energy storage

Elon Musk’s next disruption: residential energy storage

energy storageOn top of taking the auto industry by storm, Elon Musk might well be on the road to disrupt the electric power distribution industry, as well, developing a battery storage system for the residential market. Tesla’s CEO announced last week that his company is looking to enter the residential energy storage market that is considered to have a huge growth potential. During an earnings conference call, Musk said that Tesla is already working on a home storage battery, that could eventually take utilities out of the picture for some homeowners.

Tesla plans to start production of a stationary battery that would power homes in about six months, as part of the company’s commitment to renewable energy and a carbon-free future. Although Musk hasn’t shared any details on the design and specifications of the battery, it will probably be a lithium-ion battery pack that will likely be manufactured in the Gigafactory that is under construction in Nevada. The residential energy storage unit will be connected to solar power systems that generate electricity through solar energy, which will be stored in the large battery packs manufactured by Tesla. This way, homeowners will either be able to completely disconnect from the grid or reduce their electric bills substantially.

 The batteries for home energy storage project will be conducted in collaboration with Solar City, the company that installs solar energy systems and builds EV charging stations, and is partially owned by Elon Musk. The plan is for Tesla to supply Solar City with battery packs, with Solar City installing them at households, and later on at commercial buildings.

Tesla and Solar City are already working on a similar project together, with Tesla providing batteries to Solar City, which then sells or leases them to homeowners, so that they can generate and store larger amounts of electricity. This helps homeowners cut their electricity costs, but also, eases the strain on the power grid.

 Installing large battery packs in residential buildings addresses a couple of big issues associated with solar power systems. For starters, they rely on sunlight to generate electricity, which means that they are not effective during nighttime and when there is no sunlight, forcing consumers to use electricity from the power grid. On the other hand, when the solar power systems generates more electricity than a household can use, the excess electricity is sent back to the grid, putting it under additional strain. With Tesla’s batteries, the grid would not have to deal with excess power, as they will have the capacity to store large quantities of electricity, without having to send it back to the grid.

 This is reason enough for utilities to start worrying about their future and the possibility of going out of business, given that larger and more efficient batteries, paired with more affordable solar panels might make many consumers get off the grid and start relying exclusively on solar power to meet their energy needs. Even though this possibility is still far from becoming a reality, it seems that Tesla is already starting to cause quite a stir in the electric power distribution industry, which does seem to be ripe for a transformation.

Solar-Powered Plane Attempting a Trip Around the World

Solar_Impulse_2There is no shortage of initiatives aimed at raising awareness of the importance of reducing air pollution and stopping global warming around the world, and the latest involves something that has never been done before – a trip around the world in a solar-powered electric airplane.

The Solar Impulse 2 is a solar-powered plane designed and developed by Swiss aeronaut Bertrand Piccard in collaboration with a team of engineers. The SI2 took off from the Al Bateen Executive Airport in Abu Dhabi, the capital of the United Arab Emirates, in a bid to complete the first journey around the world in an airplane without using a single drop of fuel.

Solar Impulse 2 was piloted by André Borschberg, the co-founder of Solar Impulse, during the first leg of this historic journey, from Abu Dhabi to Muscat, the capital of Oman, where it landed after about 12 hours. It was a 215-mile flight, which makes it one of the shortest legs of the 21 000-mile journey, that is expected to be completed in around five months. After it landed in Muscat, the controls of the plane were taken over by Bertrand Piccard, who then embarked on a flight to Ahmedabad, India, 912 and 13 hours later, traveling at an average speed of 115 mph. Some of the next legs of this trip will include stops in Myanmar, China, and the United States. The project is backed by Google, Omega, Toyota, as well as Prince Albert of Monaco and British tycoon Richard Branson.

Although quite large, the Solar Impulse 2 is pretty lightweight. It only weighs in at about 5,000 pounds, thanks to the fact that it is made out of carbon fiber, an extremely lightweight material. It has a 236-foot wingspan, which is longer than the wingspan of a Boeing 747, with a total of 17,248 solar cells installed on the wings. They generate electricity for the lithium-ion batteries with a total capacity of 165 kilowatt-hours, which power four electric motors that deliver a combined output 17 horsepower. The pilots said that during the day, the plane will travel at around 28,000-30,000 miles, and a little lower at night, for increased energy efficiency.

