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ZEN Freedom Powerbank unit in garage

$60k battery storage spend to bring sunny outcome

This article on ZEN Energy customer Martin Koehne and his experience with his ZEN Freedom Powerbank was written by Australian Financial Review journalist Simon Evans, and was originally published in AFR Weekend on the 10th of June 2017.

Martin Koehne’s $60,000 solar panel and storage battery system at his hobby farm in the picturesque Hindmarsh Valley went live just a few days before Professor Alan Finkel handed down his energy sector review and AGL Energy revealed power price rises of 18 per cent.

The 51-year-old went all out on the most powerful system he could find after researching all options and thinking carefully about where the future was headed. The catalyst for action, though, was the statewide blackout in South Australia on September 28 last year. With five children aged between six and 26, he and wife Kelly are heavily influenced by environmental factors, with the advancement of battery storage technology also a final clincher.

“As a household we use power at night. Battery technology has become much more affordable and that’s given us the opportunity to have power on tap,” Mr Koehne said.  “We also consider ourselves reasonably ecologically sensitive”.

It was a cloudy day on Friday at the 40-hectare property, about 70km south of Adelaide, and Mr Koehne is already thrilled with the performance of his system, switched on early this week. The read-out showed he wouldn’t be paying a cent in power bills to his energy retailer AGL Energy.

“The read-out showed he wouldn’t be paying a cent in power bills to his energy retailer…”

“They’re now paying me,” he said. It was even more of a win for Mr Koehne because AGL announced on Friday that power prices for SA residential customers would rise by 18 per cent from July 1. The power bill for the Hindmarsh Valley residence and farm previously averaged $550 a quarter, he said. He is feeding power back into the grid now, as well as being fully self-sufficient.

Martin Koehne with his ZEN Freedom Powerbank
Martin Koehne, left, and his son Henry with their storage battery system.
Image courtesy Australian Financial Review.

Mr Koehne, who spends about three days a week at the property which runs 40 cattle, said he had crunched the numbers and decided to go for the maximum option, spending $60,000. “It’s simple maths,” he said. There are 94 solar panels on a large shed, and a battery storage system inside which feeds power into the house, and back into the broader electricity grid.

There’s another neat irony in that Mr Koehne and his family chose a ZEN Energy system from a competitive field where US firm Tesla is a pioneer.

ZEN Energy’s chairman is Professor Ross Garnaut, the author of a climate change report for then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd in 2008, which was updated in 2010. The politics around energy policy has been increasingly divisive for a decade.

He said practical solutions were now needed. “I think we’ve lost time. It’s up to the politicians to hit the reset button”.

Mr Koehne has also felt the sting of the electricity crisis in his day job. He personally holds the franchise for six Subway fast food outlets and is the development agent for Subway across SA and Western Australia where there are 280 outlets. The blackout caused mayhem in South Australia, and one outlet in Port Lincoln had to shut for three days. He said Subway outlets in South Australia had experienced a doubling of power bills in the past six years, while the increase in WA outlets had been only 25 per cent.

Going off the grid at Hindmarsh Valley had been years in the making. He saw first-hand the advantages during the September 28 blackout because the Hindmarsh Valley property had a small generator then which kept things humming. “We were having cups of tea and watching television and the neighbours were blacked out,” he said. But it stirred the family into action.

Want to learn how you could be just like Martin with battery storage from ZEN Energy?

Read all about the ZEN Freedom Powerbank here

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