back to article Who will kill power companies? TESLA, says Morgan Stanley

With Tesla and Panasonic prepping the giant erection called the GigaFactory, Morgan Stanley has penned an investor note predicting that Elon Musk's big battery footprint will become a major disruptor to power utilities. It's hardly disinterested, since the financiers were underwriters for a Tesla fundraising round in the past …

  1. Eddy Ito Silver badge

    So who has money on the Gigafactory being located near the SpaceX facility in Brownsville Texas or more cheaply specifically, Matamoros Mexico?

    1. Weapon

      Not going to happen. Not only is it not one of the options for site selection, Brownsville is a good spot to launch rockets due to closeness to the equator and launching east towards water. Terrible site for the gigafactory which prefers low humidity and rail access.

    2. Jared Vanderbilt

      NW Nevada

      The Gigafactory will be located just outside Reno Nevada.

      1) raw material mines and processing facilities are nearby

      2) reliable solar and wind renewable energy sources to power the production facilities

      3) amiable growth oriented legislative bodies, at the local and the state levels

      4) relatively close to the vehicle production facility, yet outside the stifling California tax and regulatory environment.

      1. usbac

        Re: NW Nevada

        And, it was in our local newspaper (Reno, Nevada) that a local construction company just finished a land clearing and grading project that was described unprecedented in its scale. It was also mentioned that it was about the right size for a 5 million square foot facility.

        When asked if it was for Tesla, the official of the construction company told the newspaper that they were under an NDA (wink, wink). I think it's fairly clear to everyone in Reno that Tesla is the customer.

        Tesla says they haven't made a final decision yet, but they paid to have over a million cubic yards of dirt moved. That's a lot of money to spend on something you're "not sure about"!

        1. Trevor_Pott Gold badge

          Re: NW Nevada

          Maybe, maybe not. They'll need storage facilities. And...why not make more than one GigaFactory? If the tech is gelled...

    3. Frankee Llonnygog

      Re: near the SpaceX facility

      Why? So they can use exploding reject batteries for rocket propulsion?

  2. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Net energy gaiin?

    Batteries currently make little sense from an energy efficiency point of view. Burning fossil fuel in a power station, sending the electricity over miles of wire (at a loss), using it to make batteries (another loss) and then to charge them up (yet another loss) and then using them to move a car is probably quite wasteful. You're probably better off burning the fossil fuel in the car.

    The same probably goes for solar cells, and wind turbines. If you're using solar cells or wind turbines to make energy you're probably better burning the fossil fuel directly.

    Rational? The cost of almost everything is either directly or indirectly related to energy costs.

    There's the fuel the mining company uses in their machinery, the fuel their workers need to get to work, the fuel the grocery stores use to transport food to the shelves so that the workers can eat, the fuel the farmers used in growing the food in the first place, the transportation fuel, the truck maker's fuel bill, etc. etc.

    By analogy money is like Bitcoin.

    A Bitcoin represents "work done", you've had to do all that maths to mine a Bitcoin. A dollar is similar; a large chunk of it goes into covering people's energy bills all the way up the supply chain.

    Go up the supply chain far enough and you start getting to the point where raw materials become 'free' (i.e. ore and fuels simply lying about in the ground, crops and livestock growing themselves in a field somewhere, etc) once you own the land or mining rights.

    At the moment here in the UK solar panels and wind turbines have to be subsidised quite a lot. That suggests that somewhere along the line they don't actually make any energy sense at all.

    For example, a subsidy for a solar panel here in the UK is merely going into allowing a Chinese manufacturer to indirectly burn a lot of fossil fuel on our behalf to make the thing in the first place and for a shipping company to burn a lot of oil getting it from China to the UK. The fact that the actual cost of the panel is so high means that it probably isn't going to generate enough electricity to be worth it. Subsidies might make something make financial sense to the eventual owner, but it doesn't mean it makes overall energy sense. Quite the opposite.

    However if a subsidy succeeds in changing the shape and structure of the supply industry so that it does start becoming energy sensible then the subsidy would have been worth it.

    So if Musk can get the cost of batteries down that low and that's matched somewhere by solar panel prices starting to become even cheaper that means that somewhere along the supply chain someone is using far less fuel in making them in the first place.

    That could start changing things. Who would care if (purely for example) 90% of the incoming sunlight ends up being wasted if the 10% that isn't wasted is going to easily outweigh the energy used to make the batteries and panels in the first place? No one.

    Storing solar power would help make it a more sensible proposition compared to just throwing it away in the middle of the day when it's generated but cannot be used.

    Of course it could be a market grabbing exercise. If the price is low because Musk can afford to subsidise it (rather than because they really can make significant energy savings) then it's smoke and mirrors again. Instead of a government subsidy it'd be a Musk subsidy.

    If that is so then the cheap price now would later have to become a higher price. Musk doesn't have infinitely deep pockets. And if he had by then succeeded in displacing the traditional coal/gas/oil burning utilities, that'd be a higher price that we'd all be obliged to pay to him, not to them. And either directly or indirectly he'd be burning the coal / gas / oil on our behalf, and probably more of it than is burnt now.

    So I hope that ultimately it is a genuinely low price.

    1. Hans 1 Silver badge

      Re: Net energy gaiin?

      > At the moment here in the UK solar panels and wind turbines have to be subsidised quite a lot. That suggests that somewhere along the line they don't actually make any energy sense at all.

      Those Chinese panels are crap; inefficient and unreliable. I would go for the French ones, they have the best watt/cm2 and efficiency will shortly go up another 40%. Now, how does price influence "energy sense" ? It does not. The reason big solar panels are so pricey is simply because we have not reached the demand where economy of scale kicks in, yet.

      You probably read somewhere that solar panels made no sense, in energy terms ... that has been debunked, when you looked closely, they were talking about the small solar cells in calculators and kitchen appliances etc.

    2. Steve Todd

      Re: Net energy gaiin?

      Batteries currently make little sense from an energy efficiency point of view. Burning fossil fuel in a power station, sending the electricity over miles of wire (at a loss), using it to make batteries (another loss) and then to charge them up (yet another loss) and then using them to move a car is probably quite wasteful. You're probably better off burning the fossil fuel in the car.

      Erm, no. A modern CHP power plant can run at 80%+ efficiency, IC engines in vehicles rarely run above 30%, and much of the time below that. Even allowing for losses in transmission and charging electric vehicles are more energy efficient by a significant margin. Depending on the mix of generators in your grid they are also less polluting, and improve as you improve your mix (unlike IC vehicles that only ever get worse).

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Net energy gaiin?

        "A modern CHP power plant can run at 80%+ efficiency"

        It can but few actually do. Most electricity generation units do not utilise the considerable waste heat. In addition if district heating systems are the main user of the low grade waste heat then it's necessary to disperse that heat during periods of low demand when electricity demand may actually increase due to air-conditioning usage.

      2. Paul Crawford Silver badge

        Re: @Steve Todd

        Take the UK as an example: where are the CHP plants, and who is making use of the "low grade" heat that makes for the 40% or so of that 80% efficiency?

        Very few. Our local University has a campus heating system that uses it, so runs its own 5MW (I think) CHP plant and pumps steam around the major buildings to heat them. Which is great.