It’s a single-seat plane, with a pretty tight cockpit, where the pilots will have to stay for hours at a time, and try to stay focused at all times. In order to keep themselves from falling asleep, they will wear goggles that will emit visual warnings to wake them up from time to time.

The main goal of this ambitious project is to promote green air travel and prove that fuel-less planes can be a viable alternative to conventional airplanes that are pretty noisy and highly polluting. Although no one should expect that planes like the Solar Impulse 2 will replace conventional aircraft in the near future, it presents a pretty good example for what airplanes could look like further down the road, and it should help convince the world that solar power can be considered a reliable source of energy that can be applied in air travel. What do you think? Is the Solar Impulse 2 just a novel experiment and sensational story… or is its record-breaking accomplishment a solar industry game-changer?


Desert Sunlight Solar Farm

California Opens the World’s Largest Solar Plant

Desert Sunlight Solar FarmCalifornia has been at the forefront of solar energy in the United States in the past few years, thanks to some pretty strong clean-energy policies that have encouraged many businesses and homeowners to install solar power systems in order to increase the amount of energy received from renewable sources. Now, with a new large scale solar project officially underway in South California, the state is bound to further strengthen its position as a solar energy leader, and give a major boost to its production of electricity through clean sources.

Earlier this week, Governor Jerry Brown, accompanied by several other state officials and Sally Jewell, U.S. Secretary of Interior, opened the Desert Sunlight solar farm in the Riverside County desert, which is said to be the world’s largest solar plant.

It is a 550-megawatt solar farm that was built by First Solar, one of America’s leading manufacturer of photovoltaic systems, and it has the capacity to meet the energy needs of up to 160,000 households in California. The project was supported by the government, through its federal loan program, which gave California a loan of about $1.5 billion. The plant is built on federal land of about 4,000 acres, and it is owned by GE Energy Financial Services, NextEra Energy Resources and Sumitomo Corporation of America. It is comprised of about 8 million photovoltaic panels. According to the Department of Energy, the plant is expected to make a profit of about $5 to $6 billion.

“Solar projects like Desert Sunlight are helping create American jobs, develop domestic renewable energy and cut carbon pollution,” Interior Secretary Sally Jewell said in a statement.

This project comes after Governor Jerry Brown has asked on several occasions for an increase in production of green electricity by up to 50% by 2030, a considerably more ambitious target than the current one, calling for 33% by 2020.

The Desert Sunlight farm will have a significant environmental impact, as it is expected to cut greenhouse gas emission by 300,000 tons, which would have the same effect as taking about 60,000 cars off the road.

This is the latest in a series of projects launched in California recently, aimed at accelerating the growth of solar energy in the state. In late 2014, the Topaz Solar farm was built in San Luis Obispo County, which just like Desert Sunlight, has a capacity of 550-megawatt and was also built by the same company – First Solar. Before Desert Sunlight was formally opened, the Topaz farm was officially the world’s largest solar plant, spanning on a surface of 9.5 square miles.

With so much investment in solar energy and other clean sources, California has become the nation’s leader in renewable energy adoption, and produces more electricity from renewable sources than any other state. In the future, utilities are expected to ramp up investments in solar projects, as they try to comply with federal mandates that require more energy to be produced by solar panels and other green technologies, in an effort to reduce electricity generation through coal.

Wildpoldsried solar

German Village Produces 500% More Energy Than it Consumes

Wildpoldsried solar
Wildpoldsried has reached an important milestone, now currently producing 500% more energy than it needs, and it is all generated through renewable energy systems.

Germany embraced the idea of using renewable energy sources in effort to reduce carbon emissions a long time ago, and in recent years, it has become the world’s largest renewable energy market, with a large portion of the energy the country consumes coming from sources like wind, solar, biomass, and hydro power. Lately, a small village in the south of Germany has been making headlines with its commitment to renewable energy, as it has managed to transform its energy infrastructure and produce all of its electricity through renewable sources. It’s called Wildpoldsried, situated in the German state of Bavaria, and it became famous in the global energy community in 1997, when it first started to produce electricity from alternative sources.

Now, almost two decades after the first renewable energy projects were launched by mayor mayor Arno Zengerle, Wildpoldsried has reached an important milestone, with Navigant Research reporting that the town currently produces 500% more energy than it needs, and it is all generated through renewable energy systems. Wildpoldsried, with a population of 2,600, now has a huge surplus of energy, which it sends back to the grid, for a profit.

