Australian clean-energy agencies are paving the way for mass consumer grid defection, even as the government backs away from other pro-renewable energy policies.

Environment minister Greg Hunt reiterated plans to support Australia’s growing residential solar-plus-battery market in an interview on Australian Broadcasting Corporation’s influential Lateline television news program.  

The Australian Renewable Energy Agency (ARENA) and the nation’s Clean Energy Finance Corporation (CEFC) will be brought under a single agency to encourage “more storage, more off-grid activity, lower emissions and also lower electricity costs,” he said.

Having a significant number of Australians independent of the grid is “inevitable," said Hunt. "Increasingly, we will see adoption of storage, which is the key thing that allows people to be off-grid.”

The tone of the interview was markedly different from Australia’s previous Liberal Party leader, Tony Abbott, who drew criticism for cuts to support for renewables programs. Abbott was ousted by Malcolm Turnbull in September.

One of Hunt’s first actions under Abbott was to abolish the Climate Commission, a government agency set up to inform the public about climate-change risks and mitigation measures. The Abbott administration also pledged to do away with ARENA and the CEFC.

Hunt told Lateline host Emma Alberici, “Our long-term position hasn’t changed, but we think that they can be used quite dramatically more effectively. They exist. We should be using them. The previous government did not integrate them.”

Hunt’s office and the CEFC did not return requests for information from GTM. ARENA declined to comment on political issues, but confirmed it is looking at new storage projects, from technology development to large-scale deployment.

"Residential electricity storage can allow network operators to manage demand more effectively by delivering stored power into the grid at peak times," said ARENA’s CEO, Ivor Frischknecht.

At the moment, battery storage is still not economic for most Australian consumers, ARENA said. Payback periods are around a decade. “System prices will need to come down before the payback period drops under 10 years and becomes more financially appealing,” according to the agency. “The value of storage will also be affected by future tariffs.”

However, Frischknecht earlier this year said the situation could change “within a few years.”

ARENA has so far committed more than $80 million across 20 projects involving storage with a total value of more than $200 million including investment from other sources. ARENA is also considering a number of new storage projects extending from technology development to large-scale deployment.

These include a residential PV-and-battery pilot with Ergon Retail, a mobile energy storage test facility at the University of Adelaide, and a comparison of six major lithium-ion battery brands to existing advanced lead-acid technologies.

In June, ARENA also commissioned an extensive study of the Australian energy storage market from AECOM, the global professional services firm.

“The role of enabling technologies such as energy storage is becoming more important as Australia moves toward higher penetrations of intermittent renewable generation such as solar and wind power. Some parts of Australia are already experiencing the technical limitations of intermittent renewables, leading to emerging power quality issues or curtailment of renewables," read the report.

AECOM recommended ARENA should support the development of new markets for enabling technologies that could help with the growth of Australia’s renewables market efficiently and at lowest cost.

“Energy storage is perhaps the most significant enabling technology, providing the ability to both smooth and shift renewable generation to match demand profiles,” it said.