        But often if they need a bit more heating, in goes another conventional gas boiler as its cheaper to do than to extend the CHP distribution!

        Now then, where are the GW sized generators, and is anyone prepared to dig up towns and cities for hot water distribution to make said efficiency worth it?

        So far, the cost of energy that everyone complains about is not enough to cover the cost of western world labour for infrastructure development. Sad but true :(

        1. Anonymous Coward
          Anonymous Coward

          Re: @Steve Todd & Paul Crawford

          "Now then, where are the GW sized generators, and is anyone prepared to dig up towns and cities for hot water distribution to make said efficiency worth it?"

          You've hit the nail on the head, that the cost of district heating is too great in most cases in the UK, with the exception of high density housing. The fundamental cause of this is that the cost of heat distribution networks is too great. Heat distribution pipes cost around £1,200 per metre of length in real life conditions*, and that soon mounts up (even for terraced housing this typically means £4k of property specific heat network, before you've built your energy centre (say £2k per property served), or installed a heat interchange unit (HIU) and heat meter in the property (£2k). This compares to less than £2k for a gas combi boiler fitted and £600 of property specific gas network and perhaps £0.5k/property of upstream gas production gear.

          If you've got a number of close together apartment buildings then a small area district heating system makes sense serving a few thousand apartments, but nothing on the scale seen in (say) Sweden or Poland, where winters are colder, average space heating demand much greater, and there's no national gas network like in the UK.

          Then we come to the alleged efficiency benefits. In principle they exist - you run a CHP engine (typically gas fired spark ignition reciprocating engine) for heat and capture electricity as a by product. Problem is that the heating demand varies year round, and during the day and it's simply not economic to build a CHP that is mothballed for the six months of the year outside the heating season. Then, within day the heat load varies dramatically. Overnight a well designed system can coast on the thermal inertia of the system, but during the day you have to serve morning and evening peaks. If you run a CHP engine to serve that load profile then (a) you've again got an asset sitting around for three quarters of the day twiddling its thumbs, and (b) you have a problem with the reliability - regardless of what the makers claim, power generating sets respond badly to excessive cycling, and we've found that running the CHP on simple double cycling per day meant very noticeable decreases in reliability (which means higher maintenance costs and loss of use). You can build additional heat storage into the system to allow the CHP engine to run for longer, but the problem is that "storage" in this context is a bloody great insulated hot water tank, and when you build these at any scale they become very expensive. I work for one the largest operators of district heat in the UK and another northern European country, and we do know what we're talking about.

          So, what this means is that for a UK heat system you size your CHP for your year round baseload, and all of your seasonal and daily peaking is delivered by gas boilers (sometimes biomass assisted, but there's lots of reasons to not want that). You could use all CHP, but the costs would be astronomical, and you have to remember that the system needs to be wildly over-provisioned against average demand, because you have to allow for a plant breakdown and maximum demand in the coldest winter conditions (say -15C). So a small scale district heat system serving a few hundred properties would have a 185 kW electricity/230KW heat spark ignition CHP that runs between 05:00 and 23:00 every day of the year other than when down for service. You then have say three 3MW boilers which would never be used all together - two of them can serve maximum heat demand, giving some leeway against severe winter demand, reduced output for lower mains gas pressure and loss of both the CHP and one of the boilers. This will be why the university is extending using boilers - unless you want to generate electricity at well above the cost of grid power it doesn't make sense. Over the year the electrical power output is around 5-10% of the total energy output, so even as a by product it isn't making much difference. This is in strict contrast to industrial CHP where the plant is typically a 50 MW gas turbine that runs at constant load, and produces 30% of power output as electricity, and the balance as process heat (with often incidental delivery of space and water heating).

          So in aggregate terms, the overall efficiency benefit of district heating CHP units is much lower than proponents claim, unless you want to chase operational efficiency at a very high cost indeed. Despite this the clowns at DECC are earnest believers in the benefits of district heating, and are pushing developers and power companies to roll out heat networks - like wind and solar, very expensive non-answers to the question of climate change. Over the past couple of years DECC's heat network delivery unit has been handing out a few million quid to the beards & sandals of local government to encourage the take of heat networks, and they in turn believe this simplistic and inaccurate mantra that district heating is more efficient than centralised electricity and local heating systems.

          Having said that the efficiency is a dream and the costs are high, I would point out that in high density housing it can be slightly cheaper than heat from an individual gas boiler (not permitted in high rises anyway), although the costs are very different - the operating costs are lower, but the capital costs are a lot higher. In functional terms, district heat works as well as gas: It is as convenient as a gas system, safer, requires minimal in home servicing (typically a fifteen minute check over of the HIU once every two years). Many middle class people in the UK have a problem with district heating that you can't change your supplier - the energy service company that owns and operates the heat network has you as a captive customer essentially for the life of the property. Residents in social housing tend to me more accepting because they're often used to communal heat delivery at a building level, or their alternative is crap and expensive dry electric heating systems.

          So there you have it. Ledswinger's District Heating Primer. Conclusion: Works well for high density housing where you'd normally use a communal boiler or dry electric systems, but otherwise a very expensive idea that has few real world efficiency benefits.

          * Heat pipes are expensive because circulation speeds are low to achieve efficient heat transfer and avoid high pressures that increase pipe bursts, so you have larger pipes than for gas or cold water distribution, usually steel for durability, and you then have a good thick layer of insulation. This means you're laying a more expensive pipe than MDPE gas or water pipe, and a much larger pipe, leading to greater civils costs. There have been experiments with "4th gen" heat networks using low temperature distributuion, meaning less insulation is needed and heat losses are lower, but this requires the house to have a heat pump on HIU, which increases capex, makes the device more complex, and increases the electricity bills, so its a bit of a zero sum improvement.

          1. Steve Todd
            Stop

            Re: @Steve Todd & Paul Crawford

            Firstly the waste heat is good for light industrial and agricultural use (IIRC the Drax power station uses waste heat and carbon dioxide to run nearby greenhouses that grow tomatoes), so need not be pumped long distances.

            Secondly you can use the waste heat in secondary generators. Combined cycle gas systems, that use the heat from the primary gas turbine to generate steam for secondary steam turbines can hit 60% efficiency, and that's even without CHP schemes on the system.

            You can alway build a large, fixed plant that is more efficient than many small, mobile plants. That's a fact of engineering life. At the same time the emissions aren't in the middle of cities where they are bad for the population and can be more easily cleaned or captured.

            1. Anonymous Coward
              Anonymous Coward

              Re: @Steve Todd 2

              Re Drax & tomatoes: True, but that's going to be less than 1% of the circa 6 GW of waste heat from Drax, the problem is a huge point source of heat with no meaningful heat demand in miles. As a similar example the waste heat from Ratcliffe is sufficient to serve the entire space heating needs of fifteen mile distant Nottingham, but the cost of building a heat network to distribute it would be around £4 billion quid, plus some form of standby heat system in case the power station has to shut down. However, under DECC's Canute like plans to combat climate change they hope to see all coal plant off the UK grid by 2025, so the network wouldn't even have been built by the time the hippies manage to shut down the plant.

