Alpha ESS Battery Review: An Unforgettable Installation Experience

Installation: Sure Solar

The Alpha ESS battery: hailed by many, criticised by others. Established in China in 2012, Alpha’s surge in popularity across the Australian market has many of us asking if these batteries are a fantastic bargain or asking for trouble.

Through my journey of installing various models, including the SMILE5 series, I’ve witnessed both the charm and the hiccups. Join me in my recount of an installation experience that I’ll never forget, and find out if the Alpha ESS is worth your time and money.

Mixed Reviews

Mixed Alpha ESS reviews suggest that while many consumers find value in Alpha ESS, others feel they’ve compromised on quality for a cheaper price. And if someone recommends the Alpha Hybrid for off-grid solutions? Well, I’d be sceptical.

Memorable Installs; For The Wrong Reasons

I have installed a few different versions of these and found them wanting in terms of surge capacity and technical support. “Factory training” consisted of two guys in an unmarked van coming to a job and pointing at the phone app. I guess they were well-meaning, but it wasn’t useful. As I understand it, some used a GoodWe inverter behind the very nice-looking white cover, but this arrangement has been discontinued. That’s probably a good thing because the one I recall most vividly was knowingly shipped by AlphaESS as a non-goer.

Manual home battery changeover switch

As a general rule, whenever I install a hybrid with a pass-through/series backup circuit, such as an Alpha ESS battery, it always gets a manual changeover switch. If anything goes pear-shaped, the customer can throw the switch and operate all his circuits directly from the grid. Image credit: Solar Depot

My Personal Experience Of Alpha ESS

I have had jobs where everything hooked up well enough, but I struggled to commission them, and of course, that’s always at 4pm when the tech support call centre has hung up the headset. The instructions, in quaint English, printed in tiny text with pages upside down, weren’t particularly useful. When I returned and finally got the tech line to answer (*hot tip: ring them when you’re at least 10 minutes away from the job), they ran me through a procedure or two, but to no avail. Then they sent me “the email”, which mashed together four different troubleshooting procedures.

So the most memorable one was finally made to work, but only after cutting a comms plug off, changing the wiring and misnaming the battery in the commissioning app. Without these modifications, the unit was effectively dead on arrival. But hey, it was cheap, and it could just about manage to run the lights and the fridge! The kettle though; that was out of the question.

Other installs of different models have gone more or less ok but again struggled to commission with an unclear choice of phone apps and poor WiFi connectivity. I can only hope they’re making things better.

Aesthetics and Design

Design-wise, Alpha ESS batteries are sleek and tidy, with a removable cover that offers ease of service. However, some nuances, like removing the protective film, can be tedious. So tedious that I always advised the customer to do it themselves.

We did once field a novel complaint. The battery level indicator, which will flash its green LEDs continuously under normal operation, was reflecting off the side fence at night, and this could be seen through the house window. We considered mailing him a piece of black tape to cover the light…

This is a partially installed Alpha ESS. The weight of the battery anchors it while you make fixings. One good point is that the space behind the all-encompassing cover allows you to remove a whole brick for cabling and conduits if needed.

Sunpower And Alpha In A Tree K-I-S-S-I-N-G

Curiously, it seems that the long-term and outright leader in solar PV panel technology – with the highest efficiency, longest warranty and most reassuringly expensive list price – Sunpower –  has partnered with Alpha ESS for their first Sunpower Battery. How the SunPower One product from Maxeon measures up, I will be very interested to know. From my perspective, it’s like fitting a Rolls-Royce with Russian truck tyres, so we’ll have to wait and see.

The Alpha ESS SMILE5

There are a few Alpha-ESS product lines in Australia, and I’ve picked the SMILE5. This is an all-in-one unit, which includes batteries, a battery management system (BMS) and an inverter, but they’re discreet components behind a single cover. As a 48-volt nominal system, Alpha even claim they are compatible with DC coupling, but I haven’t seen an MPPT solar regulator added to one for solar panel connections.

The battery modules used in this unit are LFP chemistry, so they’re a safe type of lithium-ion battery technology. The battery modules for AlphaESS come from another Chinese company, EVE, which has been in the battery business since 2001. The 13kWh battery units are quite big and heavy monoliths, so while they come with nice handles, you must have two people to handle them.

