Solar rooftops on homes, when integrated with smart battery systems, are the iPad of the energy world. Solar homes that can store a portion of their renewable energy, contribute to the grid on demand, and even operate autonomously when the grid fails, make for a beautiful energy experience that can power a democratized power future for us all. Here is another open source solar idea that we've proven works. Next generation batteries will then, within ten years, allow you to go fully off-the-grid.
Everyone knows that the only issue with solar and wind is that it doesn't always provide energy when you need it. Off-the-grid homes have proven that we can resolve this challenge by adding batteries to the equation. This combination works and batteries today can be 100% recycled as they must be by regulation. So, the technology has existed for quite some time, the true challenge is one of mass adoption which requires, in our current world, a financial incentive that values correctly the inherent benefit of batteries combined with renewable energy.
As state after state, country after country, and province after province rolls out smart meters in an effort to create a smart grid, some of the tools required to create the financial incentives are emerging. Right off the bat, those of us on time-of-use pricing, where peak demand times cost quite a bit more than low demand, we are being encouraged to conserve energy during peak demand. Much like the challenge for renewables of providing energy when we need it all the time, it is sometimes a real challenge for people to reduce demand at all times, during peak demand for instance. With time-of-use (TOU) pricing, however, there is now a financial incentive to do just that. Conservation is the first step of course, and the one being suggested by the utilities. However, given this financial incentive, which can provide a price differential of around six cents per kilowatt hour between peak and low demand rates, there is now also the option of storing energy from low demand, so that it may be injected into the grid during peak periods, in order to, in effect, get paid for this price differential. You can do this using batteries and smart inverter/chargers that are now commonly available.
"The way the system works right now, you have these centralized power plants, and the grid flows one way, and there’s no flow of information. I think what we’re moving towards is a smart grid where real-time information is feeding back and forth, as well as decentralized production. What happens today is you have to build capacity for peak demand. So on a hundred-degree day, power plants have to turn on these things like jet engines, which are really expensive and really dirty. When you look at the cost of peak power, it’s much more expensive today than solar. You have to look at the entire system and what it truly costs. The northeast blackout in 2003 cost the economy 3 billion dollars. All we needed were 80,000 homes with solar for that to be avoided." Lynn Jurich, Co-founder SunRun solar company, from Fast Company interview - Solar Entrepreneur Lynn Jurich: Sunny Days Ahead .
Smart-grid is just a stepping stone to the autonomous off-the-grid renewable energy powered buildings and homes of the future. Over the coming decade, in our efforts to prevent the global emergency that is global warming, a smarter grid will help us create the financial incentives needed to get people to make the switch to renewable energy. As IBM has projected for the smart-grid deployment in Korea, there are many benefits. Right off the bat you've got large greenhouse gas reductions. Then you get into job creation which is ultimately renewable, as renewable energy system must continuously be upgraded, maintained, and replaced over time with new systems created from the recycled materials of the older systems. On large grids the ability to deal with peak demand with stored renewable energy creates massive reductions in the need for new power plants, imports of energy while encouraging the creation of domestic sources of renewable energy. As Germany is proving, the ability to export on demand becomes a powerful facility that drives down the cost of energy.
How does it work for you?
First of all, ideally, you should be implementing solar on your rooftop for electricity generation on-site, which can earn you a tidy profit from day one assuming your region has implemented a feed-in tariff like the ones in Ontario Canada and Germany. Next, you can add a battery storage system to your buildings internal electrical system. The critical component for this is a new 2 to 3 thousand dollar smart inverter/charger (available from folks like Xantrex and SunnyBoy). These devices, and they can be coupled together in chains to create larger storage systems, provide several key features for storing your renewable energy. First of all they can be seamlessly added to your electrical system for the building without too much fuss because they can deal with things like power failures (they need to prevent electricity from being injected into the grid at these times so that line worker safety is not compromised). Second, they manage charging your bank of batteries to optimize their storage capabilities and lifespan, as well as doing this optimally from a timing perspective to take advantage of the lowest time-of-use electricity rates and/or your rooftop solar system. Finally, these systems can be remotely controlled and programmed so that they inject stored power either during peak demand (peak TOU rates), and/or on demand, both of which add financial returns on these systems. By avoiding peak rates at all times, there is a savings that can be guaranteed and factored into the financial benefits. Next, combined with special demand response contracts, especially when aggregated (so that thousands of similar systems can be dispatched on request by the managers of the grid), additional financial incentives can be realized. Last but not least, these systems also provide a uninterrupted power supply (UPS), for your entire building. For around $8000 a system like this could power your house for a day or so. Larger systems could provide power for commercial and industrial buildings for similar time periods.