              "Secondly you can use the waste heat in secondary generators"

              It already is. Look up the details of most large UK coal plants and you'll find there a much smaller turbine using waste heat that the main steam turbines can't use. The problem is that there's still at least 40% and more usually 60% of the primary energy content lost as low grade heat via the cooling towers.

              1. Steve Todd
                Stop

                Re: @Steve Todd 2

                Since your average car, when running at its most efficient speed, throws 70% of the energy away as heat through the exhaust then it still looks like a bargain. You're between 30% and 100% more efficient before charging and transmission losses, so you're going to start off more efficient no matter what.

                You're also skipping the issues of pollution and emissions. You seem to think that I'm in favour of EVs on the grounds of climate change. I'm much more in favour of them as a way of reducing pollution.

                1. Anonymous Coward
                  Anonymous Coward

                  Re: @Steve Todd 3

                  "You seem to think that I'm in favour of EVs on the grounds of climate change. I'm much more in favour of them as a way of reducing pollution."

                  I'd made no such assertion that I'm aware of, and the whole EV thing isn't something I'd given much thought to despite the article being about Tesla - my lengthy digression was on the issues of district heating and CHP in response to another poster.

                  The low efficiency of transport ICE is probably not going to be much changed by renewable powered EVs simply because of the multiple conversion losses in generating, storing, retrieving and using electricity in this way. I can see lots of good things about EVs in principle, the problem is that they are still an emerging technology that is too costly and not yet good enough for most users. And when we've fixed that, there's the problem that an average user doing 12,000 miles a year in a modest family car currently uses around 13,000 kWh in fuel energy. If they use an EV then the net power required won't change much after the repeated conversion losses, so somebody has to find that additional 13,000 kWh per car, which compares to around 3,500 kWh of electricity used per house. In my house, with two working adults that means that we'd need to source almost eight times as much electricity as we currently use. Nationally that's going to be something of a problem, wouldn't you agree? And no matter what size of solar array I put on my house, it will generate nothing useful for four months of the year, so we're back to grid power as the solution.

                  1. Steve Todd

                    Re: @Steve Todd 3

                    Your average EV uses about 300Wh/mile. 12,000 miles per year would need 3,600kWh, FAR less than the 13,000kWh of chemical energy that your car chews through to travel that distance. At current prices you'd need a car that manages about 195MPG to match the cost in fuel.

                    Most of the charging can happen over night, on off peak power when the grid has a surplus. With no change to the current infrastructure something like 1/3 of cars could be powered by electricity and you'd have no problems.

        2. MrT

          Point of order!

          "...pump steam..." - you don't pump steam, just the condensate to get it back to the boilers. </pedantry-alert> ;-)

          Sheffield was always held up as the biggest example of CHP/district heating in the UK (possibly Europe), but things might have changed in the 20-or-so years since I last turned the pages of my Spirax Sarco design guides. There are probably studies out there into just how effective it all is on a city-scale project. Back in the late 80's, big campus-sized entities like major hospitals, (LGI and Jimmy's, Hull RI, Bradford RI and so on, in my past working life), plus big users like Fison's Pharmaceuticals in Loughborough, (all steam-based sites, at least until YRHA decided to move to MTHW) still tended to consider power and heat separately, with CHP as an incoming option when smaller sizes became better on efficiency and cost.

          On another note, I've been told several times that, whilst the tech on PV panels is jumping forward, storage tech is not. The advice last year was to leave storage for at least 3 years. I don't think it was in response to the Gigafactory, but at some point battery tech will move up a notch.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: Point of order!

            "Sheffield was always held up as the biggest example of CHP/district heating in the UK (possibly Europe),"

            Sheffield still has one of the biggest heat systems in the UK, although it is centred around heat to municipal buildings rather than residential heat. There's other big systems in Southampton, Nottingham, and developing systems in Leicester and Birmingham.

            However, compared to Europe these are tiddlers. In the UK there's about 200,000 homes & apartments connected to district and communal heat sources. In Poland there's about six million homes on district heat.

    3. Smart-ti-Pants

      Re: Net energy gaiin?

      "If the price is low because Musk can afford to subsidise it"

      An important point. As you say, a short-term subsidy might provide the impetus to get to the point of viability.

      A much bigger, long-term subsidy which is nearly always overlooked in energy debates, is that of the nuclear power industry. It currently buries a lot of very dangerous waste products in storage which deteriorates and, one day, will be very, very expensive to replace. The amount buried continues to grow as long as fission-based power generation continues. Storage replacement will eventually cease to be optional or postponable because constructed things degrade over time. (Replacements will, themselves, be further temporary circumventions, rather than permanent solutions, needing to be replaced one day, etc.). This continuously accumulating cost is rolled into the future and ignored, wrapped in a vain hope that it will eventually go away. It won't. Allowing the industry to ignore it amounts to a huge subsidy. It's a bit like allowing someone to run up ever increasing debts on a credit card and never insisting on payment. Except that in the case of growing nuclear waste the debt collector is the laws of physics which, unlike economic systems and governments, is not a transient smoke-and-mirrors act.

    4. Weapon

      Re: Net energy gaiin?

      Stop making guesses when you have no clue what you are talking about.

      1) A large powerplant is far more efficient than a tiny engine and the EV drivetrain is far more efficient than a gasoline car's drivetrain. Fact of the matter is you are better off using an EV and burning the fossil fuels in a powerplant than a gasoline car.

      2) Solar depends on location. You seriously underestimate solar potential, especially in the US. In the US, the solar potential is 3-5X that of the UK. Even the worst place in the US short of Alaska is 2X more than the best place in UK.

      3) US this year put a tariff on Chinese and Taiwan solar panels.

      4) The batteries Tesla plans to make will be 100% manufactured by power from solar and wind.

      5) Musk plans to make batteries that are more energy dense and since all materials will be sourced in North America for the batteries, they will decrease the amount of locomotion necessary to transport. On top of that, increasing economies of scale, which will bring down costs. Musk hopes to bring down costs to 100$ per kwh of battery.

    5. Gordon Pryra

      Re: Net energy gaiin?

      I used to believe in your analogy, ie money is a measure of work done.

      It makes sense until you look at the impact of the credit creation multiplier and the parasitic influence of the financial "industry" where money is created and becomes a product on its own rather than representing the worth or value of an item.

      Anyway, nice post, carry on

    6. Psyx

      Re: Net energy gaiin?

      "You're probably better off burning the fossil fuel in the car. The same probably goes for solar cells, and wind turbines. If you're using solar cells or wind turbines to make energy you're probably better burning the fossil fuel directly."

      Lots of 'probably' there, followed by conclusions which already fit your existing opinions, masquerading as a logical thought process.

    7. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: It's all about cost in energy terms

      If a solar panel generates far more energy, in its lifetime, than the total cost in energy* of making it, then it's well worth it. The batteries are a different matter. Is there any such thing as a rechargeable batter that doesn't lose its mojo after a few hundred recharges?

      * By total cost in energy, I mean everything, from mining the raw materials (including an appropriate share of total energy to dig the mines in the first place).

    8. Fungus Bob Silver badge

      Re: Net energy gaiin?