The Alpha ESS SMILE 5 has a 10-year product warranty on the batteries, but the rest of the system only has five years. If you’d like to download the specific warranty documents, there are no fewer than 19 options to choose from once you’ve filtered the results. There are a truly maddening number of variations in model nomenclature.

This alpha still requires an external DC solar isolator and time-consuming customisation of mountings to cope with real-world walls and floors.

The performance warranty for Alpha ESS solar batteries guarantees a minimum of 80% of their original capacity after 10 years (assuming the system is connected to the internet and is only used for self-consumption). If the system is not internet-connected, the warranty plummets to three years. And if it’s configured for anything apart from self-consumption, the warranty is also compromised. So, while it might be technically compatible with some Virtual Power Plant (VPP) programs, the warranty will expire earlier. Be careful.

As for how strong the warranty backing is, we’re aware of a situation where an Australian customer battled for months with Alpha ESS over a Storion OF5 warranty claim. This resulted in the owner sending a letter of complaint to the ACCC and Office of Fair Trading.

Weighing Up The Alpha ESS Experience

Alpha ESS has stirred quite a storm in the realm of home batteries, especially with their SMILE5 series here in Australia. While its design aesthetics and offerings can be tempting, my experience and mixed feedback from other professionals paints a complex picture.

If you’re a long-term Alpha-ESS battery owner, we’d really appreciate you telling us about your experience by clicking the button on this Alpha ESS Reviews page.

Alpha ESS: Technical Specs

  • Nominal capacity: 5kW
  • Surge rating: 5kW
  • Solar capacity: 7.5kW
  • PV current input: 15a nominal – 18a short circuit
  • Warranty: 5 years
  • Usable Capacity:  13.3kWh
  • Battery warranty: 80% remaining capacity at 10 years – 38.836Mwh throughput – (*8000 cycles?)
  • Throughput limit @ 1 full cycle per day: 8 years
  • Approx retail: $11385 inverter & battery + installation
  • $-per-usable-kWh: $856
  • $-per-warranted-kWh :$0.29 @ 1 cycle per day / $0.146 @ 2 cycles per day (*8000 @ 2/day = 11 years)
About Anthony Bennett

Anthony joined the SolarQuotes team in 2022. He’s a licensed electrician, builder, roofer and solar installer who for 14 years did jobs all over SA - residential, commercial, on-grid and off-grid. A true enthusiast with a skillset the typical solar installer might not have, his blogs are typically deep dives that draw on his decades of experience in the industry to educate and entertain. Read Anthony's full bio.

Comments

  1. This seems to be a bit of a hit piece, we have had a great experience with our, and any slight niggles we have had have been solved with a quick phone call to our installer, who can access it remotely, and installed it in about an hour with no troubles. They are constantly updating the app with new features.

    It seems like this is a company that wants to continuously improve their product, unlike some.

  2. Erik Christiansen says

    Anthony, thanks for giving us an insight into what’s out there in the market, and how it travels. The Alpha might just about do for off-grid if you put in two of them, I figure. A welder or air compressor wouldn’t have a chance on only one. It’s clearly a wimpy inverter, as 5 kW surge is only 0.38C from the battery, no issue for LiFePO₄.

    And 13.3 kWh of EVE battery sounds a lot like 16 of their 304 AH cells, worth about half of that price retail. The rest is then buying busbars, a BMS, a wimpy inverter, cabinetry, system manufacture, and more warranty than you can expect with battery DIY. I’d be suspicious of anything a lot cheaper.

    I’m planning to add a $120 Neey active balancer to an EVE battery pack, and monitor individual cell voltages to be sure none go near 3.65v.

    If the Alphas can be parallelled, two would just about do, but where’s the fun in a COTS solution that probably isn’t easy to integrate into e.g. Home Assistant? (That seems to offer control of excess PV generation, over and above what e.g. Victron DVCC and a smart EVSE might attempt.) Time will tell.

  3. I love the Alpha ESS Smile batteries. I have two 10 kw batteries with hybrid converters. They are very very efficient, even on cloudy days in Melbourne. I am very glad I chose Alpha. They are also Ups, so if the grid goes off, I will still have power for my house. Couldn’t be happier.

