Elon Musk aims to refit 5m homes with solar roofs

SolarCity is talking up the look and longevity of solar roofing but potential costs pose questions about whether it can succeed where others have failed

Elon Musks solar company has its sights set on replacing 5m rooftops in the US with traditional roofing materials integrated with solar cell technology.

SolarCitys plans, announced last month, to develop traditional roofs made entirely from solar panels are part of a goal to make sustainable homes more aesthetically appealing, convenient, and ultimately affordable to the average homeowner. Its betting that people who need to replace their roofs will be attracted to the companys solar cell option because it wont require additional work or dramatically alter the look of the home.

In an August conference call with investors, company chairman Elon Musk said people are forced to postpone solar adoption when they know a roof replacement is imminent and that there is a huge market segment that is currently inaccessible to SolarCity. He added that the companys solar cell roofing looks way better and lasts far longer than a normal roof.


Elon
Elon Musk, chairman of SolarCity. Photograph: Rashid Umar Abbasi/Reuters

By integrating a SolarCity roof with Tesla battery packs, it believes those homes could operate on solar power 24-hours a day. The lingering question, however, is whether mainstream homeowners will be able to afford that initial investment.

A SolarCity representative was tightlipped on costs, saying they could not share details about the product at this time.

Some industry players doubt the product can be affordable to most homeowners. Previous versions of photovoltaic roofs also called solar shingles have cost up to a third than traditional solar panels, were less efficient, and were far more pricey to install.

What [the company is] talking about is a paradigm shift, not just a small leap, says Scott Franklin, owner of Lumos Solar, which specialises in solar panel architecture and design. SolarCity is known for being a low-cost, fast installer. Now theyre talking about developing an entirely new product and becoming roofers? In terms of cost, theyre going from selling solar leases to telling somebody they have to replace an entire roof. Thats a dramatic cost difference.

In 2009, US multinational Dow Chemical began developing solar shingles. Yet at a price of more than $20,000 per roof, the technology was not commercially viable and Dow discontinued the product in June 2016.

Thatll be the battle the cost factor, says Bill Ellard, an economist for the American Solar Energy Society. But if SolarCity works with some of the major homebuilders and they can invent their own systems, I think theres a play there.

But even if it succeeds in creating an affordable product, can SolarCity match the success of other eco-home innovations?

Smart home devices such as Googles Nest thermostat are more affordable, and going down in cost each year. Thermostats and energy monitoring systems have taken off in recent years in part because they allow homeowners to cut energy use without changing their behaviour.


Googles
Googles Nest thermostat. Photograph: George Frey/Getty Images

Homeowners dont want to think about efficiency; they want it just taken care of, says John Quale, a sustainable home design professor at the University of New Mexico. We are not great about closing curtains or opening windows when we should. Thats why technologies that do things for us are so appealing.

Brian Abramson, cofounder of sustainable homebuilder Method Homes in Seattle, Washington, says smart home technology is becoming more mainstream, lower cost, and accessible. We probably do Nest thermostats and basic lighting control on 80% of our houses; a couple of years ago there werent any smart thermostats, and lighting control was only in 20% of our homes.

Success in the residential solar market, by contrast, is heavily dependent on friendly government policies, a model that has proved challenging when tax incentives threaten to expire, or when monopoly utility companies are allowed to change the way they reimburse solar panel owners for energy put into the grid.

By entering the home roofing market, SolarCity is also tacitly acknowledging that aesthetic concerns also hinder solar panel adoption.

Aesthetics are a big deal, says Franklin. The first wave of solar adoption was driven by economics or environmental concerns. Now people are already past the I think its a good idea phase. They want to do it, but it has to look good and add to the value of a home rather than just be a bolted on addition.

The companys announcement that it will unveil its solar cell roof in the coming months followed news that Tesla will acquire SolarCity as part of a master plan to integrate the solar panel company with Telsa battery products. That marriage between power production and storage could be the difference between failures of the past and what Musk hopes to achieve, Quale says.

If you look at the aspirations of Tesla and SolarCity, they have huge potential. Elon Musk is really talking about getting to the masses, and those companies could very well be an important driver in reducing costs, he says.