      "Batteries currently make little sense from an energy efficiency point of view"

      But they do make sense from an energy security point of view. That huge blackout on the east coast of the US and Ontario wouldn't have been as nasty if traffic lights had their own backup battery systems and could be set to work independently during power outages and if a large percentage of homes and businesses had some sort of backup power setup. Large electric generating facilities have their advantages but they are damn nasty single points of failure. Back when electricity was only used for running light bulbs this wasn't a disaster waiting to happen but now that we depend on the white-fire-inside-the-walls for nearly every aspect of modern life...

      1. monkeyfish

        Re: Net energy gaiin?

        Slightly off-topic, but in response to the EV pollution issue, I'd also like to add that it would greatly reduce noise pollution too. Can you imagine a city centre with near silent cars and no local exhaust emissions? That would be a wonderful thing, and our future generations will probably look back and think 'how on earth did they ever live like that?', just like we do when we think of coal produced smog.

        As for long distances, how about fitting motorways with overhead power lines (like trains), or converting some of our existing train network to take cars eurostar style? Then your battery would only have to last for the beginning and end of a long journey.

        1. Apollo-Soyuz 1975
          Meh

          Re: Net energy gaiin?

          Although anecdotes ≠ data, I find that the majority of vehicle-related noise pollution relates to the sound of the tires rolling along the roadway. Only large trucks, muppets with opened-up exhausts, and muppets on modified motorcycles pump out distracting levels of engine noise.

    9. Terry Barnes

      Re: Net energy gaiin?

      "The same probably goes for solar cells, and wind turbines. If you're using solar cells or wind turbines to make energy you're probably better burning the fossil fuel directly."

      Er what?

    10. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Net energy gain?

      Commentard voters currently have you running at a slightly negative energy yield, but we get the basic idea. Although, I am not 100 % sure all your statements could withstand detailed mathematical scrutiny.

      Solar power and battery storage, along with hydrogen, all present specific (but in theory,solvable) technical problems. Because of its abundance and simplicity, Fossil fuels remain one of the cheapest ways to run vehicles and heavy equipment, heat homes etc. for a large majority of the world's industrialized and semi-industrialized economies. Localized, renewable power generation remains a small scale endeavor for the most part and will undoubtedly be so for a while. I still use fuel oil today and kick myself for it, but still can't afford to convert to anything else.

      Alternate forms of energy only become interesting on an industrial scale when they have radically undercut the cost per KW/h represented by fossil fuel consumption. Until then, I see nuclear power (and hopefully one day, cold fusion) as the real contender to fossil fuel consumption, even if fracking technology may keep us hooked on natural gas for a while longer.

      The interesting part of all this is that once solar cells, battery storage tech and electric car tech do become good, ubiquitous and cheap enough, and industrial electricity generation costs become stable and lowish (think nuclear and cold fusion again), JP Morgan may well be proven right. If everyone (or nearly everyone) could use local power generation sources (solar,wind, bio, geo-thermal, etc or some combination) to heat their homes and power their vehicles that would represent a near 50 % reduction of global electricity and/or fossil fuel consumption right there. Give everyone a 3D printer along with it, and a lot of mass production facilities could disappear as well. Get most people working from home and not commuting anymore ... well you get the idea.

      Oil prices will probably not then descend through the floor but as petroleum becomes less of a lifeblood and more of a non-renewable option, its price would have to at least stabilize. Grass roots and community efforts could in fact change everything, which is why self-reliance is such a very Green platform. Great stuff if you don't need to move into a cave and wear animal furs, not always so great when you have finished the math, because subsidized or not, none of these technologies are anywhere near free or low-cost. Once that changes.... it's a whole different story.

      The real obstacles are never just technical. The harder issues are nearly always economic and political. Which is what needs to be watched most closely.

      For a very interesting take on why utilities should hate solar power so much, read this article:

      http://grist.org/climate-energy/solar-panels-could-destroy-u-s-utilities-according-to-u-s-utilities/

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Net energy gain?

        http://www.huffingtonpost.com/sheldon-drobny/the-real-economics-of-oil_b_24108.html

        This is a bit of a rant, and the $ values are out of date, but the take-home is true today as it always has been.

        Oil is refined in order to extract the valuable products. Petrol is not very valuable - relatively speaking - and is correctly describes as a hazardous byproduct of the refining process.

        We are not going to stop refining oil any time soon for reason unrelated to the existence or otherwise of the automobile

        1. Steve Todd

          Re: Net energy gain?

          Yes and no. Refineries are optimised to extract certain fractions of the oil. Petrol is one of the more valuable fractions at the moment, so they target that in particular (and there are processes that they can use to convert other fractions to petrol). So, if it wasn't used for cars (or at least as much of it, it will take years to phase oil driven cars out completely) then the refineries would target other fractions and convert any waste petrol to what is most in demand.

  3. John Smith 19 Gold badge
    Unhappy

    The only renewable I detect is the smell of BS

    For which there is a virtually infinite supply already.

    AFAIK the major customer for this Panasonic Tesla plant is Tesla

    Who make cars.

    Not home load leveling packages. Not business load leveling packages.

    For this little fantasy to happen a)The Tesla plant has to have spare mfg capacity to sell and b)Someone has to want it.

    Thing is as business ramps up they are going to need that capacity for themselves.

    1. Steve Todd

      Re: The only renewable I detect is the smell of BS

      Tesla plans to use older power packs that have fallen below 80% of their rated capacity for just this use. You were saying?

    2. Weapon

      Re: The only renewable I detect is the smell of BS

      First of all, Tesla plans to build multiple gigafactories. There won't only be one.

      Second of all, you are forgetting 1 major factor in all this. Do you know who the #1 solar installer in the US is? The name of the company is SolarCity, now go to wikipedia, and look at solarcity and look who the Chairman is. Then it will all suddenly make sense.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The only renewable I detect is the smell of BS

        http://www.solarcity.com/residential/energy-storage

        Solarcity already sell Tesla home backup energy storage (currently only in certain areas of California).

        1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

          Re: The only renewable I detect is the smell of BS

          Jebus Solar city as well! If Elon Musk is truly Hank Scorpio/ Ernst Blofeld we are all fuscked

  4. -tim
    Flame

    Where is my energy storage?

    My last power bill had a connection charge that was larger than the energy consumption and my solar panels are in my garage waiting to get hooked up.

    There is no way I won't go to stored solar if I can buy batteries cheap enough. At work we have 16 truck sized floating cells that can run two racks for about 8 hours. I figure the batteries currently cost about 4 times the cost of the rest of a solar system and that is the high maintenance types that need toped up every few months.

    /flame is for when the wrench shorts out the battery bank

    1. JetSetJim Silver badge
      Coat

      Re: Where is my energy storage?

      >I figure the batteries currently cost about 4 times the cost of the rest of a solar system and that is the high maintenance types that need toped up every few months.

      That's an expensive set of batteries - if you need to free up some cash, how much do you want for Pluto?

  5. Pete 2 Silver badge

    Careful what you wish for

    > ever greater incentives for customers to adopt solar, thus leaving utilities with the potential long-term issue of losing a significant portion of their customer base

    But this is precisely what governments (at least, those in western europe) are doing. We get offers for free or highly subsidised home insulation, we get green surcharges tacked onto our energy bills, we get (OK: got) subsidised PV feed-in tariffs.

