Tesla Battery Looks To Disrupt Home, Office Power Consumption - InformationWeek
IoT
IoT
Data Management // Big Data Analytics
News
2/19/2015
10:26 AM
Connect Directly
Google+
LinkedIn
Twitter
RSS
E-Mail
100%
0%

Tesla Battery Looks To Disrupt Home, Office Power Consumption

Tesla Motors' plans to introduce a battery that can be used for home and office energy storage lends credence to a burgeoning industry that is transforming the way we consume power.

7 Crazy Cool Data Centers
7 Crazy Cool Data Centers
(Click image for larger view and slideshow.)

Tesla Motors wants to bring its battery technology to a home or office near you -- and it's not the only company looking to do so.

Wal-Mart, BJ's Wholesale Club, and BMW are among the enterprises working with renewable energy companies to change their power consumption practices.

The Internet of Things (IoT) is raising awareness of how home and office batteries can be used in conjunction with the electrical grid to manage energy loads. IoT is also accelerating the race to develop more robust battery technology. Suddenly every device has the potential to provide data on its power consumption and to adjust its behavior if necessary. Smart meters begin to make sense in the context of smart phones, smart homes, and smart infrastructure.

Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk announced his intention to unveil a Tesla home battery for use in residences and businesses during his company's earnings call on Feb. 12. "We have the design done and it should start going into production probably about six months or so," said Musk.

Small batteries are already abundant in many homes, but they're designed for powering mobile phones and other gadgets. Musk has something more ambitious in mind: A battery suited to the demands of the energy grid.

Tesla Motors, which plans to invest about $2 billion in its battery Gigafactory near Reno, Nev., may be able to change the dynamics of the energy industry, particularly if its batteries can make distributed power storage more affordable, more efficient, and relevant beyond electric vehicle owners. A handful of battery technology companies -- including Alevo, Ambri, Aquion Energy, Eos Energy Storage, Exergonix, and Urban Electric Power -- share that ambition.

Tesla's Elon Musk presents plans for the company's Gigafactory.
(Image: Steve Jurvetson via CC BY 2.0)

Tesla's Elon Musk presents plans for the company's Gigafactory.

(Image: Steve Jurvetson via CC BY 2.0)

Presently, the generation, distribution, and consumption of electrical energy occurs in near real-time because we haven't developed the technology for cost-effective grid-scale storage. As a consequence, power companies have to maintain generation capacity for peak power consumption, capacity that goes underutilized at off-peak times, and that often relies on non-renewable sources of energy.

As MIT professor Donald Sadoway put it in a 2012 TED presentation, "... the fact is that today there is simply no battery technology capable of meeting the demanding performance requirements of the grid -- namely, uncommonly high power, long service lifetime, and super-low cost."

[ Want to check out more cool innovative ideas? Read 8 Google Projects To Watch In 2015. ]

Dan Wilson, a renewable energy and energy efficiency consultant at Black & Veatch, based in Overland Park, Kan., said in an email to InformationWeek that the issue isn't quite as stark as Sadoway suggested. Many battery vendors, he said, would argue that there are applications today where battery storage makes technical and economic sense.

Batteries to Optimize the Grid

"Batteries have reached a point now where they have major implications for all industry stakeholders, and as battery costs and performance keep improving, their impact will only grow," Wilson said. "... Widespread adoption of battery storage has the potential to fundamentally change the dynamics of the electric utility industry, but the pace of that adoption is very uncertain (and the current installed battery capacity is relatively small), so we will have to wait and see just how quickly it becomes mainstream."

Among customers of SolarCity, a provider of solar energy systems for businesses and residences, batteries are becoming more common. "We're heading toward a future where storage is frequently paired with rooftop solar," said Will Craven, director of public affairs with SolarCity, in an interview with InformationWeek. "American homeowners have been really successful in deploying clean energy assets across the grid. What battery storage is going to do is optimize that energy for the grid and the consumer."

In late 2013, SolarCity introduced DemandLogic, energy management software that works in conjunction with batteries designed by Tesla. (Musk is a cousin of Solar City's founders and serves as board chairman.) The technology helps businesses automate the discharge of stored energy in order to mitigate price spikes. It's currently used by Wal-Mart and BJ's Wholesale Club.

The batteries in electric vehicles turn out to be fairly well aligned with the needs of energy suppliers. As electric vehicles proliferate, they are becoming more and more important to the power grid, both in terms of the amount of energy they draw, and the amount of energy they can store and potentially return to the grid.

Wilson observed that electric vehicle infrastructure has the potential to help or hurt utilities. That depends on whether utilities are involved in the placement and installation of charging stations, and whether they have some idea when and where vehicles are being charged.

