Can Amber Electric Win Back Tesla Powerwall Customers?

Amber Powerwall onboarding

Amber Electric recently put a hold on adding new Tesla Powerwalls to their novel electricity plan, thanks to some tricky issues between Amber’s SmartShift app and Tesla’s Powerwall control software. The good news? They’re back on track and ready to roll with Powerwalls again. But the big question remains – after this little stumble, can Amber rebuild the trust of their Powerwall customers?

A Quick Recap Of Events

What The Hell Is Amber Electric?

Amber Electric offers Eastern state solar battery owners access to wholesale electricity prices, and a SmartShift app that can control your battery to maximise savings as electricity prices fluctuate throughout the day.

Amber says that, unlike traditional VPPs, their SmartShift service enables them to pass on the full financial benefits to users while only charging a flat $19 per month subscription fee. Users can choose when to charge, discharge, or preserve battery power without any lock-in period.

What Was The Problem?

Tesla Powerwall owners were loving Amber’s SmartShift a bit too much, causing a flood of commands to Tesla’s systems. This clash of popularity between Amber and Tesla created a bottleneck, messing with users’ control over their batteries via the Amber app.

Powerwall owners and Amber customers didn’t hold back in their comments on the SolarQuotes article that originally reported the Powerwall problems. Beyond the tech hiccups and control dramas, there were some complaints on the money side of things. Turns out, for some, joining the program might not be the cash cow they expected, especially when stacked against what traditional retailers offer.

Also, doubts have been raised about SmartShift’s ability to fine-tune battery performance and manage energy usage effectively, leading to some user frustration and a dip in confidence in the system. It’s important to note, these concerns come from individual experiences and may not reflect everyone’s views. Despite these issues, a number of users voiced their support, willing to wait for Amber to navigate through these initial ‘teething problems’.

Changes To Amber’s Battery Commands

To address the technical challenges, Amber has implemented several changes to its SmartShift service tailored to Tesla Powerwall customers. Here’s a breakdown as outlined on Amber’s general information page:

  • Spreading out battery commands: We will begin spreading out commands so we never send more commands to your battery at any given time than is allowed by our partners (Tesla). This means all battery commands sent by SmartShift will get delivered. This is in contrast to the current approach, when some commands might time out before they can be executed.
  • Scheduling battery commands: Previously, if a 30-minute battery discharge was required, SmartShift would send a series of six five-minute commands. This occurred even if the new command was the same as the last. The new system sends one 30-minute command in this instance. This would mean that even if the start of the command is delayed, you’ll still catch a majority of the event.
  • Grouping battery commands during price spikes: To make sure we minimise any delays in exporting during these times (price spikes), we will implement a special group control mode for Tesla batteries. In cases where there’s a price spike (feed-in tariffs over $3/kWh), we will send one 5-minute group command at the beginning of the price spike to all devices in a given state. This will allow customers to get the most out of high export prices while individual commands are queued up.”

Amber’s Unresolved Issues

Amber acknowledges that the new approach still has some limitations. Customers with Smartshift disabled, and those who have manual control commands in place will see their batteries discharged briefly during feed-in tariff price spikes. Amber says they are working with Tesla to try to change this.

Based on customer feedback, this is still a concern for many users who wish to maintain control of their batteries during these events.

Additionally, Amber says there might be times when commands are delayed up to five minutes and suggests:

“If you see times when you think your battery should be taking action but it isn’t, it may be worth waiting for five minutes.” 1

Whether Amber’s new approach is enough to woo back their old customers or even entice some new ones remains to be seen. For those readers wishing to get further insights into Amber Smartshift, Jonathon from SolarQuotes has given his anecdotal experience in a couple of reviews, the latest of which you can read here.

Footnotes

  1. WTF?
About Kim Wainwright

A solar installer and electrician in a previous life, Kim has been blogging for SolarQuotes since 2022. He enjoys translating complex aspects of the solar industry into content that the layperson can understand and digest. He spends his time reading about renewable energy and sustainability, while simultaneously juggling teaching and performing guitar music around various parts of Australia. Read Kim's full bio.

Comments

  1. I crunched numbers for wholesale prices to get a rough feel for whether Amber would save me money, with our Powerwall. I found it hard to see much if any difference with what my retailer currently offers, and with them I don’t need to do any work.

    • Robert Cruikshank says

      Well my bill is -$5 to -$30 every month. Haven’t seen any suppliers out there that will give their electricity away for free. And that’s with an old small battery that has about 8kWh capacity left in it and a 3.3kW power output and only 5kWp of solar. I am on the ausgrid two way tariff though, which helps.