This major success is undoubtedly result of the town’s considerable investments in renewable energy systems over the past 17 years. At the moment, Wildpoldsried has a wide variety of renewable energy facilities, including 11 wind turbines that have a capacity of about 12 MW, solar photovoltaics with a 4,900 kWp capacity, that are mostly mounted on private homes, along with five biogas plants, three hydro power plants, and a solar thermal system. What’s even more admirable, many projects were financed by the town’s residents themselves, with a small help from the Bavarian Government.

The investments in these facilities have helped the town meet the goal of producing 100% of its electricity from renewable sources much sooner than planned, as the deadline was set for 2020, but three years ago, it was already producing over 300% more energy than needed. The excess electricity that was produced in 2011, brought the town a profit of $5.7 million, as it was sold back to the power grid.

However, having so much more electricity than needed, presented a problem of a different kind for the town and the local utility company Allgäuer Überlandwerke GmbH (AÜW), since all of a sudden, it had an enormous amount of excess electricity that it didn’t had the capacity to store and distribute. That’s why the company partnered up with Siemens to develop the Integration of Regenerative Energy and Electrical Mobility (IRENE) system, integrating sensors at the plants producing electricity from renewable sources, to determine exactly how much energy is produced and consumed at each facility, and stabilize the grid with the help of a variable transformer. This joint project cost $6 million, which is not that big of an investment, considering that the town earns more than $7 million a year by selling the excess electricity.

This small and remote Bavarian town can serve as a great example to communities around the globe – such as the small town of Krommenie, near Amsterdam in the Netherlands with its solar-powered bike paths – as they try to reduce their carbon footprint and curb their dependence on fossil fuels.

Envision Solar’s Portable Solar Chargers to Enhance EV Charging Infrastructure

520-envision-solarLack of charging stations has been holding back growth of the electric vehicle market for years now, and it seems that it will continue to be one of the biggest obstacles EV adoption for years to come. The stalemate surrounding the EV charging infrastructure is mostly due to the fact that charging stations are pretty expensive to build, and their number will not increase before electric cars really go mainstream, unless some alternative charging solution is introduced, that is more cost-effective and whose implementation will not depend on the number of EVs on the road.

The Electric Vehicle Autonomous Renewable Charger (EV ARC) might just be one of those potential solutions that could help speed up EV adoption, while waiting for an expansion of the existing charging station network. The solar-powered charging system developed by Envision Solar, a company that designs and manufactures renewable energy charging systems, and it can make charging electric vehicles much more convenient.

It’s a portable charging station, powered by photovoltaic cells, and it does not have to be connected to the power grid, and does not require a foundation, thus eliminating installation costs associated with conventional charging stations. The 9-by-16-foot charger is comprised of a steel base, that weighs around 11,000 pounds, along with a solar panel that generate electricity and charge a 22-kWh lithium-ion battery. The solar panel can tilt up to 15 percent to track the sun, thanks to a couple of electric motors. It can easily fit in a regular parking spot, and can be transported by truck. Since the installation of these chargers does not involve construction or waiting for permits, it only takes a couple of minutes to get it up and running.

The EV ARC has numerous applications, but it’s most suitable for businesses and government agencies that want to support sustainable commuting, and make it easier for their employees who own electric cars to recharge them during working hours. Each of these portable chargers cost $40,000, and businesses that decide to buy one, can get a return on their investment by selling ad space on it, as it features a 45-inch digital screen that can display ads, but it is still too big of an investment for individual EV owners. However, the company says that car owners can be eligible for various incentives and tax breaks if they decide to buy one of these portable chargers, which could bring their price down by as much as 40 percent. In any case, the $40,000 price tag is way cheaper than conventional charging stations, that can cost up to $150,000 to build and install.

Another great thing about the EV ARC is that it does not put extra train on the power grid, which could be a very serious issue in the future, if the number of electric cars grows as expected. As Desmond Wheatley, the CEO of Envision Solar said, the ultimate goal that the company wants to achieve through the development of portable EV charging systems is to radically change the way electric cars are charged, and make it more similar to the way cell phones are charged – pretty much whenever and where ever you want, by bringing a charger along with you wherever you go, instead of having to go to a charging station.