The conventional glass panel arrays have come down substantially in cost in the last five years and theres no reason to think these roofing materials couldnt fall into that as well.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/sep/03/elon-musk-solar-roofs-sustainable-homes-solarcity-panels

Elon Musk aims to refit 5m homes with solar roofs

SolarCity is talking up the look and longevity of solar roofing but potential costs pose questions about whether it can succeed where others have failed

Elon Musks solar company has its sights set on replacing 5m rooftops in the US with traditional roofing materials integrated with solar cell technology.

SolarCitys plans, announced last month, to develop traditional roofs made entirely from solar panels are part of a goal to make sustainable homes more aesthetically appealing, convenient, and ultimately affordable to the average homeowner. Its betting that people who need to replace their roofs will be attracted to the companys solar cell option because it wont require additional work or dramatically alter the look of the home.

In an August conference call with investors, company chairman Elon Musk said people are forced to postpone solar adoption when they know a roof replacement is imminent and that there is a huge market segment that is currently inaccessible to SolarCity. He added that the companys solar cell roofing looks way better and lasts far longer than a normal roof.


Elon
Elon Musk, chairman of SolarCity. Photograph: Rashid Umar Abbasi/Reuters

By integrating a SolarCity roof with Tesla battery packs, it believes those homes could operate on solar power 24-hours a day. The lingering question, however, is whether mainstream homeowners will be able to afford that initial investment.

A SolarCity representative was tightlipped on costs, saying they could not share details about the product at this time.

Some industry players doubt the product can be affordable to most homeowners. Previous versions of photovoltaic roofs also called solar shingles have cost up to a third than traditional solar panels, were less efficient, and were far more pricey to install.

What [the company is] talking about is a paradigm shift, not just a small leap, says Scott Franklin, owner of Lumos Solar, which specialises in solar panel architecture and design. SolarCity is known for being a low-cost, fast installer. Now theyre talking about developing an entirely new product and becoming roofers? In terms of cost, theyre going from selling solar leases to telling somebody they have to replace an entire roof. Thats a dramatic cost difference.

In 2009, US multinational Dow Chemical began developing solar shingles. Yet at a price of more than $20,000 per roof, the technology was not commercially viable and Dow discontinued the product in June 2016.

Thatll be the battle the cost factor, says Bill Ellard, an economist for the American Solar Energy Society. But if SolarCity works with some of the major homebuilders and they can invent their own systems, I think theres a play there.

But even if it succeeds in creating an affordable product, can SolarCity match the success of other eco-home innovations?

Smart home devices such as Googles Nest thermostat are more affordable, and going down in cost each year. Thermostats and energy monitoring systems have taken off in recent years in part because they allow homeowners to cut energy use without changing their behaviour.


Googles
Googles Nest thermostat. Photograph: George Frey/Getty Images

Homeowners dont want to think about efficiency; they want it just taken care of, says John Quale, a sustainable home design professor at the University of New Mexico. We are not great about closing curtains or opening windows when we should. Thats why technologies that do things for us are so appealing.

Brian Abramson, cofounder of sustainable homebuilder Method Homes in Seattle, Washington, says smart home technology is becoming more mainstream, lower cost, and accessible. We probably do Nest thermostats and basic lighting control on 80% of our houses; a couple of years ago there werent any smart thermostats, and lighting control was only in 20% of our homes.

Success in the residential solar market, by contrast, is heavily dependent on friendly government policies, a model that has proved challenging when tax incentives threaten to expire, or when monopoly utility companies are allowed to change the way they reimburse solar panel owners for energy put into the grid.

By entering the home roofing market, SolarCity is also tacitly acknowledging that aesthetic concerns also hinder solar panel adoption.

Aesthetics are a big deal, says Franklin. The first wave of solar adoption was driven by economics or environmental concerns. Now people are already past the I think its a good idea phase. They want to do it, but it has to look good and add to the value of a home rather than just be a bolted on addition.

The companys announcement that it will unveil its solar cell roof in the coming months followed news that Tesla will acquire SolarCity as part of a master plan to integrate the solar panel company with Telsa battery products. That marriage between power production and storage could be the difference between failures of the past and what Musk hopes to achieve, Quale says.

