Battery Breakthrough May Trigger Off-Grid Revolution by 2011

There are certainly benefits to owning a grid-tied PV system. Selling peak solar electricity back to the grid during the day can offset much of the off-peak energy required by solar homes. It becomes even more lucrative if we can get our policymakers behind feed-in tariffs. But an alleged “battery breakthrough” could eliminate any need for grid power and really boost the distributed generation side of the solar industry. This potential breakthrough is called the Ceramatec battery. It was developed in Salt Lake City, Utah by Ceramatec, a division of advanced ceramics manufacturer CoorsTek. This battery promises to change our whole system of electricity consumption, transforming our homes from grid-tied power consumers to individual power producers. How? It’s small and safe enough to sit in your garage or basement, and according to Ceramatec, very affordable to boot. ceramatec-battery.jpgPhoto Credit: Impact Lab According to its developers, the battery will store 20 to 40 kilowatt-hours of electricity and, recharging daily, last for more than 10 years. Furthermore, such a battery would be about the size of a refrigerator and cost around $2,000. According to a Solar Today blog, an equivalent lead-acid battery would cost roughly $10,000 and last only four years. The battery is a sodium-sulfur (NaS) battery, which is not in itself anything new. But the Ceramatec battery represents an amazing upgrade on old technology. Older NaS batteries, which are extremely energy-dense, required molten sodium and operated at about 200 degrees Celsius. This new version eliminates the need for molten anything. It’s solid state, meaning that it uses solid sodium metal mated with a sulfur component by way of a thin, ceramic membrane. These two metals exchange ions, creating a current which operates at about 95 degrees Celsius. While a refrigerator-sized battery may not seem like that much of a breakthrough, it’s truly amazing. A big hurdle for independent, off-grid residential solar systems has been battery technology. The same goes for electric automobiles. Such a battery breakthrough at this time in history would be so monumental as to change the way we see energy production and consumption. To illustrate this battery’s potential usefulness, one need only look at the average household electricity consumption. According to some numbers from the Energy Information Administration (EIA), the average home in 2007 (most recent EIA stats) used 936 kilowatt-hours per month, which translates into just over 31 kWh per day. A battery that could store even 20 kilowatt-hours (the low end of Ceramatec’s estimate) would have a huge effect. That’s because the battery-stored electricity wouldn’t be needed during the day as the solar system would be working at peak effect, with excess going to the battery. At night, when electrical demand is at its lowest, the battery could take over and supply what power is needed. How this all plays out will be fascinating, though it’s still uncertain. But CoorsTek and its subsidiary say they’ve got the battery worked out, and with 21 manufacturing facilities worldwide plus the capacity to scale up production fast, it could work out for the rest of us rather soon. The current goal is to have commercialization of the battery complete in 2011. It evokes a pretty picture of the solar home of the future: Your conventional (backup) water heater next to a solar hot water storage tank next to what looks like a refrigerator but is in fact the personal power station of the future. Amen, kudos, and best wishes to the manufacturers of Ceramatec. May all their predictions and wishes come true…a wish that could deliver a major power shift around the world and renewable energy independence to us all. Via The Daily Herald

Posted on August 19 in Solar Products by .

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