SPOTLIGHT ON: Phil Livingston

Redback Technologies’ founder and, more recently, member of the Australian Power Institute’s Board of Directors, Phil Livingston, is looking to the future of home energy storage, and oh, what an exciting future it is.

Imagine a scenario where a home generates power with rooftop solar panels, it then stores that power in a wall-mounted system, and the homeowner has the power to choose where and how their energy is used.

To Phil Livingston, this scenario could very soon become a reality for Australia energy consumers.

Through Redback Technologies, Phil has developed the Smart Hybrid Solar Inverter System, which converts battery and solar power into usable power and uses excess energy to charge batteries before being sold to the grid.

Phil says with energy and battery technology on the rise, the country is heading for a future where households are “self-consuming” their energy.

“Any future relies on providing consumers greater choice and democratising an energy system that is one of centralised control and centralised generation, and one-way flow of energy from the source down to the point of consumption through quite an inefficient means of transmission and distribution, and also inefficient generation sources that are fossil intensive,” Phil explains.

“Energy is not necessarily being produced in line with most peoples best interests.

“So, providing consumers greater choice starts with providing an economically viable solution for energy consumption downstream, that allows for these types of climatic events that we are seeing now in northern Queensland (Tropical Cyclone Debbie) to be events that homeowners will have energy through and not just be constantly at the whim of weather and centralised power.

“As the technology becomes more advanced, the cost of battery technology will continue to fall, encouraging consumers to consider battery storage as a viable option as well as simultaneously, helping to stabilise the grid.”

With high costs associated with installing these systems preventing them from becoming the “norm”, Phil says rapid advancements in battery storage over the next 12 months will make it a more viable and economical choice for consumers.

“Ultimately, in the longer-term, the greater volume of these systems just increases supply in the system, and as we know, simple economics – when supply exceeds demand, as far as increasing volumes of generation online from photovoltaic and wind-related sources, will only decrease wholesale electricity prices,” he says.

“So, consumers having their own little gas tank or reservoir of energy at their homes, and the ability for them to charge from the grid at any time, like when the power is cheap, this is the future that we are all longing for.”

Redback has already received local support, with the Queensland Government recently investing almost $2 million into Redback to further advance technology developments.

Government-owned electricity distributor, Energy Queensland, has committed to $1.42 million of funding for staff and resources into a new smart monitoring initiative.

At the Queensland Energy Storage Summit earlier this year, Queensland Energy Minister Mark Bailey announced Energy Queensland would deploy a team coordinator and two mid-level engineers into Redback’s team.

Meanwhile, government innovation movement, Advance Queensland, has awarded the company and the University of Queensland a Research Fellowship of $540,000 in staff and resources to advance the development of smart grid capabilities.

“These partnerships mean those with the most relevant expertise are working on these projects and will further cement our vision to enable Australian households and business’ to be entirely powered by renewable energy all day, every day,” Phil says.

Energy Queensland’s funding follows EnergyAustralia’s $9.3 million investment in Redback late last year signaling a trend of utility companies taking interest in Redback’s suite of technologies.

There has also been global interest in the technology, as the world looks to Australian innovation as a way to reduce emissions and stabilise the grid.

In March, Redback signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with Duserve Facilities Management (Duserve FM) to collaborate on a pilot project in United Arab Emirates.

The partnership will see Redback install its systems in 20 commercial and 20 residential properties in Dubai South – an emerging city that will be powered predominately by renewable energy.

Redback will be responsible for energy management and monitoring during the 12-month pilot project, providing real-time data and insights into energy usage.

“Being selected to work with Duserve FM gives us the opportunity to demonstrate we are a leader of smart energy management solutions on a global scale, allowing us to not only explore these technologies within Dubai South and the UAE but also the MENA Region,” Phil says.

“One thing that we really are quite proud of and trying to get out there into the broader industry in Australia, is that Australia is actually a really forward-thinking country and investors as well as utilities, should be really focused on finding solutions in Australia for Australian issues because it helps to grow the eco-system that we have here.”

So what is standing in the way of a self-consuming future?

According to Phil, home battery storage will become the norm when government “gets out of the way”.

“Regulation needs to occur that allows generators to basically have a level of capability to transact in the market… we see this as being primarily something where DNSPs around the country provide value for the trading of certain services that they typically would require, like fast response, voltage-related control, power factor correction, and other related services in the networks, and specifically in distribution networks.

“There needs to be a fair and reasonable way for us to provide fast response services in the market without having significant regulatory hurdles.”

Despite the current crisis in the sector, with government-owned gas plants, ‘clean coal’ power stations and Snowy Hydro 2.0, just some of the many proposed solutions to the country’s problem, Phil remains focused on developing his innovative solutions.

I think it’s important not to get caught up in it. I think that you can miss the forest for the trees if you focus on too broad of a shot,” he says.

“Whether the government or policies take into consideration renewables, consumers are realising that clean energy solutions provide a more affordable and reliable option than traditional energy providers.

“All of the other stuff is a wash, because it all focuses on a centralised energy scenario, where consumers continue to consume 100 per cent of the energy that is being generated from that centralised centrepoint.

“This is also the same with Tesla boss Elon Musk’s tweet a few weeks ago that set a firestorm around discussion of centralised energy storage – while it will be helpful in stabilising the grid and the like and provide a level of capacity for access winds or other variable renewables to be to a certain extent non-variable or less variable, it is still kind of aligned with an energy industry belief that centralised somehow is better.”

With a relatively tight lip, Phil says technologies yet to be released, will disprove the belief that centralised is better.

“We have a range of technologies coming out this year that will lend further credence to this decentralised approach where consumers are truly directing their own energy choices and are doing so at a cost per kWh integrated, that is much lower than what centralised is able to implement at.”

Phil says the government’s approach to the country’s energy crisis is acting as a distraction.

“Down to the core fundamentals, the reality is that assets need to make a return on investment and if you wind it back, the reason for the excitement is because it attracts government funders to basically reduce the upfront cost of the systems, so that investors can come in and help implement them.

“But more fundamentally, I think the public purse should not be leaned on so heavily and investments themselves should actually make economic sense on their own – and that’s the beauty of decentralised systems is that they provide a return on investment behind the meter, that is, on the retail side of the meter, that allows for those assets to not be weighing on the public purse.

“If it is thought that it is a better choice for government to be involved in decentralised generation, then what I would say is take the same volume of subsidy that would have been applied to centralised generation and apply it as subsidy to decentralised generation, and what you will find is the return of investment is even faster for consumers then the take-up.

“It just immediately works.”