If you look at the aspirations of Tesla and SolarCity, they have huge potential. Elon Musk is really talking about getting to the masses, and those companies could very well be an important driver in reducing costs, he says.

The conventional glass panel arrays have come down substantially in cost in the last five years and theres no reason to think these roofing materials couldnt fall into that as well.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/sep/03/elon-musk-solar-roofs-sustainable-homes-solarcity-panels

Elon Musk aims to refit 5m homes with solar roofs

SolarCity is talking up the look and longevity of solar roofing but potential costs pose questions about whether it can succeed where others have failed

Elon Musks solar company has its sights set on replacing 5m rooftops in the US with traditional roofing materials integrated with solar cell technology.

SolarCitys plans, announced last month, to develop traditional roofs made entirely from solar panels are part of a goal to make sustainable homes more aesthetically appealing, convenient, and ultimately affordable to the average homeowner. Its betting that people who need to replace their roofs will be attracted to the companys solar cell option because it wont require additional work or dramatically alter the look of the home.

In an August conference call with investors, company chairman Elon Musk said people are forced to postpone solar adoption when they know a roof replacement is imminent and that there is a huge market segment that is currently inaccessible to SolarCity. He added that the companys solar cell roofing looks way better and lasts far longer than a normal roof.


Elon
Elon Musk, chairman of SolarCity. Photograph: Rashid Umar Abbasi/Reuters

By integrating a SolarCity roof with Tesla battery packs, it believes those homes could operate on solar power 24-hours a day. The lingering question, however, is whether mainstream homeowners will be able to afford that initial investment.

A SolarCity representative was tightlipped on costs, saying they could not share details about the product at this time.

Some industry players doubt the product can be affordable to most homeowners. Previous versions of photovoltaic roofs also called solar shingles have cost up to a third than traditional solar panels, were less efficient, and were far more pricey to install.

What [the company is] talking about is a paradigm shift, not just a small leap, says Scott Franklin, owner of Lumos Solar, which specialises in solar panel architecture and design. SolarCity is known for being a low-cost, fast installer. Now theyre talking about developing an entirely new product and becoming roofers? In terms of cost, theyre going from selling solar leases to telling somebody they have to replace an entire roof. Thats a dramatic cost difference.

In 2009, US multinational Dow Chemical began developing solar shingles. Yet at a price of more than $20,000 per roof, the technology was not commercially viable and Dow discontinued the product in June 2016.

Thatll be the battle the cost factor, says Bill Ellard, an economist for the American Solar Energy Society. But if SolarCity works with some of the major homebuilders and they can invent their own systems, I think theres a play there.

But even if it succeeds in creating an affordable product, can SolarCity match the success of other eco-home innovations?

Smart home devices such as Googles Nest thermostat are more affordable, and going down in cost each year. Thermostats and energy monitoring systems have taken off in recent years in part because they allow homeowners to cut energy use without changing their behaviour.


Googles
Googles Nest thermostat. Photograph: George Frey/Getty Images

Homeowners dont want to think about efficiency; they want it just taken care of, says John Quale, a sustainable home design professor at the University of New Mexico. We are not great about closing curtains or opening windows when we should. Thats why technologies that do things for us are so appealing.

Brian Abramson, cofounder of sustainable homebuilder Method Homes in Seattle, Washington, says smart home technology is becoming more mainstream, lower cost, and accessible. We probably do Nest thermostats and basic lighting control on 80% of our houses; a couple of years ago there werent any smart thermostats, and lighting control was only in 20% of our homes.

Success in the residential solar market, by contrast, is heavily dependent on friendly government policies, a model that has proved challenging when tax incentives threaten to expire, or when monopoly utility companies are allowed to change the way they reimburse solar panel owners for energy put into the grid.

By entering the home roofing market, SolarCity is also tacitly acknowledging that aesthetic concerns also hinder solar panel adoption.

Aesthetics are a big deal, says Franklin. The first wave of solar adoption was driven by economics or environmental concerns. Now people are already past the I think its a good idea phase. They want to do it, but it has to look good and add to the value of a home rather than just be a bolted on addition.

