Direct Energy Buzz for May 2015

Industry Updates: The Direct Energy Buzz for May 2015

As we move into June and baseball season heats up, we take a look at various industry updates, including the smart home things Apple will pitch at this year’s World Wide Developer’s conference, along with whether or not Tesla Motors’ “Powerwall” and Spanish start-up Vortex Bladeless, are pop-ups or home runs.

Apple’s HomeKit Pitch

Apple’s 2015 Worldwide Developers Conference meets in San Francisco from June 8–12. The most anticipated Internet of Things (IOT) products are those that are compatible with Apple’s HomeKit protocol that was announced during last year’s conference. HomeKit is a platform for smart home technology that allows you to interact with your smart home technology (appliances, thermostat, lights, etc.) over the internet. If you’re looking to turn down the lights and lock the doors with Siri’s help, just ask her. The Apple TV set-top box is supposed to act as the system’s hub.

Since Apple controls the HomeKit platform, some developers may not want to play ball with Apple. Belkin, for example, has its own IOT WeMo Ecosystem, and recently announced plans to add Cree’s Connected LED bulbs to it.

While smart lighting, thermostats, and other appliances have been dissed by some luddites as toys, real internet-connected toys are raising the hackles of soe parents. The BBC recently ran a story about Google’s patented idea for cuddly toys that some folks feel are insidious and creepy.

Power Pop Up or Home Run?

Tesla Motors announced its PowerWall home battery system back on April 30. Since the announcement, opinions have been..well, opinionated. The PowerWall is a 220 pound, wall-mountable (roughly 3’ x 4’) lithium ion battery rack in a stylish cover that can be charged by your home’s solar array (or wind turbine) for later use. Or it can be used to charge your Tesla Motors electric car. Powerwall comes in 10 kWh weekly cycle and 7 kWh daily cycle models that can be installed in multiples all the way up to 90 kWh and 63 kWh, respectively. They are each guaranteed for ten years. Prices are $3,500 for the 10 kWh weekly cycle model, $3,000 for the 7 kWh daily cycle.

Cost, however, is where opinion diverges, mainly because the rest of the home energy package —the solar panels, inverter, wiring, and labor— aren’t part of the $3,000+ price tag. Actually, $3,000 for a home battery system isn’t bad —especially for one that hangs on a wall. Some have argued in Austrlaia that a $7,000 investment pays for itself in 6 years.

Tesla is also working on commercial and utility scale batteries called Powerpacks. These are 100 kWh modules that can be interconnected to the desired capacity.

The bigger grid picture? Utility and residential batteries will revolutionize the grid. It may also reduce the reliable profitability of regional utilities, resulting in push-back and surcharges from utilities. But the whole thing will catch on ONLY if battery price gets cheaper and cheaper. In the mean time, Tesla posted a net loss in the first quarter of $154.2 million on revenues of $939.9 million.

A Spanish company named Vortex Bladeless has gone to bat with wind turbine that uses no moving parts at all. Resembling a wiggling baseball bat, the Vortex uses the “vortex shedding effect” to make the whole thing oscillate. The movement is transferred to magnets and generates electricity. While the Vortex is 30% less efficient in collecting wind energy that a traditional turbine, the costs are 40% less and Vortex turbines can be clustered closer together. The company hopes to produce a 4 kW residential model and is researching a 1 MW utility scale version. They plan to launch their crowdfunding campaign on June 1st, 2015.


Vernon Trollinger is a writer with a background in home improvement, electronics, fiction writing, and archaeology. He now writes about green energy technology, home energy efficiency, the natural gas industry, and the electrical grid.

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