Tesla Motors Announces A New Home Battery; Living Off The Grid Will Soon Be Status Quo


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  3. Tomi Engdahl says:

    Tech Tackles Climate Change: From Batteries to Mini-Grids
    Go Green Behind or In-Front of the Meter

    While they hammer out a worldwide agreement at the United Nations’ Conference of the Parties (COP21 where the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC 2015) will pronounce the progress of greenhouse warming, we are examining today the heart of what will make sustainable renewable energy work–the battery. Today we have wind farms and solar-cell farms and the ability to sell excess energy to the grid, but storing grid-sized excess energy is still the most outstanding problem facing both renewable energy sources and the grid itself.

    Large-scale batteries are still mostly dependent on massive banks of the same type of batteries that power your cell phone–lithium ion (Li-Ion)–but other solutions specifically designed for grid-sized problems are here, albeit unproven. But regardless of the battery technology used, what really counts is the behind-the-meter systems and the mini- and micro-grids using them.

    The reason that electric vehicles (EVs), electric augmented airplanes, behind-the-meter solutions and even mini-grids still mostly depend on lithium ion batteries is that Li-Ion batteries are proven. Yes, they have had problems–like catching on fire–and yes they have to be amassed in banks by the hundred, and yes they are not the ideal solution for large-scale problems, but they are here.

    Panasonic and Samsung are two of the most prolific suppliers of inexpensive lithium ion batteries, but they need to be repackaged for grid sized solutions in order to achieve the kind of volumes necessary to get their price down there. Tesla Motors Inc. (Palo Alto, Calif.), famous for its EVs, is also marketing a lithium-ion PowerWall that it suggest mating to roof-mounted solar cells in a home so that it charges during the day and supplies power at night for the house and, of course, to recharge the EV in the garage. With enough PowerWalls and solar cells, Tesla suggests that a house-hold could go net-zero–that is, store enough energy to last all day and all night (plus, of course, recharge two EVs in the garage).

    Beyond Lithium
    Tesla’s patent actually mentions metal-air batteries, because they can also be built with a dozen different metals, and in fact most of the next-generation batteries use some variation of the traditional electrode-electrolyte-electrode architecture started with lead-acid batteries (in all gasoline-powered cars) and repeated with different materials over the years ad nauseam.

    Take GE’s Duration battery, a molten-salt electrolyte battery–officially a sodium-metal halide battery–with a 20-year lifetime and the ability to be built a grid-sized dimensions. Unfortunately molten salt apparently didn’t make the cut, since GE discontinued the project just this year, but fear not–other salt-based batteries are already being made.

    Sumitomo, for instance, built a salt-based battery that is molten at 142 degrees Fahrenheit, much lower than GE’s, and is nonflammable and is supposedly fire- and explosion-proof.

    But for my money, I’m betting on the Aqueous Hybrid Ion (AHI) battery from Aquion Energy (Pittsburgh, Penn.) which instead of molten salt uses salt water.

    Batteries don’t matter
    Many other choices among grid-level batteries are available now and being developed to be available soon, but the bottom line is that the battery is just not the most important part of building a grid level storage system. After all what do you expect a grid-battery to do? The utilities want them to bolster their existing infrastructure so they can continue their mega-monopoly on supplying power and sending those monthly bills to everyone, business and non-profit. The only reason that they are incorporating renewable energy sources into their grid at all is because government mandates are forcing them too. Even so, utilities will profit by storing renewable energy–from solar arrays and wind farms–which are variable sources at best and need batteries to buffer them from the grid, allowing it to draw from them as necessary such as during peak times and store their energy when its not needed.

    For the rest of us, the advantage of storage batteries is to cut those monthly grid bills and to go-green, lower our carbon footprints, stay up and running even during grid outages and generally feel good as a friend to the planet instead of a pillager.

    Green Charge Networks (Santa Clara, Calif.) may not be unique, but their business plan is almost irresistible. They will come onto your premises, measure your daily energy usage, review the last year of your energy usage patterns, and run it through a software algorithm that calculates the optimal-sized battery backup system for your venue. And get this. They’ll install that system for free.

    “We believe that its not the battery technology that really makes the system, but your software algorithms,”

    Indeed, Green Charge Networks uses lithium-ion battery banks today, because they are the most reliable, but will switch to any other battery that proves itself better just by slightly tweaking their algorithms.

    “For the average business consuming 100 kiloWatts, our system typically saves about $4000 per month,”

    And that’s without adding renewable energy sources, which Green Charge Networks also supports and encourages users to add. All this takes place on the customer premises “behind the meter” to keep that meter running slower than it ever did before.

    “Its analogous to data storage caching–we relieve the grid infrastructure from supplying peaks, using software algorithms that make it more economical to cache energy locally,” Shao told us

    But how does the company make any money? By sharing the saving and paying off the equipment financing over a 10-year period.

    Perhaps the biggest challenge to the utility monopolies is coming from the mini-grid business, which like the behind-the-meter business, I predict will be booming over the next few years, because it does not require new inventions, but just smart business plans using existing equipment.

    By installing 50-kiloWattHour to 10-megaWattHour banks of advanced lead acid and lithium-ion batteries, PDE Total Energy Solutions can minimize their energy bills in a manner similar to the way Green Charge Networks does. And by installing renewables like solar panels on every roof the savings multiple. As a bonus, the entire mini-grid can run the whole show in the event of a main grid outage.

    Getting its start with military installations that need uninterruptible energy supplies–like 10-megaWattHour GE generators–for critical operations that an be moved about anywhere in the world, PDE Total Energy Solutions is now moving to renewable energy sources in both the military and private sectors.


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