It’s more about where the market and product are going than where they are today. Think about a complementary system of components:
The big grid – always on, highly reliable power which is expensive during peak demand hours, i.e. when a family actually wants to use the power. But usually the electricity is cheap at night when no one wants to use it and those big baseload plants that are hard (or very hard in the case of nuclear) to slow down are still pumping out power. And sometimes that power is provided by strong night winds.
Home solar – Don’t forget that Tesla’s CEO, Musk, is also Chairman of SolarCity which provides zero down leasing. Home solar is often poorly aligned to peak usage, with installers looking for maximum generation with south-facing solar panels rather than maximum generation during peak with south-west facing panels. Then there are the homes with roofs that are poorly aligned to the sun regardless, so imperfect generation is all that is possible. And that peak generation isn’t necessarily perfectly aligned with peak cost of grid electricity either, but merely overlaps with it.
Home storage – Maximum generation alignment of home solar matters less when you can carry forward the unconsumed electricity from solar panels to your evening of cooking, washing dishes, washing clothes, and streaming Netflix on your 40″ tv. And cheap electricity you can store at night and consume when electricity is really expensive is valuable as well.
So these components exist, but to be fair, they existed before Tesla got into the home storage business and have for a long time. And Tesla’s offering costs about twice as much as more typical lead-acid batteries commonly used for the purpose. So why is this particular home storage battery getting so much attention?
Hype – Don’t underestimate the marvel that is Musk’s ability to get attention. The man is a rock star of event unveiling.
Net metering – Right now, there is a lot of conflict between utilities and home solar users and installation companies. Net metering is the requirement that home solar generators get paid for electricity that they produce and pump into the grid, and only pay for the electricity that they draw from the grid. Output vs input is the net. Home solar used to be an advantage to utilities — reduced peak demand — but has become a liability — reduced or even negative revenue from users of the grid. Basically, utilities still have to pay for the grid which home solar generators use, then they lose revenue or outright pay the home solar generator who is getting use of the grid for free. Since utilities pay for the grid out of electricity revenue, they are starting to demand that people with home solar who aren’t paying much for electricity start paying for grid usage to make up for it. This is getting mixed reviews, as you can understand, but in the USA especially is leading to a desire by many to be completely grid free, a dubious value proposition. Tesla’s hype fell into an emerging market opportunity of people who had solar on their roof, didn’t have batteries but are worried that they’ll be forced to pay more.
Time-of-use billing – Combined with smart meters, time-of-use billing is becoming much more common in utilities in the developed world. This model is simple: reduce demand during peak periods by increasing the price, typically combined with incenting shift of demand to off-peak times by lowering the price. Flattening demand curves, especially peaks, is very advantageous for grid managers because they have to have capacity for the peak. This enables storage to time-shift consumption and save at least some money.
Design – Previous storage units are collections of lead acid batteries, basically the same thing you have in your car, but scaled vertically and horizontally. They aren’t pretty, they are heavy, they take up floor space, they require maintenance, and they are pretty much a toxic addition to homes if breached or even if the tops are removed. Tesla’s model is sleek, hangs on a wall and is much more chemically inert with no liquids. It’s a benign home appliance as opposed to an industrial object (much as some people like the industrial aesthetic at home, it’s less common).
The Gigafactory – What Tesla has going for it is that it is building the world’s largest battery factory, and likely expanding it now that the storage line has taken off so brilliantly. Pretty much everyone paying attention knows that Tesla is already producing batteries much more cheaply on a per KWH capacity at greater volume, and the Gigafactory is going to ramp that up. Battery storage has been dropping in price per KWH of capacity for a long time, but it’s closing in on a cusp point where it’s going to be worth it for average consumers to store at least some electricity.
What all of this adds up to is that home battery storage isn’t economical today, but it’s viable for a subset of the high-consuming market, it’s desirable for its green credentials, it’s desirable due to the hype factor and it will defray its costs. And that the home storage market tomorrow will be viable for a much larger percentage of the market with increasing systemic pressures and pricing that will make it more attractive. Tesla’s home storage battery is getting attention because they are staking a major claim to a market which is expected to increase dramatically.
Why is Tesla’s battery a big deal?: originally appeared on Quora:
A telescope observing distant planets has found evidence of weather patterns, allowing astrophysicists to "forecast" their conditions.
