There are few things in this world I love better than seeing New Zealand technology companies doing well, except seeing innovative solar companies in New Zealand making leaps and bounds in the renewable energy space. S4Solar, based in Hamilton, is one of these innovative solar companies, and today I'm excited to share their new product called the PowerBOS and an interview with Ben Stanton, owner and inventor.
Stanton found inspiration to develop PowerBOS, a solar power monitor that lets you take almost complete control of where and how your solar power is used, when Meridian, an electricity retailer, lowered their prices for customers exporting solar power to the grid back in early 2013. At the time, the power export rate change delivered a blow to the industry as people experienced a reduced return on solar energy investments.
However, Stanton turned his frustration into a cutting-edge system that allows people to use their solar power rather than exporting it to the grid, helping fellow solar owners get the most out of their solar investment. I am still blown away with the innovation behind this, even as I typing.
Stanton has an electrical background with experience with industrial electrical control systems. Up until 2013, his main focus has been installing grid connect and off-grid solar power systems. With a niche in the market for a product to help reduce the amount of solar power people exported to the local grid and his experience working with solar power, he was able to develop a system that switches on certain appliances like the element in an electrical hot water cylinder, the dish washer and pool pump when the sun is out, making the most of the solar power when it's available.
The PowerBOS system has an upfront price of $2450 including GST, but you'll see a return on investments after 4 to 5 years. Stanton gave this example, "if you can rescue about 70% of the energy from being exported, then a 3kW solar power system will produce around about $500 to $600 more value per year." He explained, "the power of [the system] really comes in at the 3kW size mark," so any system 3kW or larger would benefit from the PowerBOS.
The system can work with any inverter, any solar panel brand and model, and will be available to all solar power installer companies around New Zealand to re-sell from early 2015.
Although there are several similar controller products on the market, none are as thorough as Stanton's product. Any appliance in the home or office can be turned off and on when the sun is out with PowerBOS. Appliances are wirelessly or hardwired into the system, and there's virtually no limit to the amount of appliances you control and monitor, with the maximum being in the hundreds of thousands.
Not only does the product fight the battle of lower export power rates, it also combats the issue that many solar newbies are facing in New Zealand. Some line companies are telling people they aren't allowed to connect a solar power system to the grid, in the past that has been the end of the road for customers - no solar for them. The PowerBox comes with an optional zero export module, the only technology in New Zealand that will stop solar power from being exported, while you are still able to import power if needed.
Stanton had a solar power customer who initially got declined when they sent a request to their local lines company to connect a solar power system to the grid, but on second application with the PowerBOS and the zero export module turned on they were accepted!
There is huge global demand for this type of product as many feed-in tariff schemes that have been set up by Governments around the world to incentivise solar have been dropped or reduced after just a few years of having these initiatives in place.
For example in NSW, Australia a few years ago they had a feed-in tariff of 60¢ per kWh, now there is no feed-in tariff. Individual electricity retailers have had to set their own rates varying from 5 - 12.9¢ per kWh (not very generous to say the least). For people in NSW who have a solar power system and are paying around 25¢ per kWh for the power they import from the grid, it makes sense for them to try and off-set their imported power with their solar power when possible rather than getting paid the low amount offered. Australia's with solar power could double their savings if they use the solar power when it's created, which the PowerBOS would be the perfect tool for the job.
It's not just residential solar power system owners the PowerBOS can help. Farm owners spending $50,000 on a 20kW solar power system could benefit enormously by investing in Stanton's system. The monitor could help to turn on things like irrigation pumps and holding tanks when the sun is out.
The PowerBOS represents the start of an amazing innovation era for Stanton and his team. They plan on developing a mini PowerBOS, which will only control hot water, have a cheaper price tag, and appeal to people with smaller system sizes.
They are also developing the system to integrate with a few home automation systems. The automation possibilities here are virtually endless, for example when the person get's home we can automatically disarm the alarm system or turn on their electric blanket at no contact at all as it would communicate with their mobile phone's GPS.
They are also programming an export target, so that consumers can set a target per day. This would be an advantage to Meridian customers who get 25¢ for the first kWh of solar they export, which then drops down to 10¢.
It's all about making solar power more useful to people. I think this technology really keeps New Zealand's consumers at the forefront. Stanton ended by saying, "people just get, it makes sense, and they want one." I know I want one, too!
Thanks for reading, stay solar!
If you would like to read more on this topic, check out our article about Solar Power Self-Consumption - The Facts!