The companys announcement that it will unveil its solar cell roof in the coming months followed news that Tesla will acquire SolarCity as part of a master plan to integrate the solar panel company with Telsa battery products. That marriage between power production and storage could be the difference between failures of the past and what Musk hopes to achieve, Quale says.

If you look at the aspirations of Tesla and SolarCity, they have huge potential. Elon Musk is really talking about getting to the masses, and those companies could very well be an important driver in reducing costs, he says.

The conventional glass panel arrays have come down substantially in cost in the last five years and theres no reason to think these roofing materials couldnt fall into that as well.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2016/sep/03/elon-musk-solar-roofs-sustainable-homes-solarcity-panels

UK nuclear power stations ‘could be forced to close’ after Brexit

Leaving Euratom treaty will shut down nuclear industry if international safety agreements are not made in time, MPs told

Nuclear power stations would be forced to shut down if a new measures are not in place when Britain quits a European atomic power treaty in 2019, an expert has warned.

Rupert Cowen, a senior nuclear energy lawyer at Prospect Law, told MPs on Tuesday that leaving the Euratom treaty as the government has promised could see trade in nuclear fuel grind to a halt.

The UK government has said it will exit Euratom when article 50 is triggered. The treaty promotes cooperation and research into nuclear power, and uniform safety standards.

Unlike other arrangements, if we dont get this right, business stops. There will be no trade. If we cant arrive at safeguards and other principles that allow compliance [with international nuclear standards] to be demonstrated, no nuclear trade will be able to continue.

Asked by the chair of the Commons business, energy and industrial strategy select committee if that would see reactors switching off, he said: Ultimately, when their fuels runs out, yes. Cowen said that in his view there was no legal requirement for the UK to leave Euratom because of Brexit: Its a political issue, not a legal issue.

The UK nuclear industry would be crippled if new nuclear cooperation deals are not agreed within two years, a former government adviser told the committee.

Euratom explainer

There is a plethora of international agreements that would have to be struck that almost mirror those in place with Euratom, before we moved not just material but intellectual property, services, anything in the nuclear sector. We would be crippled without other things in place, said Dame Sue Ion, chair of the Nuclear Innovation and Research Advisory Board, which was established by the government in 2013.

She said movement of the industrys best intellectual talent was made easier by the UKs membership of Euratom.

The government said it was working on alternative arrangements to Euratom. Describing the notification of withdrawal as a regrettable necessity when article 50 is triggered, energy minister Jesse Norman said that the UK saw clear routes outside of Euratom to address issues such as the trade of nuclear materials.

We take this extremely seriously and are devoting serious resources [to looking at new arrangements], he told the Lords science and technology committee on Tuesday.

Tom Greatrex, chief executive of the Nuclear Industry Association, said there was a lot to be done to put in place transitional measures replacing Euratom.

What were collectively warning about is the potential for there to be a very hard two-year period during which there are lots of other things the government has to deal with, that could leave it in a position where some of these things arent in place, he said. Greatrex said one possible option was an associate membership of Euratom.

Over the weekend, the GMB union called on ministers to reconsider their foolhardy rush to leave the treaty, claiming it could endanger the UKs entire nuclear future.

But the Office for Nuclear Regulation argued there could even be be some positives to leaving Euratom, such as a reduction in bureaucracy. If we relinquish Euratom there would be reduced burden from not having to comply with directives, said David Senior, an ONR executive.

Norman also promised a decision was due soon on the next stage of a delayed multimillion-pound government competition for mini nuclear reactors, known as small modular reactors. I love the projects and ideas but I want to be shown the value, he told the peers.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/feb/28/british-nuclear-power-stations-could-be-forced-to-close-after-brexit

Inside the Race to Build the Battery of Tomorrow

This storyoriginally appeared on Gristand is part of theClimate Deskcollaboration.

The battery might be the least sexy piece of technology ever invented. The lack of glamour is especially conspicuous on the lower floors of MITs materials science department, where one lab devoted to building and testing the next world-changing energy storage device could easily be mistaken for a storage closet.