Analyzing data from NASA's Kepler space telescope, a team of astrophysicists at universities in Canada and Great Britain has identified signs of daily weather variations on six exoplanets. They observed phase variations as different parts of the planets reflected light from their host stars, in much the same way that our moon cycles though different phases.
"We determined the weather on these alien worlds by measuring changes as the planets circle their host stars, and identifying the day-night cycle," said Lisa Esteves from the Department of Astronomy and Astrophysics at the University of Toronto.
"We traced each of them going through a cycle of phases in which different portions of the planet are illuminated by its star, from fully lit to completely dark," added Esteves, who the led the team on the study.
The scientists have offered up "forecasts" of cloudy mornings for four of the planets, and clear but scorching hot afternoons on two others.
They based their predictions on the planets' rotations, which produce an eastward motion of their atmospheric winds. That would blow clouds that formed over the cooler side of one of the planets around to its morning side — thus producing the "cloudy" morning forecast.
"As the winds continue to transport the clouds to the day side, they heat up and dissipate, leaving the afternoon sky cloud-free," said Esteves. "These winds also push the hot air eastward from the meridian, where it is the middle of the day, resulting in higher temperatures in the afternoon."
The Kepler telescope has proven to be the ideal instrument for studying phase variations on distant exoplanets, according to the researchers.
The massive amounts of data and the extremely precise measurements that the telescope is capable of permits them to detect even tiny, subtle signals coming from the distant world, and to separate them from the almost overwhelming light coming from their host stars.
"The detection of light from these planets hundreds to thousands of light years away is on its own remarkable," said co-author Ernst de Mooij from the Astrophysics Research Centre from the School of Mathematics and Physics at Queen's University, Belfast. "But when we consider that phase cycle variations can be up to 100,000 times fainter than the host star, these detections become truly astonishing."
There may come a day when a weather report for a distant planet is a common and unremarkable event, the researchers added. "Someday soon we hope to be talking about weather reports for alien worlds not much bigger than Earth, and to be making comparisons with our home planet," said Ray Jayawardhana of York University in England.
This study was published in The Astrophysical Journal.
May 10, 2015 / Greg Giles / Comments Off on Carl Sagan’s Solar Sail Goes On Test Flight On May 20: Why You Should Care
Excerpt from techtimes.comMany of the technologies that are in use today such as the airplane and the internet were once ideas that became reality and it appears that this still goes true with the innovations of the future. Take for instance ...
The formation of water vapor after the Big Bang was constrained by the lack of oxygen; it and other elements heavier than hydrogen and helium were created only later on, in the death throes of the first generation of massive stars. Oxygen created by the demises of early stars was swept out in to space by the explosions of supernovae and stellar winds, eventually joining with hydrogen to form water.
This process created islands of gas replete with heavy elements, such as oxygen; these regions were more bereft of oxygen than gaseous regions in the modern Milky Way galaxy. However, a new study by Tel Aviv University and the Harvard-Smithsonian Center for Astrophysics (CfA) has determined that, in certain islands, water vapor might have been as plentiful as it is today, only a billion years after the Big Bang.
According to a CfA statement, the researchers looked at whether water could form in the primordial molecular clouds, which were deficient in oxygen. Their analysis indicated that large quantities of water could form at around 80 degrees Fahrenheit. Water molecules would have been shattered by ultraviolet light emitted by stars; however, after hundreds of millions of years, an equilibrium between water creation and destruction would be reached.
“We looked at the chemistry within young molecular clouds containing a thousand times less oxygen than our Sun. To our surprise, we found we can get as much water vapor as we see in our own galaxy,” said astrophysicist Avi Loeb of CfA.
The new study has been accepted for publication in the Astrophysical Journal and is accessible online.
Just in case you haven’t heard, our galaxy appears to be teeming with small worlds, many of which are Earth-sized candidate exoplanets and dozens appear to be orbiting their parent stars in their “habitable zones.”
Before Wednesday’s Kepler announcement, we knew of just over 500 exoplanets orbiting stars in the Milky Way. Now the space telescope has added another 1,235 candidates to the tally — what a difference 24 hours makes.
Although this is very exciting, the key thing to remember is that we are talking about exoplanet candidates, which means Kepler has detected 1,235 exoplanet signals, but more work needs to be done (i.e. more observing time) to refine their orbits, masses and, critically, to find out whether they actually exist.