    • David Braham says

      David
      I have just had a solar system installed,
      20 panels, Solax Inverter and a 13.3 kwh ESS Battery.
      The installers did not instal a UPS System, (actually didn’t even mention it) so I would like to have this installed.
      Do you know the cost of the UPS System plus the installation cost.
      Please text your comments to 0438 885 347
      Regards
      David Braham

      • William Lang says

        When I had Alpha installed I had option of backup for I recall about $500 or so. At the time I decided not to as blackouts are pretty rare around here. (Canberra). On reflection it would have been a good idea to do it but I was probably a bit short at the time. System still going well after 4 years.

  4. Keith Middleton says

    HI,
    Interesting article, as with any solar product i guess there will be lovers and haters and some people just seem to knock anything. My own experience with Alpha ess smile 5 10.1kw battery is totally positive, installed 18months ago and have not had any issues at all. It is coupled to a 6.6kw solar system which has a Huawei inverter which works seamlessly with inbuilt alpha system, the battery powers the house overnight even with air con or heater working. I guess time will tell but so far very happy with investment in Alpha ess and bang for buck.

  5. I have had the Smiles 10 kWh system for over 4 years now. Installation was hassle-free and no issues along the way. The my.Evergen.energy app works well. But I am nervous to recommend though, given the apparent bad experiences of others.

  6. Why would you bother when you can install a Tesla Powerwall?

  7. Peter Holland says

    Hi Anthony,
    I have had an AlphaESS 13.3kWh battery for 2 years. Apart from a high pitched sound that came from the inverter, I believe I have had exceptional service from the battery set up. They replaced the inverter FOC and have had no issues since. I agree that communication with the service people is quite difficult, my guess is because of the language barrier, however email communication is acceptable but obviously takes longer. The guys that installed mine ( it was his first) seemed to spend a lot of time on the phone and we had some initial issues with the performance, however, I would say the performance is quite good. We ran on Amber’s two way tariff which performs exceptionally well, however it is disappointing to hear of the warranty changes when using it as a VPP
    Currently we have not paid for electricity since it was installed and we have received over $2,400.00 in rebates at this stage.

  8. James Hill says

    A couple of reasons Kiwi, the Alpha’s can be DC coupled (Hybrid) and there is quite a difference in costs.

    Powerwalls can vary in price unexpectedly and even availability can be an issue. Tesla are a great product though but with any battery system (or Solar for that matter) ulitmately it needs to suit the users requirements.

    Cheers (or Chur!).

  9. Yes Anthony, much like yourself i have experienced all of those installation problems (it may have be even more!!!), even down to the green lights being to bright for my astronomer friend, Graham. S. on Kangaroo island (light pollution) ……same fix!!! HOWEVER…instead of throwing rocks from the cheap seat, I contacted ALPHA and brought my ALL concerns to to them. I found out that 60% of their problems were incorrect installation problems….”what , cant installers read!!!” . So that being said ALPHA has started to assemble a program and it should be up and running by the end of the year, once the CEC has had a look over it to get CDP points. I look forward to seeing you there.
    Now as for an Off grid… absolutely!!!!, so much so, that I put an ALPHA into an SP PRO with 2 FRONIUS 5KW INV (Western River). After the bushfires of 2019/20 on Kangaroo Island, 90% of my work has been off grid and yes it did take 1.5 years to get the internet back with no ramification on the warranty side from ALPHA.
    SURGE rating although not stated (yes i complained to ALPHA), it should go to the capacity of what ever PV you have installed (1,.5 sec) that is true to all alpha inverters.
    See you around. KEN

    • Anthony Bennett says

      Hi Ken,

      Alphas are cheap and they look nice, so arguably they are easier to install and make compliant.

      My personal first hand experience is that at least one model was knowingly shipped with faults that meant no matter how well you could read, (or should I say decipher) the instruction book, the unit would never work; without ringing the support line, getting the supplementary email, and modifying parts.

      I’m curious to know how you can marry one up to an SpPro & Fronius combination. Generic AC coupling using frequency shift?