At the back of the cramped room, Donald Sadoway, a silver-haired electrochemist in a trim black-striped suit and expensive-looking shoes, rummages through a plastic tub of parts like a kid in search of a particular Lego. He sets a pair of objects on the table, each about the size and shape of a can of soup with all the inherent drama of a paperweight.

No wonder its so hard to get anyone excited about batteries. But these paperweightser, battery cellscould be the technology that revolutionizes our energy system.

Because batteries arent just boring. Frankly, they kinda suck. At best, the batteries that power our daily lives are merely invisibleeasily drained reservoirs of power packed into smartphones and computers and cars. At worst, they are expensive, heavy, combustible, complicated to dispose of properly, and prone to dying in the cold or oozing corrosive fluid. Even as the devices they power become slimmer and smarter, batteries are still waiting for their next upgrade. Computer processors famously double their capacity every two years; batteries may scrounge only a few percentage points of improvement in the same amount of time.

Early prototypes of Sadoways battery cell.Grist/Amelia Urry

Nevertheless, the future will be battery-powered. It has to be. From electric cars to industrial-scale solar farms, batteries are the key to a cleaner, more efficient energy systemand the sooner we get there, the sooner we can stop contributing to potentially catastrophic climate change.

But the batteries weve gotmostly lithium-ionarent good enough. Theres been some progress: The cost of storing energy has fallen by half over the last five years, and big companies are increasingly making marquee investments in the technology, like Teslas gigafactory. But in terms of wholesale economic transformation, lithium-ion batteries remain too expensive. They are powerful in our devices, but when you scale them up they are liable to overheat and even, occasionally, explode.

Perhaps the biggest problem with lithium-ion batteries is that they wear out. Think of your phone battery after its spent a few years draining to 1 percent then charging back up to 100. That kind of deep discharge and recharge takes a physical toll and damages a batterys performance over time.

So were overdue for a brand new battery, and researchers around the world are racing to give us one, with competing approaches and technologies vying for top spot. Some of their ideas are like nothing weve ever plugged into the gridstill not sexy, exactly, but definitely surprising. Liquid batteries. Batteries of molten metal that run as hot as a car engine. Batteries whose secret ingredient is saltwater.

Its all part of a brand new space raceif less flashy than, you know, outer space.

Grist/Amelia Bates

Just Add Batteries

There are a few things you want in a good battery, but two are essential: It needs to be reliable, and it needs to be cheap.

The biggest problem is still cost, says Eric Rohlfing, deputy director of technology for ARPA-E, a division of the Department of Energy that identifies and funds cutting-edge research and development. A 2012 study in Nature found that the average American would only be willing to pay about $13 more each month to ensure that the entire U.S. electrical supply ran on renewables. So batteries cant add much to electrical bills.

For utilities, that means providing grid-level energy storage that would cost them less than $100 per kilowatt hour. Since it was established by President Obama in 2009, ARPA-E has put $85 million toward developing new batteries that can meet that goal.

People called us crazy, says Rohlfing. That number was absurdly low for an industry that hadnt yet seen the near side of $700 per kilowatt hours when they started, according to one study of electric vehicle batteries published in Nature. Now, though still unattained, $100 per kWh is the standard target across the industry, Rohlfing says. Get below that, it seems, and you can not only competeyou can win.

And heres what a better battery stands to win: a cleaner, more reliable power system, which doesnt rely on fossil fuels and is more robust to boot.

Every time you flip a light switch, you tap into a gigantic invisible web, the electrical grid. Somewhere, at the other end of the high-voltage transmission lines carrying power to your house, theres a power plant (likely burning coal or, increasingly, natural gas) churning out electricity to replace the electrons that you and everyone else are draining at that moment.

The amount of power in our grid at any one time is carefully maintainedtoo much or too little and things start to break. Grid operators make careful observations and predictions to determine how much electricity power plants should produce, minute by minute, hour by hour. But sometimes theyre wrong, and a plant has to power up in a hurry to make up the difference.

Lucky for us, its a big, interconnected system, so we rarely notice changes in the quality or quantity of electricity. Imagine the difference between stepping into a bucket of water versus stepping into the ocean. In a small system, any change in the balance between supply and demand is obvious the bucket overflows. But because the grid is so bigocean-likefluctuations are usually imperceptible. Only when something goes very wrong do we notice, because the lights go out.

