A significant speed hump to home battery uptake in New South Wales looks set to be removed, with proposed changes to planning rules designed to cut unnecessary regulatory red tape around the installation of residential solar storage.
Proposed changes to the Infrastructure State Environment Planning Policy (SEPP), announced on Monday and opened to public exhibition, would remove the requirement for households in the state to get a development permit to install a home battery.
As the NSW Department of Planning, Industry and Environment explains here, the current Infrastructure SEPP has no development assessment pathway for batteries associated with household scale solar.
Consequently, the installation of home batteries in the state has required a development application, adding time and cost to an installation process that – due to recently amended Standards Australia requirements – is already quite complicated.
Under the proposed rule changes, home batteries would be classed as an “exempt development,” according to the fact that they could be considered to have “minor or no impacts on the environment.”
This would mean that household scale battery systems would not need development consent, as long as they met a series of more industry-based development standards, including those put in place by Standards Australia.
As One Step has reported, Standards Australia’s rules around home battery installation were published in late 2019 after after a laborious and sometimes controversial five-year draft and consultation process.
On the one hand, they were welcomed as a well overdue set of rules designed specifically to guide the safe installation of residential battery storage systems around the country, just as this was expected to start to take off.
On the other hand, they were slammed by many major battery manufacturers for adding unnecessary cost and complexity to the installation of their products in Australian homes, and putting a “massive brake” on the industry, just as it was getting its footing.
According to SolarPlus – which was co-founded by solar and battery storage tech guru Glen Morris, who was also on the SA committee for the battery standards – they detail seven hazard categories and more than 110 risk management factors that need to be considered when installing residential battery storage.
But there were two major changes that got most of the attention: The requirement of additional cement sheeting or other non-combustible material where there is a habitable room on the other side; and the prohibition of installation within 60cm of any exit, vertical side of a window, building ventilation opening to a habitable room, hot water unit, air conditioning unit, or any other appliance not associated with the pre-assembled integrated BESS; or within 90cm below any of the above items.
You can read more about the complexities of the Standards here. But as the NSW DPIE explainer puts it, they essentially require the consideration of matters such as lithium battery fire safety and separation distances to other household appliances and structures.
Beyond the SA guidlelines, the NSW rule change would also require households hoping to avoid seeking development consent to use only Clean Energy Council-approved batteries and to install them using a CEC accredited installer. Fire and Rescue NSW is also required to be notified about the battery prior to its installation.
Further, the amended rules would limit each household to the installation of just one solar battery system up to a maximum capacity of 20kW (kWh not noted, but this is perhaps a bug the DPIE needs to iron out). See the full list of requirements below, or here online.
All told, and in the context of the national standards, these are all reasonable requirements, and a fairly straightforward way to avoid what the state acknowledges as the unnecessary red tape standing between NSW households and battery storage.
“These changes to the Infrastructure SEPP will … make it easier for homeowners to power their homes with renewable energy,” said NSW planning minister Rob Stokes in a statement.
“This will help homeowners save time and money, cut their future energy bills, reduce demand on the electricity network and contribute to lower energy prices.”
Indeed, and it might boost uptake of batteries in a state that has been leading in rooftop solar uptake, but lags well behind South Australia and a small way behind Victoria in battery uptake, according to SunWiz data.
To view the proposed changes and have your say by Monday September 13, visit planning.nsw.gov.au/isepp.