  10. Hi Anthony,
    cheap……maybe good value for the money… say compared to our Tesla friend?
    Yes my chinglish was also bad and i don’t think they put it through an Ozzy translator!
    SP PRO.. So as not to upset the original installer i contacted Nathan from YORKE Solar to work together to solve mutual clients problem. Easier than I thought: put the 6kw UPS/ OFFGRID into the alternate energy source, and remember to set to 0 export. Alpha doesn’t like power pushed back into it’s UPS.

    Warranty… i known in the old days(15 years ago) a cycle was considered power in power out… many times in a day. However ALPHA considers a cycle as a full charge to empty, so a 30% discharge per day would take 3 days to be considered a cycle…. or a total of 3.12 MWh , not to be sneezed at.
    Size and function…. the newer G3 S5 can be paralleled together to make10kw single phase or you can just wait till next year for the S10.!!!
    cheers KENNY G

  11. PS. In the Alpha APP on the front page( top right) there is a small gear ( cog),it leads to function settings, select upgrade management, press scan, select which you want to upgrade…..ALL, scroll to bottom of the page, press ONE-CLICK upgrade…… DONE!…no more waiting in line for soft ware upgrade!!!!!
    OFFGRID jobs need to have alternative power source ON , as the batteries turn OFF when new BMS soft ware is added.

  12. Keith Richard Povey says

    I’ve had an ALPHAESS 5KW installed and one of the installers showed me the three lights on the front of the box mounted to the wall. Top one classed as normal had a light glowing which he said i working. The one underneath he said is a fault light which will come on if there is a fault, and the bottom one with COM written on it will light up when the internet is connected.
    I don’t know what is happening but none of the three lights are working.
    Perhaps the batteries are fully charged and there is not fault.
    I have no idea how to connect the Wi-Fi so that light is not going, and I have no idea what is working or what is going on. Three down lights in the kitchen are not working and they all went off, at the same time one morning when I switched then on..

  13. HI KIETH , Alpha has 3 models of 5kw (smile 5 , B5, S5), but ALL of them read left to right like this fault, normal, battery, com. It sounds like you have a different inverter on top. ( Goodwe, Solis).
    The installer is suppose to connect the system to the Wi-Fi for you ,so you and other can see what is doing remotely (some states mandatory). As FOR The lights it looks like that the installer has only hooked 1 set of light to your UPS/Backup circuit. this should of been discus with the salesman or installer before completion. Maybe a hard reset will kick it back into life( AC Circuit, DC Isolator, battery switch/breaker…… AC DC BATTERY easy. do in reverse to turn back on) Also just check that the new circuit breaker is a type A as it is mandatory. ( little square box on front of breaker, big wave in middle with small version on top of it)
    Please give the company/ installer a chance to fix.
    GOOD LUCK

    • Keith Richard Povey says

      The unit has now been removed from the wall. I’m on my third ElectronicTransformer for LV-halogen lamps because the first two burnt out.
      But since the Solar Battery Unit has been removed it’s working fine like it used too. The agent only wanted to come and fix the problem with the Solar unit but never turned up. I’m not blaming the solar unit because I don’t know anything about the workings of them, but something was wrong, either the unit or the installers.
      Keith Povey.

  14. Has your opinion changed Anthony? I’m seeing solar battery group advertising these all the time on TV as of late and really looking at getting a battery for my house (around the 20kw but I believe as per their website go up to / scalable to 17.4kWh.

    I also see the reviews on SolarQuotes are at 4.5 out of 5 for the AlphaESS.

    I was going to go a GroWatt by my installer (despite me always mentioning requiring backup/blackout protection) hit me with a $2000 excess to include this due to my fuse box being full (I had sent him photos before hand) which instantly put him now in the non affordable category as I was only JUST scraping in with the money to start with.

    So now it is back to the drawing board.

    • Anthony Bennett says

      Hi Vaughn,

      Do yourself a favour and look at GoodWe… the have a new HV scalable battery coming out now & the support leaves the other junk you’re talking about for dust.

  15. robert freeman says

    the chinese electronics seem a bit ordinary and as for warranty service, we are
    waiting to see if there is any

    the installer did a neat and tidy job and with an older house that is not always easy

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