Renewable energy is less obedient than a coal- or gas-fired power plantyou cant just fire up a solar farm if demand spikes suddenly. Solar power peaks during the day, varies as clouds move across the sun, and disappears at night, while wind power is even less predictable. Too much of that kind of intermittency on the grid could make it more difficult to balance supply and demand, which could lead to more blackouts.

Storing energy is a safety valve. If you could dump extra energy somewhere, then draw from it when supply gets low again, you can power a whole lot more stuff with renewable energy, even when the sun isnt shining and the wind isnt blowing. Whats more, the grid itself becomes more stable and efficient, as batteries would allow communities and regions to manage their own power supply. Our aging and overtaxed power infrastructure would go a lot further. Instead of installing new transmission lines in places where existing lines are near capacity, you could draw power during off-peak times and stash it in batteries until you need it.

Just like that, the bucket can behave a lot more like the ocean. That would meanat least in theorymore distributed power generation and storage, more renewables, and less reliance on giant fossil-fueled power plants.

So thats why this battery thing is kind of A Big Deal.

Grist/Amelia Urry

Heating Up

A battery will do for the electricity supply chain what refrigeration did to our food supply chain, Sadoway says from his office in MIT, a good deal more spacious than the battery lab.

Those canisters he showed me were early prototypes of cells for a liquid metal battery he started researching a decade ago.

I started working on batteries just because I was crazy about cars, Sadoway tells me. (His desktop background is a vintage sports car he sold a few years ago. He keeps the picture around the way one would memorialize a family pet.) In 2005, he took a test drive in an early Ford electric vehicle and fell in love. I realized the only reason we dont have electric cars is because we dont have batteries.

So Sadoway started thinking. He had some experience with the process of refining aluminum, and he wondered if that could be a model for a new, unorthodox kind of battery. Aluminum smelting is a dirt-cheap, energy-intensive process by which purified metal is boiled out of ore. But if that one-way process could be doubled up and looped back on itself, maybe the huge amount of energy fed into the molten metal could be stored there.

In some ways, thats insanethe molten battery would have to run around of 880 degrees F, only slightly cooler than the combustion chamber of a car engine. But its also a bizarrely simple concept, at least to an electrochemist. It turns out assembling a cell of a liquid metal battery cell is as easy as dropping a plug of metal, made up of two alloys of different densities, into a vessel and pouring some salt on top. When the cell is powered up, the two metals melt and divide into two layers automatically, like salad oil floating on vinegar. The molten salt forms a layer between them, conducting electrons back and forth.

But even with a promising start, developing a new battery is a glacially slow process, Sadoway says. Early funding from ARPA-E and the French oil giant Total helped him get the idea off the ground, but sustaining research for the years needed to build any brand new technology is expensive. Venture capitalists are shy about drawn-out engineering projects when there are so many software startups promising fast profits.

In any capital-intensive industry, industry will stand in the way of innovation, Sadoway says. Existing battery companies have too much invested in the status quo to be much help, he says. Lithium-ion came from outside the established battery industry of its time, he points out; the next battery will have to do the same.

The molten metal battery has long since moved out of the basement lab. In 2010, Sadoway started the battery company Ambri with several of his former students, then moved HQ into a manufacturing facility 30 miles west of Cambridge to the town of Marlborough. Now, Ambri employs about 40 people and is busy building prototype battery packs out of hundreds of the molten metal cells.

Sadoway says Ambri is less than a year away from deploying its first commercial models. All signs have been hopeful so far, he says. At the manufacturing facility, some test cells have been up and running for almost four years without showing any signs of wear and tear. Getting the assembled battery packs, each consisting of 432 individual cells, to work was trickier. But after ironing out some pesky issues with the heat seals, the battery packs can reach a self-sustaining operating temperature, hot enough to charge and discharge without any extra energy input. Now Ambri is in the middle of raising another round of funding, enough to reach market-ready production mode.

On my way out the door, I say that, for all the difficulty and delay, it seems like this battery could really be close. I hope so, Sadoway says, looking almost wistful. Maybe this is it. Id like to see that.