    All in order to reduce national CO2 outputs to meet a target - a target that most other countries seem to be ignoring, never signed up to in the first place or that they'll miss by miles / decades.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Careful what you wish for

      "All in order to reduce national CO2 outputs to meet a target - a target that most other countries seem to be ignoring, never signed up to in the first place or that they'll miss by miles / decades."

      CO2 - the magic "switch" that governs all climate activity.

      CO2 is a red herring and actually irrelevant to electric cars and renewable energy supply. Economics will win in the end (it always does due to 1 billion years of evolution). Governments promoting the renewable idea and paying for the uneconomic nature of these things now "might" result in the whole renewable energy enterprise becoming economic and thus self-sustaining - that would be the intended outcome. However, that is not a given, merely a hope/assumption/prayer (depending on your point of view).

      It's too bad they needed to invent the CO2 bogeyman to get the necessary investment going, but if the outcome is (a) cheaper and (b) generally cleaner, then that's fine too. The jury, however, is still out on this. I am predicting a coal/gas/oil global energy system for a generation or two yet, because there is no shortage of the stuff and the economics are very well understood.

      Personally, I am all for electric cars as soon as the range and infrastructure issues are solved and good ol' Elon takes over the world. In the mean time, my 60 buses will be burning diesel (heavily taxed), the solar installation on the depot roof will continue to provides 50% of my office and workshop power consumption (mains power costs continue to be substantially hiked so my net financial gain is diminishing), my race car will keep running on 110 octane and my road car whatever it is that comes out of the green pump.

      As I peer out the window overlooking the electric fueling station, and see those nice looking Teslas, I am tempted to wander the 400 yards down the road to the show room and take one for a spin.

  6. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Depends...

    The speculation that Morgan Stanley are talking this up may be right. The issue is the type of battery. In the same way that there is a difference between the construction of a lead-acid battery for starting a car (needs to deliver a massive amperage for a short time) and a golf-cart, milk-float , UPS or off-grid lead-acid battery., which needs to deliver a lesser amperage over a long period of time, it's not a given that an electric car style of battery is best for local energy storage. Arguably the best type of battery for such requirements is the 100+ year old Nickel-Iron battery, using an alkaline electrolyte rather than acid. Yet I understand only one company in the world, in China, still makes them.

    Re AC's issue with efficiency, there are two issues. One is that there are energy losses in the grid, which arguably take the place of the inefficiencies of charging/discharging a battery bank locally. Some figures I have seen put these inefficiencies at as much as 25%, though that feels rather high. The other issue is that local energy production need not always be done for efficiency reasons, though if course any engineer would seek to maximise efficiency in design and implementation.

    For anyone interested, I've written up our off-grid power supply here: http://www.tinslave.co.uk/blog/index.php?post/8/Our-off-grid-power-supply

    1. Richard Jones 1

      Re: Depends...

      An interesting read, but one question. When you are using battery storage why not run things like lighting at the battery voltage and avoid the need for an inverter for such low power devices? In fact many modern devices only use mains voltage inputs because they are there. Surely routers, LED lamps, etc. could all run at 12/24 volts perhaps in a few cases with a suitable low cost interface adapter e.g. a portable PC battery connector.

      I also wonder if an 'inverter per device' set up for such as vacuum cleaners and washing machines might make sense as the inverter would only be need to be powered while the machine was active. I am aware that heavy power cables would be needed for the DC - I have seen others fall foul of the need for increased current capacity as the voltage reduces!

      1. Suricou Raven

        Re: Depends...

        Rewiring trouble. Adapting a home for a central inverter needs some modification at the CU board. Adapting for DC distribution means knocking holes in walls and pulling the floorboards apart, and once you're done no electrician is going to go near the thing because there is no standardised design and set of procedures.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Depends...

        @Richard Jones 1

        Others have answered the question, and the supposition that multiple circuits is to much hassle is spot on. So it's for convenience. But also, the 24v can vary quite markedly, and long wire runs will result in voltage drop, so you can't be sure what voltage you're dishing up. Finally, using an inverter means I can change to, say' 48v system, which I wish I had done in the first place, to reduce the amperage from the turbine and solar panels. You learn to be pragmatic getting your power this way.

    2. Weapon

      Re: Depends...

      The type of battery they will use is Lithium Ion batteries, no acid, none toxic, has no rare earth metal, good energy density by weight and volume, awesome charge/discharge efficiency.

      Nickel Iron batteries have a long lifespan but poor energy density and can't be constantly charged, they have a high self discharge rate and their charge/discharge efficiency is so and so.

      A lithium ion battery is far better option. On top of that, if we plan to convert to EVs, the high power output may be not that bad as we can have mini superchargers in our house that let us recharge quickly in case of need.

    3. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Depends...

      "One is that there are energy losses in the grid, which arguably take the place of the inefficiencies of charging/discharging a battery bank locally. Some figures I have seen put these inefficiencies at as much as 25%, though that feels rather high. "

      Actual grid losses are around 11%. You can choose to include or ignore power station conversion losses that are 60% of the primary fossil fuel inputs.

  7. itzman
    FAIL

    Lets price up a car battery

    MM. 12v. 80Ah. Cost. $100

    So that's $100/kwh.

    So why have these 'car batteries' not already disrupted the grid economics?

    I went into all this is some detail years ago. The economics still dont make sense.

    1. Weapon

      Re: Lets price up a car battery

      The problem with lead acid batteries is short cycle life and so and so charge/discharge efficiency, people like to look at kwh of a battery but there is more to it then that.

    2. Terry Barnes

      Re: Lets price up a car battery

      "I went into all this is some detail years ago."

      Clearly not all that deeply. Lead acid batteries are ruined quickly by deep discharge cycles, so to avoid replacing your cells every few months you would need to buy multiples of your actual intended usage. That takes up a ton of space and requires a reasonable amount of maintenance.

      You also seem to have ignored the requirement for a means of charging this huge shed full of batteries - which is becoming cheaper on seemingly a monthly basis.

  8. Pen-y-gors Silver badge

    Close, but no coconut

    They can probably shift a lot of batteries for use in cars, where people are willing to shell out a lot of dosh anyway.

    For general stored energy they need to switch to different technologies (a lot seem to be on the drawing board) which can store energy (from solar, wind, CHP via the grid, whatever) at a seriously low capital cost - $250/kWH? Try more like $25/kWH.

    I would want to be able to store enough energy at my current usage levels for 4 days with no sun/wind etc (that's about 100kWH). Ideally I'd want to get rid of my oil-fired combi boiler and switch to electric, so probably double that to 200kWH. Provided the batteery stack lasts for at least 10 years, and sits quietly in the corner, I'd be happy to pay a few grand for that (but NOT $50K!). And then I'd be happy to pay another few grand for 10-15kW peak of nice cheap soon-to-be-developed-cheap-perovskite PV.

    Tesla has a way to go before he can match that spec. But someone will (maybe Tesla) and in the not-too-distant future. But they still have a way to go.