      • Our bill is about $-50 a month, with a standard retailer. That’s with a Powerwall and FIT of 10-12c.

        • I keep seeing post from Tesla battery owners on Amber with $300+ profits in last 30 days. But then again I also see some with the opposite where their battery is not being managed properly as described in this article. I know one of the most capable owner in the Home Assistant community is over the $1000 credit with his Tesla. All comes down the many variables in the household and how willing you are to manage your consumption.

      • Uncle Phil says

        Ours is -$180 a month typically. But a lot of folks aren’t mentioning that they’re on the 2 way AusGrid plan (which should be offered by every retailer). And “no good for me” is worthless unless you explain your setup. Amber is marginal with solar-only if you’re super optimistic and can seriously manage load timing. With a battery it’s a no-brainer, unless you have some strange circumstance. Separate reply to follow to avoid War and Peace reply…

      • Uncle Phil says

        Second part – Tesla. They insist that everything goes through their f***ing cloud servers (so they can charge Amber for the transactions, thus making extra money of of their customers) – and then they throttle the transaction rate. Keep in mind Amber is effectively a competitor to their own VPP. Of course, that has nothing to do with it, eh? There was a workaround until they recently decided to make access token valid only for 24 hours, so you have to re-authorise constantly. Amber is *really* great if you can control your own battery. I would *never* recommend a Tesla because of this issue.

  2. Matthew Wright Pure Electric Solutions says

    There are 50 odd retailers now in Australia. Chances are you can game a hedged contract and win if you do some research versus being fully exposed to the market. The reason that you are more likely to win on a hedged contract is that they are trying to predict the behaviour of a large group / cohort of customers and if your behaviour is not aligned then you can do better. I would say I am $1000s better off because I do not use Amber and use other retailers instead.

    • Matthew Wright Pure Electric Solutions says

      Just to clarify. Don’t get me wrong. What Amber is trying is very novel and very interesting. However in reality for my customers who want to see the best return on their investment I steer them away from it unless they’ve really drunk the koolaid. I’m really happy that other people are trialing and testing it though as like I said it is cool that it is out there as a live research project.

    • Robert Cruikshank says

      How much profit have you made in the last 6 months? My current credit is -$89.91 after 6 months with amber. And that’s with charging my Tesla about 20% of the time and running a 5 bedroom house this only 2 1/2 people in it, pool pump and aircon. Although cooktop and hot water are still gas.

      • Matthew Wright Pure Electric Solutions says

        My system is 40kW at 11c/kWh Feed in Tariff and six people I’ve made thousands. Solar Roof for the win.

  3. If you want set and forget Amber is not for you. Even without being with Amber load shifting that they advocate applies to all electricity providers, everyone needs to do their bit but they don’t.

    We’ve been with them 2 years now, its not totally ideal due to solar FiT going negative regularly and it then costing us for inputting to the grid. On balance we are on par with a normal provider.

    I don’t think these things are Amber issues, Tesla needs to cop most of the blame. Don’t create a system that you can’t support. Tesla is a software company they should be able to solve these issues. There are not that many Powerwalls in Australia recieving commands from Amber, would have to be less than 1000. That is very poor API performance.

    The issues that Amber has would be incurred by any provider trying to leverage Tesla VPP, flooding their API wouldn’t be an exclusive Amber issue.

    Amber are only repeating what Tesla would tell them, then Tesla lets them down constantly.

    • Robert Cruikshank says

      Yes this model forces a balance between solar and storage. If you follow the advice of most solar/battery installers they’ll say “put as much solar on the roof as possible”. However we are heading towards a solar glut which will increase the value and demand for storage for home users. Eventually those negative FiTs will be delivered to everybody irrespective of contract.

      So when you’re building your system make sure the battery is big and your solar is small to the extent that your battery + hot water system + daytime heating/cooling + daytime car charging etc. closely balances your solar output.

      My 5kWp solar and 10kWh (now more like 8kWh) battery + car and pool seem to negate any negative FiT so I don’t bother with curtailment.