Grist/Amelia Bates

A Crowded Field

The molten metal battery isnt the only moonshot battery. Its not even the obvious front-runner. Other technologies are pushing ahead, quietly and without fanfare, from iron flow batteries to zinc- and lithium-air varieties.

Like Sadoways project, many of these untested technologies are funded initially by grants from ARPA-E. These are very early stage, high-risk technologies, says Rohlfing, the agencys deputy director. We take a lot of shots on goal.

One especially promising contender in the better battery battle is the Pittsburgh-based company Aquion, whose founder, Carnegie Mellon professor Jay Whitacre, set out in 2008 to design the cheapest, most reliable battery you could make.

The result is something colloquially called a saltwater battery. It looks, more or less, like a Rubbermaid bin full of seawater. All of the materials in the Aquion batteries are abundant and easily obtained elements, from salt to stainless steel to cotton. Whats more, none of those materials carry the risks of a lithium-ion battery.

Our chemistry is very simple, says Matt Maroon, Aquions director of product management. Theres nothing in our battery that is flammable, toxic, or caustic.

Its also stupidly easy to assemble. Our main piece of manufacturing assembly equipment comes out of the food packaging industry, Maroon says. Its a simple pick-and-place robot that youd find at Nabisco, putting crackers inside of blister packs.

Aquion batteries have been on the market for nearly three years, installed in both homes and utility-scale facilities. Overall, Aquion has 35 megawatt hours of storage deployed around the world in 250 different installations. One in Hawaii has been up and running for two years; last year, the battery-plus-solar system powered several buildings for six months without ever falling back on a diesel generator.

We need to get more of these things out into the field, says Rohlfing. Right now, if Im a utility or a grid operator and I want to buy storage, I want to buy something that comes with a 20-year warranty. The technologies were talking about arent at that stage yet.

But theyre getting close. Another ARPA-E-funded project, Energy Storage Systems, or ESS, announced last November that it would install one of its iron-flow batteries as part of an Army Corps of Engineers microgrid experiment on a military base in Missouri. ESS has also installed batteries to help power an off-grid organic winery in Napa Valleyfor that matter, so has Aquion. As more and more of these one-off experiments prove successfuland more of these new kinds of batteries prove their worththe possibility of a battery-powered energy system comes a little closer.

But will batteries ever be, well, cool? Thats a harder question. Aquions Matt Maroon has been working in the field since 2002, soon after he left college. At conferences, Maroon was often the youngest person in the room by 30 years. He was sure he wouldnt be a battery guy for his whole career.

Fifteen years later, hes still a battery guybut hes no longer the youngest person in the room. More students are starting to get involved with batteries, and people are starting to take notice. Its still not as a cool as working at Apple, he says. But I think people recognize its importance and that kind of makes it cool.

Or I hope so, he laughs. Ive got a 9-year-old daughter. So Id like to work on something that she thinks is cool someday. Thats my ultimate goal.

Read more: https://www.wired.com/2017/02/researchers-racing-build-battery-future/

Toshiba fuels fear of crisis after delaying earnings report

Shares plunge 8% after Japanese giant says it is not ready to release details about US nuclear subsidiary Westinghouse

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/business/2017/feb/14/toshiba-fuels-crisis-fears-delays-earnings-writedown-nuclear-westinghouse

Tesla moves beyond electric cars with new California battery farm

The project is part of Elon Musks plan to help transform the power grid

From the road, the close to 400 white industrial boxes packed into 1.5 acres of barren land in Ontario, California, a little more than 40 miles from downtown Los Angeles, look like standard electrical equipment. Theyre surrounded by a metal fence, stand on concrete pads and sit under long electrical lines.

But take a closer look and youll notice the bright red coloring and gray logo of electric car company Tesla on the sides. And inside the boxes are thousands of battery cells the same ones that are used in Teslas electric cars made by the company in its massive $5bn Tesla Gigafactory outside of Reno, Nevada.