    1. Weapon

      Re: Close, but no coconut

      Tesla hopes to get the cost down below 100$ per kwh on the batteries. That would make a 100kwh battery cost 10k. A 15kw solar panel is more than enough to cover the house, today that costs 22k, probably by then it will cost another 10k, giving you a total cost of 20k.

      Considering the battery will last you 20+ years and solar panels 30-40 years. It will be well worth it.

    2. Tom 13

      Re: lasts for at least 10 years, and sits quietly in the corner

      And how big a corner are you willing to part with?

      1. DougS Silver badge

        Re: lasts for at least 10 years, and sits quietly in the corner

        Most houses have unused/useless space. Unfinished basements, attics. Heck, dig a hole in your yard, line it with concrete, seal it against moisture, and keep the batteries underground.

  9. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Who wouldn't

    want a home that's completely self-powered, that can maybe one day power our vehicles as well.

    Sometimes it isn't just because of the price from the grid. Anyone who cares about the environment would use solar panel if it's within an affordable range and isn't a complete hassle to maintain. Though I'm probably in the minority here, most people think short-term exploitation rather long-term sustainablity.

    1. Pascal Monett Silver badge

      I would love to use solar panels

      Except I refuse to pay such a price for something that only has a 20% efficiency rating, and doesn't last a decade at that rating.

      I went to a few solar panel vendors, and listened to the spiel but was not really impressed. Except by one guy who had the guts to state very clearly that solar was for rich people because if you want to do anything else than heat water, you'll be spending more on hardware then you'll get back from it.

      I like that kind of honesty. I'm looking forward to becoming rich so I can vindicate his words.

      In any case, I'll consider solar when they get their efficiency up to at least 45% for a price I can justify to myself. And I want the reliability to go up a lot too. And while I'm at it, I want a chest full of gold doubloons.

      1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

        Re: I would love to use solar panels

        The efficiency argument on its own is rather a non-starter Im rather puzzled why you are fixated on it.

        Admittedly it is a factor in the number of panels needed and therefore the cost but as long as you can come in on budget and have a big enough roof the actual efficiency is irrelevant.

      2. CaptainHook

        Re: I would love to use solar panels

        Except I refuse to pay such a price for something that only has a 20% efficiency rating, and doesn't last a decade at that rating.

        *****

        Why do you care about efficiency when you are talking about making use of energy which is currently not exploited at all (i.e. 0% efficiency).

        Surely what you actually care about is price per kW, efficiency plays into that by affecting the surface area of the panels needed to provide a certain kW / day but if you can get solar for less per kW than the grid provides it, even if only using cells which were 5% efficient, wouldn't you take it?

        Sure, in a future and every spare inch of roof space is already generating power then efficiency becomes a significant decision maker in it's own right but at the moment, cost per kW is king.

  10. wowfood

    One problem

    'Murica won't let people go off grid. Well they do but I've read several stories of people being arrested for taking their homes off grid I think they cited terror laws as the reason.

    http://www.collective-evolution.com/2013/12/18/texas-state-tried-to-shut-down-a-sustainable-community/

    http://www.collective-evolution.com/2014/03/09/florida-makes-off-grid-living-illegal-mandates-all-homes-must-be-connected-to-an-electricity-grid/

    I can't comment on the quality of the above site, but I've read the same stories elsewhere in the past, so they're as good a source as any I have atm.

    1. Suricou Raven

      Re: One problem

      Those particular stories appear true, but the site itsself isn't entirely trustworthy. It's got a few 'free energy' scams - inventions that defy the known laws of physics, and would surely have destroyed the oil industry if The Man wasn't working to oppress them.

      http://www.collective-evolution.com/?s=free+energy

    2. James Micallef Silver badge

      Re: One problem

      Nothing strictly wrong with staying on-grid even if you are self-sufficient, as long as you can feed in surplus electricity and get paid for it. Think long-term, instead of a few power stations supplying and millions of households consuming, you have millions of grid-networked households who are both producing and consuming. When a town is clouded over, they use the excess from another town on the grid that is not.

      That way, any single house need not have to build self-sufficiency capacity for more than a couple of days, but the grid as a whole could self-sustain indefinitely.

      Of course making it illegal to not be on the grid is completely bonkers. So if I buy some land in the middle of nowhere and build a log cabin there, am I not allowed to live in it? Or will the friendly government pay for grid connecting me at huge cost of money and landscape destruction?

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: One problem for James Micallef

        "Nothing strictly wrong with staying on-grid even if you are self-sufficient, as long as you can feed in surplus electricity and get paid for it."

        But paid how much? In the UK solar PV anoraks are bleating that they only get 14p/kWh. But 9p of that at least is a pure subsidy, because the wholesale offer price for good quality baseload is around 5p/kWh. If the smug solar bunch were actually paid appropriately for the dreadful profile that solar PV produces (ie centred on the middle of the day and seasonally biased towards the lower demand of summer months) they'd actually be getting around 3p/kWh.

        3p/kWh isn't going to pay for much PV or other microgeneration, but because your suggested idea still requires a grid system & operator and some form of centrally despatched power able to meet peak demand in a bad winter, you still incur all the capital and maintenance costs of the current system in addition to your cosy world of house-generation. In practical terms that means that your standing charge becomes £400 a year instead of £60 a year, and your grid purchased units would be around 40p/kWh instead of 13p.

        1. James Micallef Silver badge

          Re: One solution for ledswinger

          ledswinger - some very good considerations. My thoughts:

          "In practical terms that means that your standing charge becomes £400 a year instead of £60 a year"

          If it's currently the case that utilities' grid-maintenance costs are not covered by the current annual connection fee (meaning that they over-charge on the power bills to make up for the shortfall), then yes that would be the case. I have absolutely no idea about what percentage of utilities' costs are from power generation vs grid maintenance, nor what percentage of their revenues are from annual fees vs 'for usage' bills.

          However my feel of how utilities work is rather the other way round - they prefer to inflate the fixed annual cost and reduce your 'for usage' bills - so I suspect that the current grid connection fee is at least enough to cover all grid maintenance costs, provided that the number of connected people does not fall radically.

          The difference between being grid-connected and having supply security, and being not-grid-connected meaning that you would need to have an extra weeks' battery supply just in case (though you would very rarely need the capacity) would probably make it more economically viable to be connected to the grid at £60/yr than spend £thousands on extra batteries - so I would not expect the number of grid-connected people to fall radically.

          "But paid how much?"

          If it is the case, as I argue above, that current grid connection fees are more than enough to maintain the grid, then feed-in/consumption payments/costs could be symmetrical. If current grid connection fees are just about enough, you could make the feed-in payment slightly less than the consumption costs so the difference would go to grid maintenence.

          If grid maintenance costs are indeed far higher than current maintenance fees could support, then grid connection fees could still support higher prices than £60/yr if the alternative is to spend £thosands on batteries. However cheap batteries become, it will always be more economical to use a pooled shared supply where every household has, say 2-3 days independence than for every single household to be off-grid and having indefinte (realistically, 14+ days) supply.

          As you mention, what really is screwing the utilities is the absurdly high (subsidised) feed-in tariffs which are killing their generation planning. Ideally the tariffs should already start being slashed as the cost of batteries/PV falls. Utilities could manage energy production better, and gradually their role would move from mostly generation + managing distribution, to almost completely that of distribution, with backup generation. The profile of solar energy would be less important, since households would not have only PV (dreadful profile, I agree), but enough PV+enough batteries to be mostly independent.