      • Matthew Wright Pure Electric Solutions says

        No with curtailment and negative prices dynamic export limits come in. They already operate in south Australia and Victoria. With dynamic export limits you don’t get exposed to negative prices as your system backs off instead. Big system is always the way to go for energy security and independence leading into a difficult energy future

        • Robert Cruikshank says

          Ok sounds good. I just can’t see the point of installing solar without a balance of storage. In face some people are just installing batteries without solar and making a profit every month off the very low and sometimes negative supply tariff during the day. I other words using the oversupply of solar already in the market that people are not getting paid for (although they think they are because they are getting a measly 10c/kWh)

  4. Robert Cruikshank says

    I reckon if you really want to get the most out of Amber’s wholesale prices, you need a battery that you can control yourself. I only have experience with Sonnen, which has a RESTful API that allows me to charge and discharge the battery at will. So, I have instantaneous control to take advantage of spikes and general daily duck curves. I can also key in control of other loads around the house to run when the forecast prices are low, which can be just as important. Charging the EV, running the pool pump, etc.

    I would love to know what the capabilities of other batteries are when it comes to API control. One day, I’ll have to replace the Sonnen (over 5 years old now) and don’t want to be limited to Sonnen (although they are a good battery).

    Interestingly, Amber doesn’t support Sonnen because Sonnen won’t open their VPP API up to Amber as they probably make too much money from their own VPP services and don’t want to lose customers to Amber.

    It is a bit technical to control it yourself, but plenty of people do it with different systems. Even Tesla batteries are controlled to a certain degree from within the home network by the owner.

    So, I wonder how long it will be before a battery manufacturer comes out with a battery with all the smarts in it to use a wholesale supplier like Amber and control other appliances in the household so they can print money off the back of the duck?

    Also, how long will these spikes and duck curves last? Surely, with storage and dispatchable power growing, there will come a time when the supply will be so finely managed that the duck curve will disappear (replaced with two prices, solar/wind energy and stored energy), so perhaps Amber’s model will only last as long as there are idiots around still talking about nuclear power.

    • Stephen Farrar says

      I’m interested to understand how you ‘control other appliances’ – is that just you’re deciding when to use them/manually scheduling them with a timer etc, or is that somehow controlled through the API via the battery in some way?

      I’ve been considering a catch solar relay to provide some of this ‘smarter’ control over my hot water cylinder…

      • Robert Cruikshank says

        I use EMHASS addon to Home Assistant

      • Robert Cruikshank says

        EMHASS is complex to set up but once running it controls charging/discharging of the battery and charging the car and running the pool pump to take greatest profit advantage of the wholesale price fuctuations.

        • Stephen Farrar says

          Thanks Robert, I’ll take a look, so I take it EMHASS hooks in to the various APIs available for the Car/Battery, for the pool pump is that just something like a smart plug that’s controlling or something more sophisticated?

          • Stephen, no EMHASS is a sophisticated Model Predictive Control system. It takes in all the variables including as much forecast data as you can muster and calculates charge curve and load curves to take advantage of tariffs. It then publishes the results into Home Assistant and it’s up to you to figure out what to do with the result. I use Node Red to take that data every 60 seconds and dis/charge at a rate to achieve the curve and run loads to also achieve the curve for deferrable loads.

    • Steve Ward says

      If amber want to keep customers – let alone win back confidence they will need to develop a Level 2 support.
      Present guys are polite – but can go no further than “it all looks good from here – you are exporting now!”

      Telling them I am an installer and I AM NOT exporting! Unless my tong tester lies, is ignored.
      I have been on the support roundabout since December last year.
      Formal complaint unanswered.
      I get regular weekly email apologising for not getting to my case!
      Will they survive with service like this ?

      • I’ve never contacted their support team as I don’t use their system, just their wholesale tariffs. I think they are overrun with customers. If you get into the Amber Facebook group and talk to Myles Eftos he might be able to help.

  5. Mark Joseph says

    I recently updated my Solar system opting for the new Enphase IQ8 micro inverter with 25 panels (11Kw) and am now looking to invest in battery back up. I am being told that because I opted for the IQ8 my battery options are limited with Tesla Powerwall being recommended as the best option. I am concerned about the proprietor control over their software and limitations that may incur using Tesla ie. as mentioned, using Amber. I am looking for a solution which will make me pretty much independent of the grid. Good advice seems hard to find.

  6. Angus Bruce says

    Ironically, we had a Tesla Powerwall 2 installed in August last year because it was one of few batteries that were meant to be compatible with Amber’s Powershift.
    With all the testing troubles, PowerShift was still not delivering as expected so in February I switched to using the Tesla app instead. This has proven to make a remarkable difference to the activity of the battery, and lowering our bills. We still are with Amber to take advantage of the wholesale – based prices.
    Our solar system is a 2008 vintage 1kw, so very small but still working. I can’t see that it would be worthwhile expanding this when instead we can take advantage of the very cheap, sometimes negative, ‘solar sponge’ pricing during the day to fill the battery and use the energy later on when it’s otherwise expensive to buy.

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