This spot, located at the Mira Loma substation of Southern California Edison, hosts the biggest battery farm Tesla has built for a power company. Southern California Edison will use the battery farm, which has been operating since December and is one of the biggest in the world, to store energy and meet spikes in demand like on hot summer afternoons when buildings start to crank up the air conditioning.

Teslas project has a capacity of 20 megawatts and is designed to discharge 80-megawatt hours of electricity in four-hour periods. It contains enough batteries to run about 1,000 Tesla cars, and the equivalent energy to supply power to 15,000 homes for four hours. The company declined to disclose the projects cost.

The project marks an important point in Teslas strategy to expand beyond the electric car business. Developing battery packs is a core expertise for the company, which is designing packs for homes, businesses and utilities. It markets them partly as a way to store solar electricity for use after sundown, a pitch that works well for states with a booming solar energy market such as California.

Battery systems built for power companies can serve more than one purpose. A utility can avoid blackouts by charging them up when its natural gas power plants, or solar and wind farms, produce more electricity than needed, and draw from them when the power plants arent able to keep up with demand.

Edison and other California utilities hired Tesla and a few other battery farm builders after an important natural gas reservoir near Los Angeles, called Aliso Canyon, closed following a huge leak and massive environmental disaster in late 2015. The leak forced thousands of people in nearby neighborhoods to evacuate. It also left utilities worried about how theyd meet the peak electricity demands of coming summers if they werent able to dip into the natural gas storage whenever they need fuel to produce power. They couldnt always get natural gas shipment from other suppliers quick enough to meet a sharp rise in electricity consumption.

Teslas
Teslas CTO JB Straubel unveils the batteries. Photograph: Katie Fehrenbacher

As a result, the California Public Utilities Commission approved 100 megawatts of energy storage projects for both Southern California Edison and also San Diego Gas & Electric. The commission also asked for the projects to be built quickly, before the end of 2016.

Other energy storage projects that have been built since include a 37.5-megawatt project in San Diego County by AES Energy Storage, which used lithium-ion batteries from Samsung. AES has completed the project, which is going through the commissioning phase. AES also plans to build a 100-megawatt project for Southern California Edison in Long Beach in 2020.

Even before the Aliso Canyon disaster, the commission had already recognized the benefit of using energy storage to manage supply and demand and expected it to become an important component in the states plan to replace fossil fuel energy with renewables. The commission, which requires the states three big utilities to add more wind and solar energy to their supplies over time, also set a statement energy storage target of 1,325 megawatts by 2020.

Surrounded by rows of batteries at a ribbon-cutting ceremony at the project on Monday, Southern California Edisons CEO Kevin Payne said the Tesla project is important because it validates that energy storage can be part of the energy mix now and is a great reminder of how fast technology is changing the electric power industry.

This latest crop of energy storage projects use a new generation of lithium-ion batteries. Historically, batteries were too expensive for energy storage, but their prices have dropped dramatically in recent years, thanks to their mass production by companies such as Panasonic, Tesla and Samsung.

Companies that buy lithium-ion batteries have been reporting drops in prices of 70% over the past two years. Tesla has said it plans to lower its battery prices by 30% by expanding production inside its Gigafactory.

At the event on Monday, Teslas co-founder and chief technology officer JB Straubel said: Storage has been missing on the grid since it was invented.

Tesla is counting on the energy storage market as an important source of revenue and built its giant factory with that in mind.

The company believes its expertise in engineering and building electric cars sets itself apart from other battery farm developers. Tesla has been developing battery packs for a decade and improved the technology that manages the batteries temperatures, which can be high enough to pose a fire risk.

Overheating is a well known problem for lithium-ion batteries, which require insulating materials and software to keep them running cool. A battery farm built next to a wind farm in Hawaii by a now-bankrupt company caught fire in 2012 and temporarily put a dampener on the energy storage market.

Tesla has been building another battery farm on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, and has projects in Connecticut, North Carolina, New Zealand and the UK.

The company is looking for opportunities to build battery farms outside of California, including the East Coast and countries such as Germany, Australia and Japan. Tesla co-founder and CEO Elon Musk has said in the past that the companys energy storage business could one day be bigger than its car business.

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/sustainable-business/2017/jan/31/tesla-battery-farm-california-energy-elon-musk