          One other thing that occurs from reviewing my idea, this would need to start and grow in warmer areas where a household could generate more than it normally consumes even during the darkest winter days. In places such as UK, Scandinavia etc, there would be permanent generation capacity required. However millions of grid-connected, battery-buffered households with PV woul enable utilities to manage generation smoothly without sudden dips/peaks.

          1. Anonymous Coward
            Anonymous Coward

            Re: One solution for ledswinger

            "If it's currently the case that utilities' grid-maintenance costs are not covered by the current annual connection fee (meaning that they over-charge on the power bills to make up for the shortfall), then yes that would be the case. "

            The way charges are calculated is very complex, and the basics are that in the very short term your costs are completely fixed, in the long term they are completely variable. It is always a choice about how you recover those costs, and the regulators and companies dance round their handbags to come up with an acceptable compromise. The reason things would change in a more self sufficient world is that you simply have fewer units of power sold by the grid, and it would not make sense to recover those costs on variable power use (for example, the grid and generator capital and non-fuel opex costs don't vary much year round, but if you recovered on usage they'd have no income in the summer months).

            On your thoughts on self supply and reciprocal supply, the idea sounds lovely, but you either have to accept much greater supply interruptions, or have the full-fat grid capability plus generation. If you want grid backup, renewables are not cost effective against fossil solutions, and it gets worse the smaller scale each installation is. Let me offer you one illustration: An offshore wind farm uses as much capex per GW just on its electricity connection to the shore as to build, connect and commission a state of the art CCGT. Obviously the CCGT has fuel costs (although wind farms have O&M costs), but you've then got the actual wind turbine costs to stump up, and the fact that you'll only get 35% load factor off the wind turbines. Now factor in storage for wind and you start to see a very, very expensive solution that makes nuclear look cheap.

            1. James Micallef Silver badge
              Thumb Up

              Re: One solution for ledswinger

              "the regulators and companies dance round their handbags to come up with an acceptable compromise"

              hehe, seems like you have firsthand experience of the parties involved :)

              "the idea sounds lovely, but you either have to accept much greater supply interruptions, or have the full-fat grid capability plus generation. If you want grid backup, renewables are not cost effective"

              In fact what I had in mind was "full-fat grid capability plus generation", except with much less generation required. The bigger the grid, the more the supply can be smoothed and the less extra generation is required per household. Yes, renewables are rubbish for grid backup, ideally that would be nuclear. Of course the whole shebang would only be viable if PV+ battery initial costs divided by lifetime plus maintenance ever becomes less than CCGT initial costs divided by lifetime plus maintenance and fuel. And even if that won't happen in our lifetime with cheaper PVs and batteries, it will eventually happen as oil/gas supplies dwindle and extraction costs rise.

              In any case, thumbs up for an interesting discussion

              *ultimately and ideally worldwide, if that's even technically feasible

    3. jon 68

      Re: One problem

      http://www.collective-evolution.com/2014/07/07/more-wikileaks-documents-surface-confirming-the-existence-of-extraterrestrial-life-ufos/

      let's let everyone make up their own mind about the site, but after looking at the provided links, it's obvious there's more to those stories that isn't being reported.

    4. Michael Wojcik Silver badge

      Re: One problem

      'Murica won't let people go off grid. Well they do but I've read several stories of people being arrested for taking their homes off grid

      Texas and Florida are only two states, and two of the craziest at that. There are 48 other states and various non-state territories in the US.

      I think they cited terror laws as the reason.

      Shrug. Authorities will use any over-broad law to cover a multitude of sins. Before 9/11 it was RICO; these days the Global War on Whatever is the usual excuse.

      There are plenty of folks living off-grid in the US. I know some in Michigan, Vermont, New Mexico, and California, and that's just off the top of my head.

  11. Paul Crawford Silver badge

    Battry life?

    Its not just the initial cost of the batteries, but also the expected lifetime that is needed for an economical case.

    Same with solar panels, they have pay-back times today in the order of 10-20 years (even with subsidies, that that may change as oil costs rise) but who is guaranteeing the hardware (panels & inverter) lasts for anything that time?

    1. Weapon

      Re: Battry life?

      Yes, I agree, the lifetime is important. Hence why lithium ion batteries are such a good option, good lifetime.

      As for solar panels, it depends where you are for the payback costs. Some places have 5 year payback, others have 10-20. As for guaranteeing, many offer a 20-25 year warranty on the panels.

    2. Nigel 11

      Re: Battry life?

      No manufacturer is willing to make themselves a hostage to fortune by offering hundred-year warranties, even when there are multiple centuries of experience to suggest that the product will indeed last that long. For example, take a slate roof. It's been known for centuries that slates, iron nails and softwood hold together for about a century and that the slates can be good for re-use several times around. Today we have aluminium nails and Accoya ... but you still won't find anyone offering a warranty over 30 years.

      Silicon solar cells do not fundamentally wear out in less than milennia. The unknown is how well their environmental sealing will last, exposed to rain, frost, hail, storm force winds and pigeon crap. There's reasonable cause to hope that solar panels may be good for a century or even longer, but nobody will warranty them anything like that long.

      Inverters are solid-state power electronics assemblies and there's rather more to go wrong, so it's probably cheaper to build one to last fifteen years and buy a replacement on that timesale, than build one with mil-spec components and over-engineering in an attempt to last or a century (and then discover that you got one component wrong aso it needs a replacement anyway). OTOH my experience with computers suggest that motherboards and PSUs designed with the assumption they'll be scrap within five years, will often last for ten and not infrequently for fifteen. (Power electronics may be different, I don't know). I have a Philips TV built in 1982, still going strong, without even any noticeable colour drift in its (analogue) electronics ... and that thing has 25kV EHT inside. Respect.

  12. Ian Rogers

    Left hand meet right hand

    Morgan Stanley are scare-mongering that cheap batteries will destroy demand for incumbent energy utilities due to everyone making their own power, but there are others scare-mongering that the increase of electric cars on the road will mean that the utilities won't be able to cope with the load!...

    In fact cheap, grid-scale energy storage is the only thing that can make the whole system work: wind energy only becomes useful if you can store it until needed, along with the excess energy from nuclear power in the low-demand periods. Add in some bog standard Rankine-Cycle Energy From Waste burners for peak demand and Bob's your uncle.

    1. Weapon

      Re: Left hand meet right hand

      That is nonsense. Utilities can easily cope with the load of EVs. Most EV charging will be during offpeak where power demand is the lowest. If every car got replaced today with an EV, the grid would be just fine.

    2. DougS Silver badge

      Re: Left hand meet right hand

      Its not so much scare-mongering as pointing out to investors that the supposedly safest investment there is, public utilities, may become a more risky investment in the not-so-far-off future.