But, statistically speaking, a pattern is forming. Kepler has opened our eyes to the fact our galaxy is brimming with small worlds — some candidates approaching Mars-sized dimensions!
Before Kepler, plenty of Jupiter-sized worlds could be seen, but with its precision eye for spotting the tiniest of fluctuations of star brightness (as a small exoplanet passes between Kepler and the star), the space telescope has found that smaller exoplanets outnumber the larger gas giants.
Needless to say, all this talk of “Earth-sized” worlds (and the much-hyped “Earth-like” misnomer) has added fuel to the extraterrestrial life question: If there’s a preponderance of small exoplanets — some of which orbit within the “sweet-spot” of the habitable zones of their parent stars — could life as we know it (or Earth-Brand™ Life as I like to call it) also be thriving there? Before I answer that question, let’s turn back the clock to Sept. 29, 2010, when, in the wake of the discovery of the exoplanet Gliese 581 g, Steven Vogt, professor of astronomy and astrophysics at University of California Santa Cruz, told Discovery News: “Personally, given the ubiquity and propensity of life to flourish wherever it can, I would say that the chances for life on [Gliese 581 g] are 100 percent. I have almost no doubt about it.”
Impossible? Or 100 Percent?
As it turns out, Gliese 581 g may not actually exist — an excellent example of the progress of science scrutinizing a candidate exoplanet in complex data sets as my Discovery News colleague Nicole Gugliucci discusses in “Gliese 581g and the Nature of Science” — but why was Vogt so certain that there was life on Gliese 581 g? Was he “wrong” to air this opinion?
Going to the opposite end of the spectrum, Howard Smith, an astrophysicist at Harvard University, made the headlines earlier this year when he announced, rather pessimistically, that aliens will unlikely exist on the extrasolar planets we are currently detecting. “We have found that most other planets and solar systems are wildly different from our own. They are very hostile to life as we know it,” Smith told the UK’s Telegraph.
Smith made comparisons between our own solar system with the interesting HD 10180 system, located 127 light-years away. HD 10180 was famous for a short time as being the biggest star system beyond our own, containing five exoplanets (it has since been trumped by Kepler-11, a star system containing six exoplanets as showcased in Wednesday’s Kepler announcement).
One of HD 10180′s worlds is thought to be around 1.4 Earth-masses, making it the smallest detected exoplanet before yesterday. Alas, as Smith notes, that is where the similarities end; the “Earth-sized” world orbiting HD 10180 is too close to its star, meaning it is a roasted exoplanet where any atmosphere is blasted into space by the star’s powerful radiation and stellar winds.
The Harvard scientist even dismissed the future Kepler announcement, pointing out that upcoming reports of habitable exoplanets would be few and far between. “Extrasolar systems are far more diverse than we expected, and that means very few are likely to support life,” he said.
Both Right and Wrong
So what can we learn about the disparity between Vogt and Smith’s opinions about the potential for life on exoplanets, regardless of how “Earth-like” they may seem?
Critically, both points of view concern Earth-Brand™ Life (i.e. us and the life we know and understand). As we have no experience of any other kind of life (although the recent eruption of interest over arsenic-based life is hotly debated), it is only Earth-like life we can realistically discuss.
We could do a Stephen Hawking and say that all kinds of life is possible anywhere in the cosmos, but this is pure speculation. Science only has life on Earth to work with, so (practically speaking) it’s pointless to say a strange kind of alien lifeform could live on an exoplanet where the surface is molten rock and constantly bathed in extreme stellar radiation.
If we take Hawking’s word for it, Vogt was completely justified for being so certain about life existing on Gliese 581 g. What’s more, there’s no way we could prove he’s wrong!
But if you set the very tight limits on where we could find Earth-like life, we are suddenly left with very few exoplanet candidates that fit the bill. Also, just because an Earth-sized planet might be found in the habitable zone of its star, doesn’t mean it’s actually habitable. There are many more factors to consider. So, in this case, Smith’s pessimism is well placed.
Regardless, exoplanet science is in its infancy and the uncertainty with the “is there life?” question is a symptom of being on the “raggedy edge of science,” as Nicole would say. We simply do not know what it takes to make a world habitable for any kind of life (apart from Earth), but it is all too tempting to speculate as to whether a race of extraterrestrials, living on one of Kepler’s worlds, is pondering these same questions.