Jake Anderson, GuestA decade ago, the renewable energy movement faced an uphill battle. Today, environmentally-minded nations of the world increasingly embrace alternative energy sources. These countries now lead the way toward a future free of petroleum and dirty energy. In the process, they save significant amounts of money on national energy costs while preserving and protecting the world’s natural resources.Despite powerful corporate disinformation campaigns meant [...]
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:
Tesla CEO Elon Musk is set to make an announcement later tonight. There's been speculation that a large-scale battery announcement is expected, but it's not clear if that will be the case.
The man behind the electric car revolution is expected to unveil a large-scale battery capable of powering an entire house, during an announcement at Tesla Motors headquarters in Hawthorne, Calif. While the battery will likely slash power bills for consumers, some say it's also a move toward democratizing energy systems.
Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, teased the announcement on Twitter a month ago, saying a major new Tesla product line will be unveiled at Hawthorne Design Studio at 8 p.m. local time Thursday. "Not a car," he wrote, sparking speculation that it may be a home battery.
Musk, who moved to Canada from South Africa and who briefly studied at Queen's University in Kingston, Ont., before transferring to the University of Pennsylvania, is also chairman of SolarCity, a solar power provider.
SolarCity has already run a pilot program where it installed 300 home batteries made by Tesla in California homes. Another 130 systems were being installed in early 2015, according to the company's website.
The product will be available again in late summer, the company says, as it's working on "the next phase" of the program.
Tesla is also in the midst of building its gigafactory, which has added to the speculation that the company is unveiling a home battery. Musk says that by 2020, the factory will produce more lithium-ion batteries than all the current factories producing them today.
A home battery attaches to a home's electrical system and collects energy gathered by solar panels when the sun is out, Michael Ramsey, a Wall Street Journal automotive reporter, told CBC's The Current. That energy can then be used when the sun is no longer out.
'This is this shift away from very large centrally operated plants towards everybody owning their own little power grid or part of a small power grid in a condo building.'-— Warren Mabee, of Queen's University
"The idea is that you purchase this system and it allows you effectively to cut the cord," he says of a consumer's ability to forgo energy from the grid. The consumer's electricity bills would be significantly reduced because they would be paying for less electricity from the grid.
This innovation could move the world toward a future where power is generated where we need it and where we use it, says Warren Mabee, director of the Queen's Institute for Energy and Environmental Policy.
"This is this shift away from very large centrally operated plants towards everybody owning their own little power grid or part of a small power grid in a condo building," Mabee says.
In this system, centralized power generation becomes more of a backup than a driver, he says.
Costs remain high
However, the current systems are still very expensive, says Ramsey. The 300 home batteries installed in California cost upward of $20,000, he says.
"It would take years and years and years to cover the utility costs," he says. "It doesn't make sense unless the costs come down."
Ramsey views businesses as having the highest possible economic advantage from this development. The battery could offer businesses a surge of electricity when they have a high demand for power and cut their bills.
Mabee compares the cost of solar panels to cellphones. Smartphones were once very expensive, but each new generation has brought the cost down, he said.
Each year, solar panels become better and cheaper. Solar panels are getting close to their grid parity moment — when the cost of generating solar power is the same or cheaper than buying energy off the grid.
Another grid parity moment may be close, says Mabee. It won't be long before the cost of a solar panel and battery system will match the cost of purchasing electricity from the grid, he estimates. "That magic grid parity moment is coming faster and faster," he said.View Article Here Read More
After years of silence on all but the most prosaic aspects of the secretive X-37B space plane program, the Defense Department has revealed that the mysterious, truck-sized craft's next mission will host an experimental new thrust system that could greatly improve the shelf life of satellites.
The X-37B program has sent its shuttle-like Orbital Test Vehicle craft into space three times for a total time in orbit of almost four years. What the spacecraft has been doing up there is anybody's guess — its creators have declined to comment except to say that everything is working properly. But a news release this week from the Air Force says in no uncertain terms that the next flight of the X-37B, set to begin next month, will be the platform for testing a Hall thruster.
Hall thrusters combine electricity and a noble gas like xenon to produce a miniscule amount of direct force — weak in comparison with thrusters that use ordinary solid fuel, but at a far lesser cost of fuel. Trading power for fuel efficiency would allow satellites and probes to make course adjustments for much longer, extending their lives and versatility. Spaceflight Now has more details on how the system works.
Of course, this sheds no light on what the last three X-37B missions were — but in light of this new information it seems more likely that it's a test bed for high-tech space experiments, and not an orbital bomber or elite spy satellite. But you never know.
The submersible could extract cores from the seabed to unlock a rich climatic historyExcerpt from bbc.comDropping a robotic lander on to the surface of a comet was arguably one of the most audacious space achievements of recent times. But one...