  13. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    The off grid dream

    I recall watching a documentary series once (way, way back in the 70's) about a couple who went totally off grid. They had a few farm animals in their suburban back garden and they used the animal's crap to power some kind of methane electric power plant in their cellar. It produced enough juice to power their freezer, lighting and a few other things. If this sort of technology was possible in the 70's I'm completely baffled as to why, what with wind turbines and efficient solar energy, more people are not living an off-grid existence today. Cant remember what the documentary was called.... they got into all kinds of semi-humorous situations too. They seemed to have quite a good life really.

    1. Gordon 10 Silver badge

      Re: The off grid dream

      I remember that documentary - the lady was a hotty. Don't remember it being funny though.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: The off grid dream

        "I remember that documentary - the lady was a hotty. Don't remember it being funny though."

        [spoiler alert ??]

        And I don't remember The Good Life being a documentary either.

  14. Nigel 11

    Why Li-ion?

    My understanding is that Tesla aims to drive down the cost of Li-Ion batteries. These have the best known power to weight ratio, so are good for electric vehicles, and I wish Tesla well. But why use them for solar storage? It matters very little whether a house-scale solar storage battery weighs 10kg, 100kg, 1 tonne or possibly even 10 tonnes. But it does matter whether the battery can become a fire hazard if a fault causes it to overheat.

    Lead-acid might do the job, but battery life might be a problem (they don't take kindly to deep discharge, especially not to discharge-until-flat). They don't catch fire, even if you abuse one to the extent of shorting it out with a thick lump of conductor (which may melt, and the battery may boil).

    Or what about Nickel-Iron (NiFe)? The raw materials are cheap and abundant. As a battery they have the advantage of being extremely robust with respect to deep discharge and high currents. They have a worse power/weight ration than lead-acid. And they have a high self-discharge rate which rules them out for auto starter batteries, but in a solar installation one isn't likely to want to store energy for more than 12 hours or so. Several tons of these on a concrete pad would be smaller than the smallest garden shed.

    1. Steve Todd

      Re: Why Li-ion?

      Tesla are talking about using depleted vehicle power packs, batteries that are down to 80% of rated capacity. You don't need deep charge/discharge for home backup, so you can get years more use out of them for very little extra cost. THATS why Li-ion.

      1. Nigel 11

        Re: Why Li-ion?

        ... depleted vehicle power packs ...

        Interesting. I thought good Lithium sources were sufficiently scarce, that it would always pay to recycle a Lii-ion battery to make a new one.

        Personally, I'd be wary of them for solar storage, because they burn so well. It's one thing to have one in a car (you'll be awake, and probably will have time to slam on the brakes and run for it should smoke or flames appear). It's quite a different thing to have one downstairs while you are asleep upstairs.

        Someone really does need to take another look at the NiFe battery for solar storage. " It is a very robust battery which is tolerant of abuse, (overcharge, overdischarge, and short-circuiting) and can have very long life even if so treated.[7] It is often used in backup situations where it can be continuously charged and can last for more than 20 years. ... They are being examined again for use in wind and solar power systems where battery weight is not important ... "

        http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nickel%E2%80%93iron_battery

        BTW lead-acid also lasts surprisingly well if maintained well. My 13-year-old Seat Leon diesel is still starting reliably on its original battery. The garage keeps telling me that they only last five years, but I'm starting to think that this battery may outlast the car. Kudos to Seat / VAG for designing a top-grade battery charging regulator.

        1. Steve Todd

          Re: Why Li-ion?

          Lots of Li out there, but why recycle them (which costs money but is still worthwhile) when they are still usable?

          1. Nigel 11

            Re: Why Li-ion?

            but why recycle them (which costs money but is still worthwhile) when they are still usable

            Because the profit in recycling one in order to manufacture a new e-car battery might exceed the resale value of a half-knackered Lithium battery fit only for solar energy storage, in which application it would be competing with lower power/weight battery technologies using much cheaper metals.

            1. Steve Todd
              Stop

              Re: Why Li-ion?

              You can tell that without knowing what the value of the recycled lithium is compared to the resale price of a depleted battery for domestic storage? That's clever.

              1. Nigel 11

                Re: Why Li-ion?

                Note the word "might" in my post. And the price of Lithium like any other commodity depends on supply and demand so we have very little idea what it will become in a future where the world's entire auto fleet is moving rapidly from internal combustion to electricity.

                I do know that Lithium is naturally fairly abundant, but that proven good (concentrated) Lithium resources are few. Maybe there are many more to be discovered, since until recently Lithium wasn't needed in huge quantity and it wasn't worth sending out Lithium prospectors. But if not, the price of Lithium in an e-car future may rise sharply. Rare earths and several other metals are also expensive not because they are rare, but because good ores do not exist and the cost of extraction is high.

                And I'll repeat, Lithium's unique selling point is an energy / weight ratio about 4x better than other cheaper rechargeables. For vehicles, that is hugely important. For a stationary solar energy storage battery, 4x the weight is only a small disadvantage. (And if the Lithium battery is a degraded used one, its advantage is reduced).

                I'm not hostile to the idea of second-user e-car Lithium batteries for solar energy storage. I'm just somewhat unconvinced.

                1. Steve Todd

                  Re: Why Li-ion?

                  A depleted pack still has lots of utility in a home situation. Consider a Tesla S 60 pack, when it's down to 80% of capacity it can still store enough power to run the average home for nearly 5 days (48kWh with the average domestic power usage being 3500kWh/year). The original owner gets a nice big trade-in value on the cost of a new pack. The domestic owner gets a cheap pack, that is comparatively small and light (so it doesn't take up too much space or require reinforced floors). It's not hard to see the value in the proposition.

    2. Terry Barnes

      Re: Why Li-ion?

      "It matters very little whether a house-scale solar storage battery weighs 10kg, 100kg, 1 tonne or possibly even 10 tonnes."

      It kind of does unless you want to undertake significant building work to strengthen your floors.

  15. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Bring the batteries on!

    The grid is fine, electric cars or not.

    Do you believe, for a split-second, that power companies won't diversify they power sources once fossil and nuclear become anti-economical? That they are not researching them RIGHT NOW?

    It is even worse for nuclear plants, they don't like to change their power rating from 0% to 100% very often, because it affects the stability and performance of most reactors. They prefer to run at full tilt, while the grid operators power up / down the fossil and hydro plants. The nag is, sometimes you can't spare enough transmission lines to do that, so they are WASTING AWAY the over-produced energy, because it is CHEAPER AND SAFER THAN POWERING DOWN, but eventually they must power down when the imbalance is too great. Ask any WANO member if that is true. Go, check.

    For some of these nuclear plants, having a battery load consuming into the night would help avoiding powering up fossil plants during the day. Everybody wins. Some countries even pay fossil plants to stay POWERED DOWN, in a readiness state, as subsidy, for emergency loads. You can replace those by a huge battery pack that is recharged on the off-peak hours.

    Saying that batteries will kill power companies is at least imoral or even irresponsible, nuclear plants even BENEFIT from the load balancing factor provided by the batteries, since it drives their maintenance cost down.

  16. aqk
    Black Helicopters

    Lots of land in Northern Canada!

    Musk should buy up lots of arctic space in Northern Canada.

    There's PLENTY of space up there to install giant solar farms to charge those batteries!

    Maybe I'll become some sort of broker, and sell land up there for this purpose! Anyone wanna buy?

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