ZEN Energy system's new storage unit is the size of a fridge.

ZEN Energy's new storage unit is the size of a fridge.

A South Australian energy firm is claiming an international breakthrough in battery technology that will help generators of solar and wind power store their energy more cheaply.

ZEN Energy Systems today unveiled a computer-controlled storage system - with one model about the size of a bar fridge - which almost doubles the effectiveness of batteries.

“This technology is a game changer for the renewable energy industry and has the potential to change the way individuals and communities use electricity in the future,” ZEN's chief executive officer, Richard Turner, said.

Mr Turner said as many as 10 Australian utilities are interested in trialling the system and the company has already begun shipping large-scale container-sized units to US clients.

He predicts the new products may see ZEN increase its annual revenue from about $60 million now to $500 million within three to four years.

Residential units with a 20-kilowatt-hour story capacity - enough to power a typical house for 24 hours - will sell for $30,000 each. The hefty price tag should drop to $20,000 as ZEN scales up production, with an estimated pay-back period of 10 years based on savings consumers can make by avoiding peak power prices.

In Victoria, off-peak prices are about 8 cents a kilowatt versus 45 cents for peak times. The real savings, though, may come if power suppliers and users avoid excessive investment in new poles, wires and other equipment.

"The country is forecast to spend about $100 billion over the next ten years on infrastructure on what is an ageing and quite decrepit grid with an ever-increasing requirement for peak energy," Mr Turner said on the sidelines of the All-Energy conference in Melbourne.

"A significant amount of those problems can be fixed through shifting the peak time load away from peak by simply storing energy when the grid's demand is low and using it when it's in high demand."

Mr Turner said one scenario would see utilities subsiding the use of storage systems for consumers. "We"ve got trials running with about three utilities in Australia with basically the balance of those (10) utilities all interested in running trials," he said, declining to name those involved.

A Californian utility two weeks ago placed its third order of one of the company's large storage systems - capable of supplying six megawatt hours - for $8 million, he said.

"This is going to be the future and it's going to be a significant cost benefit for the government, for the utilities."

Price halved

Innovators have previously focused on trying to build a better battery, a strategy that has required significant capital investment and typically locked them into pursuing one line of battery chemistry.

"We're not a battery company but virtually a software company that developed the best way of managing batteries," Mr Turner said, adding that ZEN uses a so-called active balancing battery management system for its lithium ion batteries.

"It's really dropped the price of energy storage in half."

ZEN plans to use Adelaide as its base for advanced manufacturing processes, sourcing sub-assembly work abroad.

ZEN's operations to date have mostly been as an integrator and installer of solar power units in Australia.

The battery storage system has been co-developed with a US-based sister firm, Greensmith Energy Management Systems. ZEN is 70 per cent owned by Mr Turner.

The company plans to launch its Freedom Powerbank product range tomorrow, with SA premier Jay Weatherill and manufacturing minister Tom Koutsantonis in attendance.

The company will also target regional communities living off the main power grid as potential customers, with many remote sites now solely reliant upon diesel generation for electricity.

Paired with a back-up diesel engine, the storage system would help reduce dependence on diesel power.

“A micro-grid system incorporating solar energy and storage could allow these communities to reduce diesel costs by up to 94 per cent and produce 75 per cent less CO2 emissions," he said.