In recent years, various vehicle-to-grid trials have tested how electric vehicles can help with energy load management. In January California utility PG&E announced a plan to work with BMW to manage 100 kilowatts of electric demand through a demand-response program -- an initiative to reduce energy use when demand outstrips supply. BMW plans to do this by harnessing

Thomas Claburn has been writing about business and technology since 1996, for publications such as New Architect, PC Computing, InformationWeek, Salon, Wired, and Ziff Davis Smart Business. Before that, he worked in film and television, having earned a not particularly useful ... View Full Bio

Previous
1 of 2
Next
Comment  | 
Print  | 
More Insights
Comments
Newest First  |  Oldest First  |  Threaded View
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
michaelmaloney
50%
50%
michaelmaloney,
User Rank: Apprentice
10/25/2016 | 1:32:48 AM
Hi
More organizations are increasing their green efforts to ensure their daily operational activities are as environmentally-friendly as possible. Hence, seeing large companies utilizing batteries as an alternative is an increasing norm.
PedroGonzales
50%
50%
PedroGonzales,
User Rank: Ninja
2/20/2015 | 4:19:55 PM
Re: Interesting
@ Whoopty. I agree. if such innovation could help maintain or reduce energy cost for consumers.  This will be a great idea.  I'm sure this will be something that will not make the electrical company very happy.  I'm interesting in knowing what will be the timeframe for this technology to me implemented more widely.
Some Guy
50%
50%
Some Guy,
User Rank: Strategist
2/20/2015 | 2:35:12 PM
Re: Good luck, but ...
The big win for the Utilities in this is that they can significantly reduce their capital spending. Today, the last 20% of capacity requires 50% of the capital. To the extent that storage can be introduced, it would eliminate that capital requirement. In fact, Electricity is the ONLY utility that doesn't have storage built into the system.

Some of the reason for the ambivilence is that they still have 30 years of equipment to pay off that they built on the old peak-power model. In fact, if low-cost storage shows up in homes, who needs the Utility? (We are already to the point today where Solar PV is about the same cost as Utility power, and unlike the Utility, won't increase in price. That's why you are seeing the backlash by Utilities in places like AZ. It's a bogus argument, and you know that because it goes away the second the Utility sells the PV.)

Also Utilities do not want to go to their stockholders and propose to cut their capital spending and basis of their revenue in half. No CEO survives a 50% revenue collapse. When they wake up and figure out that this is the way to pay for the Smart Grid, we will finally see the ambivalence turn to an embrace.
Some Guy
50%
50%
Some Guy,
User Rank: Strategist
2/20/2015 | 2:19:24 PM
Or Does an AC Grid No Longer Make Sense?
Or is it just that an AC grid no longer makes sense?

Think about it.

80% of everything new that ships today has power semiconductors. That means the load base of the entire grid is natively direct-current. Meanwhile Utilities are stuck with a decision that was made 125 years ago. But with the introduction of high voltage IGBTs, even the Utilities are using more and more DC, especially when they want to move the most power the farthest. Canada and the US already have 100+ km, 10kV DC distribution installations that have been running for the last decade. The EMerge Alliance is standardizing DC for commercial campuses and is moving to incorporate standards for homes. USB is the defacto DC plug, and you can buy wall sockets that have 2-4 USB ports for your home today at Amazon, Home Depot, Lowes, etc. (make sure you get a UL-listed one).

Moreover, when you are using renewable and carbon-free energy sources, they are predominantly DC. Converting to AC looses 5-7%. Converting DC to AC then AC to DC to store it and then DC back to AC to use it later looses 12-15%. The bottom line here is that you can also reduce the number of solar PV elements you have to buy by that same percentage, so DC actually compounds the energy savings with capital cost savings.

Technology has changed a lot since Edison & Westinghouse duked it out in 1888. But we don't have to be married to an increasingly bad decision as technology progresses. DC is no longer a matter of IF; it's a matter of WHEN. And here's my bold prediction: 100 years from now, we'll chuckle when we think about how we used to use AC.
yalanand
50%
50%
yalanand,
User Rank: Ninja
2/20/2015 | 2:03:45 PM
Re: Good luck, but ...
One aspect of this I didn't explore was the ambivalence of utilities about this. On the one hand, a more distributed grid will help limit times when demand outstrips supply. On the other hand, the rules that govern utilities encourage them to pursue business as usual, because infrastructure costs can be recouped in billing. Accepting a more distributed power distribution model could reduce the power of power companies, and that's not an appealing scenario for many of them.


