Brand name batteries

Charged up.  Source: Google images.

Charged up. Source: Google images.

Late to the game with this, but Tesla’s new home battery is proper exciting.  Why?  Well…

  • First, the somewhat negative angle.  The technology isn’t really new, it’s like a repackaging of the best available production tech.  We’ve all heard of lithium-ion batteries, which are used in loads of applications (e.g. laptops and Tesla cars).  So not exactly a tech marvel.
  • BUT.  Think Apple with the iPad, iPhone, iPod, etc.  Not exactly new tech, but new fun applications of same tech.  If Tesla can take what seems to be a big car battery and convince folks to stick it on a wall, the environmental and economic effects can be massive.
  • Massive?  I’ve written before about how battery storage is THE way of the future for electricity supply.  In sum, the very environmentally friendly electricity comes at the cost of intermittency – think about when the sun shines or wind blows.  We need efficient and inexpensive battery storage to compensate for the intermittency (the other method is natural gas…not as eco friendly).  Tesla’s home battery is a step in that very direction – use the big battery to smooth out demand from the power grid, taking power when it’s cheap and providing power when it’s expensive.
  • But could there be more?  Consider developing economies, which use a lot less electricity than the US on a per-capita basis.  Now the existing tech might actually provide days worth of power (maybe), such that no grid is necessary – just have the neighbourhood solar cells or windmill.  Just like the village well, this might help out a lot of very remote people.
  • Still too early.  I was happy to see this brief economic analysis of the home battery (I wanted to see some figures before I commented).  It seems the pricing of the battery is kinda-there for those with high electricity bills (e.g. California, Europe).  If the Tesla ‘giga-factory’ can really churn these out, such that costs drop by the 50% or so mooted, the battery goes from early-adopters to mainstream, methinks.  Exciting.

Anyway, I can’t wait for the day when all the NIMBY complaints can focus on windmills or solar cells, rather than high-voltage power lines.  The former seem to me a lot more parochial and funny than the latter – i.e. they have a point to complain about eye-sores that may cause cancer.

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Let there be light…storage.

Hello from holiday land – this time a budget-satisfying stay-cation in London.

From my holiday reading: I really hope this guy becomes a billionaire.  I’ve written before about how incredible local power storage would be for a myriad of reasons, not least providing a crucial link to enabling full use of renewable energy.  If it can’t be Elon Musk, let it be this guy.

Time for better batteries

I found Peter Thiel’s comments, paraphrased in this Bloomberg editorial, very welcome on the point of energy technology.

Having studied electricity provision for a little while (in order to make trading strategies…I’m no engineer), it struck me that this whole area would be swept away by storage technology.  Better batteries seem to be the answer.  At a conference I attended, on electricity generation and transmission, the most fascinating guy in the room (in my opinion) worked on battery technology for one of the large utilities; he told me they had figured out how to store a significant amount of power in a battery the size of a shipping container, but I think it was limited to around 1 day’s worth for a few houses.  We need better!

I love hearing stories of how many solar panels would be needed to power the world and so on, but they’re pipe dreams until we get either:

  1. A significant portion of the world happy with high-voltage power lines running through their backyards, or
  2. Sufficiently effective battery storage, so locally-produced (renewable) power can be used throughout the day.

Knowing very little of the engineering involved, I reckon #2 would be the easier task.

More to the finance side – if we achieved #2, I can immediately think of a couple results:

  • Big fall in oil/natural gas prices.  Wind/solar power is a no-brainer, if they’re localised and have battery backup.
  •  Likely drops in utility bills – lower transmission cost from localised power means users wouldn’t need to pay for line losses.  Also, I would guess many would choose to go ‘off grid’ and power themselves.