Reimagining the European Residential Energy Storage Market
Although competition is heating up around the globe, with over 50,000 systems installed, Germany remains the dominant residential energy storage market. However, despite consistent policy, regulations and pricing across the largest market, it continues to be dominated by “homegrown” Product Integrators who sell high priced product through a very hands-on customer relationship. Equipment manufacturers have been unable to gain leading market share in this growing market to date even though the ideal product specifications are clear. What are the reasons for this?
Initially, solar inverter manufacturers were expected to lead the market. They were attracted to architectures that utilized existing power electronics technology at 400Vdc, since they could invest to include the battery control architecture while maintaining market share for their legacy PV inverter platforms. Standard PV inverter platforms are optimized for operation around 800Vdc while leading lithium and flow battery technology remains at 48V, leaving a large technological gap for the inverter manufacturers to overcome.. Most of them have since cancelled their product launches as they encountered difficulties achieving reliable performance with these complex DC coupled designs. A few continue to pursue the DC coupled approach, but market leader SMA has recently stopped promoting its integrated DC coupled Smart Energy product line in favour of the AC coupled Sunny Boy Storage and Sunny Island lines that are integrated by the installer in the same way as custom off-grid systems. Some may follow SMA’s lead and launch a separate installer-integrated energy storage product line, but most will return their focus to the PV inverter business and leave batteries to more competitive PCS platforms.
Why have the Product Integrators continued to dominate over Installer-integrators even though they deliver variations on the same equipment at a higher price? Service and support. Patching together certified components from different suppliers is not straightforward, and even when it is done in a repeatable way, functional gaps remain between these components, and these systems simply do not run problem free. The Product Integrators standardize on suppliers and product configurations in order to standardize the functional gaps, they invest manpower in training and support programs to minimize the customer impact, and they invest in incentives for installers to encourage them to absorb the support commitments. Installer-integrators are often left with frustrated customers and component suppliers who are pointing the proverbial finger at one another.
The time is ripe for a manufacturer integrated system designed from the beginning for one step installation and touch-free service and support. End-to-end design integration including advanced remote diagnostic and recovery features will eliminate the need for complex and costly service and support programs and pave the way to repeatable, scalable, and reliable product installations that stand the test of time. Advanced controls integration enables the customer to participate in emerging revenue opportunities. Expect to see a quietly growing swarm of Eguanas colonizing the German storage market in 2018.