That's one perspective. Another perspective is that a distributed grid will also create enough allocation, transport and decentralization problems that need to be fixed now.
Thomas Claburn
50%
50%
Thomas Claburn,
User Rank: Author
2/20/2015 | 11:55:57 AM
Re: Good luck, but ...
One aspect of this I didn't explore was the ambivalence of utilities about this. On the one hand, a more distributed grid will help limit times when demand outstrips supply. On the other hand, the rules that govern utilities encourage them to pursue business as usual, because infrastructure costs can be recouped in billing. Accepting a more distributed power distribution model could reduce the power of power companies, and that's not an appealing scenario for many of them.
DDURBIN1
50%
50%
DDURBIN1,
User Rank: Ninja
2/20/2015 | 9:55:23 AM
Home owner savings will power the change
As power utilities continue to raise day time rates while reducing the night time rate, charging batteries at night for day time usage becomes a common sense move on the part of home owners.  Much like swopping out old heating and air units for improved power consumption so will be adding a battery unit to charge a night and run during the day.  However, at the macro level I only see businesses doing this for office needs as production type energy usage would still require huge space and huge battery "plants" to support operations. The only way this makes sense for business is if they also some how add their own energy generation to the fold.   
GAProgrammer
50%
50%
GAProgrammer,
User Rank: Ninja
2/20/2015 | 9:44:47 AM
Re: Good luck, but ...
Additionally, there are huge inefficiencies when moving from DC to AC. There is a startup for a solar panel road, but they have the same problem as this - storing power directly into DC batteries in an AC world just doesn't make sense.
PhillipW102
0%
100%
PhillipW102,
User Rank: Apprentice
2/19/2015 | 9:28:11 PM
Re: Good luck, but ...
Due to the two huge battery factories that Musk is currently building the expected cost of storage via his batteries should be <$100/kwh by 2017. The factories are set for completion in 2016.

At that price solar with storage at the home and/or business level is a winning proposition.

Contrary to your belief, solar thermal generating systems have been relegated to the back burner for what is probably a long time. This has happened in the last two years (a number of projects have been cancelled or switched to PV) so you have the situation reversed. 

The "Maoist" idea" of distributed generation? It's pretty clear that you're really not familiar with this topic but referring to a distributed grid as Maoist is hilariously inapt. While one of the many advantages of the structure is very high rates of local ownership, functionality is premised on normal application of the profit motive. Is it your belief that unless something is owned by huge corporations it is "Maoist"? 

The primary benefit to a distributed grid is dependability of supply. Accoding to everyone that studies the subject, it is far more resiliant and reliable than a grid built around centrlzed thermal generation. 

I'm not clear what you are talking about with the 30% and 80% efficiency. I suspect you've overestimated the need for storage by an order of magnitude and simultainiously underestimated the round trip efficiency of existing and near term storage systems by about 2/3s. 

The bottom line is that with China's entry into the renewable energy manufacturing business, the cost of solar has plummetted and is continuing to decline. The V2G concept stacks new value streams into the cost of electric vehicles and home battery systems in a completely novel and very valuable way. The future is happening around you - and it is happening very, very rapidly.
Gary_EL
100%
0%
Gary_EL,
User Rank: Ninja
2/19/2015 | 2:26:31 PM
Good luck, but ...
In the tech and electronic business, we are used to Moore's Law and expect things to improve by a factor of two every two years or so. Unfortunately, progress in lithium ion batteries refuses to follow this trajectory. There is no conspiracy. Research is not being held back by US oil companies, as BIG MONEY is being spent on this in Germany and China, too.

Solar cells keep getting cheaper and cheaper, yet those interested in large
scale generation of solar power are starting to reinvestigate an old idea -
using arrays of mirrors to focus light on containers of sodium, to melt the metal.
Its cooling can be used to generate electricity.

I'm not impressed by the idea of homeowners trying to generate their own
power. Ii reminds me of the old Maoist idea of every village maintaining its own
steel mill. And, what happens when you need a roof job? A $4,000 project turns
into a $15,000 job - that's what.

Yet, sooner or later, a solution to power storage will be found, and therein lies
the rub. If capacity is built to accommodate 30% storage efficiency, there
will be huge excess capacity when storage efficiency reaches 80%.

It's all very frustrating, with multiple moving targets, with the shifting of any
one of them affecting the flows of billions of dollars in investment.

Page 1 / 2   >   >>
How Enterprises Are Attacking the IT Security Enterprise
How Enterprises Are Attacking the IT Security Enterprise
To learn more about what organizations are doing to tackle attacks and threats we surveyed a group of 300 IT and infosec professionals to find out what their biggest IT security challenges are and what they're doing to defend against today's threats. Download the report to see what they're saying.
Register for InformationWeek Newsletters
White Papers
Current Issue
2017 State of IT Report
In today's technology-driven world, "innovation" has become a basic expectation. IT leaders are tasked with making technical magic, improving customer experience, and boosting the bottom line -- yet often without any increase to the IT budget. How are organizations striking the balance between new initiatives and cost control? Download our report to learn about the biggest challenges and how savvy IT executives are overcoming them.
Video
Slideshows
Twitter Feed
Sponsored Live Streaming Video
Everything You've Been Told About Mobility Is Wrong
Attend this video symposium with Sean Wisdom, Global Director of Mobility Solutions, and learn about how you can harness powerful new products to mobilize your business potential.
Flash Poll