The Home Battery System. Are we ready for this?

by John Brian Shannon John Brian Shannon

Ever since lower priced solar panels have hit the market, it has become obvious that home battery systems are the next logical step for our modern, but still evolving, energy grid.

Installing solar panels on your rooftop has never been easier, as panel prices have fallen in price by 80% over the past two years and installation rebate programs are generous in many jurisdictions. But getting all that free daytime energy from the Sun won’t do you much good unless you can store it for later use.

Having a home battery system allows you to store the energy that your solar panels collect every day.

Without a home battery system, solar power can make economic sense in many locations — but solar with a battery system will rock your world! OK, maybe not rock your world, but it makes a lot of sense if the battery system can be had for a reasonable price.

Without a home battery, you can still sell your excess solar generated electricity to the grid if your utility has a net-metering programme. But much of your profit is eaten up when you buy back some of that electricity after the Sun sets, at a higher price. Yes, every day of the year.

For homeowners, having battery storage means you could save a lot of money over ten or twenty years if a battery system is cost-effective to begin with — and a battery system IS a wonderful thing to have during utility company power outages.

Home Battery Systems can make sense, even without solar panels

If you live in a jurisdiction where you can buy electricity from your utility company at a very low rate during certain hours of the day or night and store that energy with your home battery system for later use, that can work for you — regardless if you have solar panels or not. Peak rates can be $0.38 per kWh in some parts of North America (or higher), while off-peak rates can be $0.08 per kWh (or lower) making the peak rate about five times more expensive in this example, than the off-peak rate.

Prognosticating ten or twenty years out, who’s to say what electricity rates may be? There always seems to be a reason to hike the rates.

JBS News Renewable Energy. Ontario, Canada rates presently run between $0.07 Off-peak, $0.11 Mid-peak and $0.13 On-peak per kWh. All rates are approximate and subject to change. This chart for illustrative purposes only. Image credit: Ontario hydro one.
JBS News Renewable Energy. Current electricity rates in Ontario, Canada, run between $0.07 Off-peak, $0.11 Mid-peak and $0.13 On-peak, per kWh. All rates are approximate and subject to change. This chart for illustrative purposes only. Image credit: Ontario hydro one.

Your home or business can run on the power from your home battery system during high electricity rate periods, and past midnight, your battery system can be scheduled to automatically connect to the grid and recharge itself at the lowest rate.

At present, we are about 10 years away from economically priced home battery systems for the majority of consumers. That’s not to say that you can’t go out and buy one of these systems today, because you can. It’s just that they cost more than the average consumer is willing to spend at this point.

Apart from collecting solar energy for you all day or saving money due to rate fluctuations (or both), home battery systems can protect you from utility company power interruptions, especially for those in rural areas or other areas where power outages are common.

However, for homeowners in rural areas and subject to frequent power service interruptions, having a battery backup can make sense.

Take the case of a dairy farmer who suddenly has no electricity at 7:00am on a cold winter morning; How is he going to milk 2500 cows in one hour, and in the dark, without backup power? Of course, the old standby has always been an expensive-to-fuel diesel generator and the noxious fumes that go along with it.

Or we can look at a veterinary clinic, or other examples where uninterrupted electrical power is important.

With battery backup, electrical power returns within one minute and the vet can proceed with the days operations on her four-footed patients and the farmer can milk his cows without missing a beat.

Emergency service providers, schools, and other important government buildings and businesses could also benefit from such in-situ battery systems.

It’s interesting to note that Tesla is working with Solar City to offer home batteries, using their Electric Vehicle (EV) battery technology. A fascinating development and one that holds tremendous promise.

Recycled Electric Vehicle batteries still have 70% life, after removal

GM wants to use old Chevy Volt batteries and give them a second life as an home battery. GM says that even after ten years of powering your daily commute, an EV battery still has at least 70% of the power it had when it was assembled.

In many cases, when an EV battery has reached the end of its life in an automotive application, only 30 percent or less of its life has been used.

This leaves a tremendous amount of life that can be applied to other applications like powering a structure before the battery is recycled. — Pablo Valencia, GM senior manager of battery lifecycle management

Innovations like new and recycled EV batteries will pave the way forward to a viable and affordable distributed energy future and can be a way to get very efficient second use from recycled EV batteries.

EV batteries store a huge amount of power, enough to power a home for two or three days in the case of a service interruption — and in the case of storing energy for everyday use during peak rate periods, would be well within EV battery capabilities.

Stay tuned, because this story is just beginning.

U.S. Coal System No Longer Cost-Effective

by Guest Contributor Jeff Spross

U.S. Coal
Image Credit: Union of Concerned Scientists.

Originally published on ClimateProgress

Aging and inefficient plants, competing energy sources, and the looming reality of climate change are all catching up with the coal industry.

According to a new report from the Union of Concerned Scientists — updated from 2012 numbers — as much as 17 percent of coal-fired power in the United States is already uncompetitive, just compared to natural gas and using mid-range estimates.

The report looked at the operating costs for current coal plants, which are older and have largely paid off their capital costs, up against natural gas plants that have also paid off their capital costs. The operating costs also included all the necessary upgrades to bring the coal plants in line with pollution and carbon dioxide regulations. That yielded 329 coal units that are economically uncompetitive, or a total of 59 gigawatts of electricity-generating capacity — 17 percent of the 347 gigawatts of coal power throughout the United States.

That number of uneconomic coal units could also get considerably larger depending on what the future holds. If a price of $20 per ton of carbon dioxide emissions were to be put in place, 131 gigawatts would be uncompetitive. If the production tax credit (PTC) for wind energy is preserved, 71 gigawatts of current coal capacity will be uncompetitive by comparison, versus just 22 gigawatts if the PTC is allowed to expire.

Image Credit: Union of Concerned Scientists.

The points about the carbon price and the PTC are especially noteworthy. Right now the economic playing field is tilted in favor of fossil fuels, because their price on the market doesn’t factor in the damage done by climate change.

A price on carbon, through either a carbon tax or a cap-and-trade system, would be the most effective correction. (In fact, most analysis suggests the appropriate price for carbon emissions is considerably higher than $20 per ton.) Alternative policies like the PTC or the upcoming carbon dioxide regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency aren’t as efficient as a direct price, but they approach the same effect.

The reasons these plants are being undercut by other sources of energy are myriad. For one thing, they averaged 45 years in age — well past the 30-year life span for most coal plants. That means they’re less advanced, less efficient, and more expensive to operate. As a result, they’re already run less than other plants for purely business reasons, even before factoring in the climate-related concern that, being old and inefficient, they’re also quite dirty.

Seventy percent of the coal plants the UCS identified were missing at least three of the four major technologies used to control coal’s damage to the environment and human health. Upgrading them to cut down on particulate matter, mercury, sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions would be considerable, not to mention bringing them into line with the EPA’s carbon regulations.

In 2012, the UCS also pointed to reports on the growth of renewable energy and other projections, which showed the U.S. will have 145 gigawatts of excess electricity-generating capacity by 2014, giving the country plenty of wiggle room to retire the identified coal power and shift to cleaner sources. Not to mention that “uncompetitive” means, by definition, that there’s money to be made by replacing those plants with alternatives.

This article, US Coal System No Longer Cost-Effective, is syndicated from Clean Technica and is posted here with permission.

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