I read an exciting announcement today saying that in about a week, Tesla, the car manufacturer, will be announcing the home battery. Why is that exciting? Well, mainly because it’s a giant step towards solving all our energy problems. Let me explain…
The problem: we use so much electricity, that power plants can’t keep up.
Right now, our power grid is horrible at providing enough electricity to everybody. It’s not really anybody’s fault. It’s a simple supply and demand issue. During heavy use times, like evenings, when everybody comes home from work and starts using appliances, electricity use spikes. The power plants have to start working double time.
They can only work so hard, though. They are machines. You can’t drive your Chevy Caprice 300MPH just because you want to, and power plants can’t provide the amount of electricity that users demand. When we try to take more electricity than is being made, it causes brownouts and blackouts. Obviously a very bad situation.
The idea: bank the electricity.
It’s a simple enough idea. Why don’t we create the electricity in the middle of the day, when people aren’t using much of it, and then give them all that power later at night? That would solve a lot of problems.
Well, the major problem right now is that we don’t have anywhere to put the generated power. Sure, batteries have existed for over 200 years, but unfortunately not much has advanced in terms of the technology. They have been extremely inefficient at storing and releasing juice – and they wear out very fast.
Who would be able to spend that kind of money on the millions of batteries it would take to store the power from a huge power plant?
The solution: Everybody gets their own battery.
Genius! Instead of banking all that power at the power plants, Tesla will be instead helping distribute the cost to the actual people who USE the power. In the near future, you will be able to buy a large battery, something I am guessing will be the size of a standard clothes dryer or air conditioning unit, and plug it into your house. Tesla has been doing a great job at bringing battery technology into the 21st century, and the cost per kW is coming down considerably. In other words, you can store much more energy in a battery you can now, than ever before, and they wear out much slower than ever before.
Now, when you come home in the evenings and you want to watch your big-screen, or you want to do a load of laundry, instead of sucking all that juice from the fragile power lines, you can now just use what you have slowly collected from earlier in the day.
Wait, what’s this have to do with saving the world?
Glad you asked. It all comes down to solar panels.
Solar is a great source of energy. As a matter of fact, every single thing on this planet got its energy from the sun, in one way or another. The major problem though, is that we have not perfected solar panels well enough to be able to absorb as much energy as is being given to them.
The current record holder for how much energy we can take from the sun is 46% of what is being output. In other words, in one square meter of land, the sun throws ~1.3 kilowatts of power onto it. If we put a solar panel there, the best we could hope for is ~0.6 kilowatts of usable electricity.
So what we have is a low power source of electricity. That simply won’t work for how much we use. We can’t even power our microwaves to reheat Mom’s spaghetti with that much power. So instead of just using solar energy, solar panel owners always go back to sucking power from the grid, in which the power plants create by doing all those nasty things like burning coal and oil. Those things provide massive amounts of energy in a short amount of time, but they also are a major cause of the damage we have already done to the planet.
So to sum it up, by now having a way to store that slow amount of juice that trickles in from a solar panel, we will no longer need to get the electricity as quickly before, and we won’t have to rely on the environmentally destructive methods like we have been.
Bring on the batteries!