carbon dioxide.

This will allow for hydrogen or carbon dioxide to be released from the gas storage vessel and absorbed by the higher temperature metal to form a metal hydride/metal carbonate, which produces heat used to generate electricity at night, and in times of overcast.

Curtin University Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research Professor Chris Moran said, “The project aimed to develop a solar power system that produced electricity 24 hours a day, seven days a week and was commercially viable for industry.”

The development of the thermal battery will be a game changer in the industry where excessive energy charges and high electricity usage at night seems to be a common issue for those who wanting to save more with their solar PV system.

Find out more about how Solar PV Systems and Battery Storage works in our Beginners Guide To Solar Power

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Understanding Batteries

Off-Grid Systems

For some households a battery system can be of great benefit and minimise a home’s reliance on the grid. However, it’s important to understand for a battery to be useful your solar system needs to be generating excess energy for the battery to store, which you can then use at night or when the sun is not out.

When selecting a battery, you’ll want to invest in a system that is most suited to your home and can drive the best return on investment (ROI). Despite a larger upfront cost, a higher quality battery may significantly increase your ROI.

    Battery systems start from $6,000 and costs can vary greatly based on the following factors:

  1. Cycle Life-Time

    The number of times a battery can fully charge and discharge.

  2. Battery Power (kW)

    How fast it can be charged or discharged.

  3. Storage Capacity (kWh)

    The maximum amount of energy a battery system can store.

  4. Battery Management System (BMS)

    An electronic ‘smart’ system that gathers data and manages the battery ensuring it does not overload or operate outside of its safe functioning zone..

  5. Inverter

    Battery systems require their own inverter if your solar system does not have a hybrid inverter.

  6. 'All-In-One Unit’

    A system which includes the battery, BMS and an inverter all in one unit.

  7. Warranty

    Length of time or cycles the battery system is under guarantee.

  8. Blackout Protection/Backup

    It’s important to note this is not a common feature of a battery system and could cost thousands of dollars to include. Blackout protection not only requires additional components but also a specialised installation and rewiring. For grid-connected homes, the cost for blackout protection can outweigh the benefit.

Additionally, if your purpose for adding battery is to go Off-Grid and become completely independent from the grid you will need to ensure your solar system can generate enough energy to power your home and your battery system is large enough to store this energy. For homes in metro areas going Off-grid is not cost effective and is only recommended for those in remote areas with limited access to the grid. Off-grid solar systems with battery start at approximately $30,000.