Current Electricity News for the New Year: Direct Energy Buzz for January 2015

Now that the presents have been unwrapped, the tree and decorations put away, and the holiday season over, it’s time for the first installment of electricity news for the new year. We’ve got current developments regarding lights, Tesla, things on your roof top, and whether batteries will be included. Yes, it’s time for the new Direct Energy Buzz for January 2015!

Batteries Not Included … Yet.

One of the stumbling blocks both wind and solar energy have (and fossil fuels to a degree) is, “How do you keep the energy flowing when the wind stops and the sun sets?” The easy answer: just use a battery. But to power large chunks of the power grid, that battery needs MUCH bigger capacity than just a sock full of D-cells wrapped together with baling wire and duct tape.

Recently, Oncor announced it would shell out $2 billion to place utility-scale batteries in north and west Texas to store surplus electricity generated at night. The completed plan will ultimately place 5,000 megawatts (MW) of battery storage capacity throughout the state at total cost of $5.2 billion. Oncor is basing its cost estimates on the Brattle Group’s prediction that “Distributed Electricity Storage” batteries will cost $350 per kilowatt-hour (see below). That cost? It depends on the Tesla Motors “Gigafactory” producing utility sized batteries by 2017.

Meanwhile, the regulatory hurdle involves whether or not a transmission and distribution company has the legal right to place batteries. If batteries fall under the area of generation (because they supply electricity), then Oncor can’t continue. But by the same token, if batteries are seen as electricity-storage and not a generating source, the utility company CAN place the batteries where it wants. So, there’s going to be some legislative tweaking coming up this year. Stay tuned.

Bigger than Big —It’s Gigabig.

Even though Texas lost to Nevada for giant battery plant being built by Tesla Motors, the Gigafactory might still supply the answer to Texas’s power problems. Scheduled to open in 2017, the factory is expected to dedicate 30% of its production to utility-capacity batteries.

The Gigafactory is huge. In fact, it’s hugely huge. At a planned 10 million sq ft, it’s almost as big as the Boeing Everett plant and is slated to be entirely self-powered using a combination of solar and wind energy sources.

The goal of the facility is to carve out the production costs and lower the cost to $100/kWh . However, the current oil glut might be slowing down demand for Tesla’s $40,000 electric cars – the car maker only sold 18,750 cars in US last year. Even still, Tesla’s market value is up, and with plans to launch a 4-wheel-drive vehicle underway alongside the $30,000 Model E coming in 2017, it will be interesting what founder Elon Musk says at the upcoming North American International Auto Show in Detroit.

Ground-Breaking Tech Coming to Your Roof?

Silica-based solar cells have been around for a long while. But since first being used in 2009, the calcium titanium oxide known as “Perovskite” has been found to be even more efficient at converting sun light to electricity. And it’s up to 20%.

For solar panels, once the energy efficiency hits that magic number, the material becomes extra appealing when it can produce higher voltages more reliably. In 2014, two perovskite solar cells in tandem produced the required voltage for water-splitting to produce hydrogen. The minimum useful efficiency is 10%; the perovskite cells hit 12.3%.

Not only is perovskite cheap (occurring naturally), it’s also possible to print solar cells on to thin film backing, cutting production costs alone by a third. Their output could be improved even more by tweaking the mixture compounds that go into perovskite cells and prevent voltage variation.

LEDs Continue Dimming Incandescent Bulbs

LED bulb manufacturer Cree will be releasing a new LED bulb that will double its light output. The XHP will let manufacturers reduce the size and cost of LED bulbs while being able to kick out the same level of brightness. The new XHP is rated to be about 2546 lumens, but it can be pushed up to 4022 lumens. In terms of equivalence for old incandescent bulbs, that’s getting about 150 watts of incandescent light for only 19 watts – or more than 250 watts incandescent at 32 watts. Innovation like this might mean that more common household-use lumen sized bulbs (450 to 800 lumen range) will likely cost less and be more energy efficient.

Looks like the future of LED lighting is so bright that you will need shades.


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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