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In a recent speech, Elon Musk proclaimed what appears to be the dawn of grid-tied photovoltaic arrays with battery storage when he announced the Tesla PowerWall. Basically, this vision foresees a new day and age where home and small business owners can become independent of the grid from the utility companies without breaking the bank so-to-speak. Because there is so much excitement surrounding this prospect, many people are becoming more and more interested in understanding batteries and battery storage.
The PowerWall is a battery pack which, just like the battery pack in a Tesla vehicle, consists of hundreds of individual Lithium Ion cells wired in series and parallel to provide the necessary power and energy for the application. The pack also includes a Battery Management System (BMS) which manages the temperature and charge/discharge rate of individual cells to maximize efficiency, capacity and cycle life. In 2016 or 2017, Tesla hopes to greatly increase the volume of these batteries and thus drive down their cost. Though we have no idea what they cost to manufacture, Tesla has announced their intention to sell the PowerWall battery for as little as $3,500 for a 10 kWh weekly cycling unit. However, note that the PowerWall is still only a battery and thus only one part of the overall residential storage system. It will still require a charger (to charge the batteries either from the grid or from solar) as well as an inverter (to power typical household AC loads from the DC battery).
Now, as the utility companies in general seem to find it impossible to discontinue their policy of raising their rates over and over again, more of their customers will be looking to sever the ties that bind them to such an unsure financial future and will want to look into their own battery powered system. So now it begs the question: Will it be prudent to cut off ties from the utility grid entirely in the future? The Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI), an organization dedicated to finding practical clean energy solutions, projects what might happen in their new report The Economics of Load Defection. It's a follow-up to the report of last year, 2015, The Economics of Grid Defection. The earlier report looked at the challenges utilities would face if the widespread adoption of solar panels plus storage batteries caused energy consumers to defect from the grid entirely. "We found that in the coming years and decades, large numbers of residential and commercial customers alike will find it economical to defect from their utilities and the electricity grid and supply themselves with power from solar-plus-battery systems," said the earlier report. "This finding foretold a future in which customers will have a choice to either cost-effectively self-generate without the grid or be a traditional customer with the grid."
The new report speculates about the potential economic impact of customers with smaller and less costly solar panel/storage battery systems that decrease but don't eliminate dependence on the grid.
The new (RMI) report speculates about the potential economic impact of customers with smaller and less costly solar panel/storage battery systems that decrease but don't eliminate dependence on the grid. The report's authors projected that the number of customers who would opt to disconnect from the grid entirely was small and that a much larger number of customers would choose to be connected to the grid with solar-plus-battery systems. "Since such systems would benefit from grid resources, they could be more optimally sized, thus making them smaller, less expensive, economic for more customers sooner and adopted faster," the report said. The report focuses on how such a configuration could evolve over time, and how many customers, how much power and how much revenue that could amount to. It asked, "What are the potential implications for utilities, third-party solar and battery providers, financiers/investors, customers and other electricity system stakeholders? And what opportunities might be found in grid-connected solar-plus-battery systems?"
Projecting through 2050, the report looked at the economics of three configurations in five cities—Los Angeles, Honolulu, San Antonio, Louisville, KY and Westchester, NY. And it saw plenty of good news. It found that the most economical system for the customer evolves over time from grid-only, to grid-plus-solar, to grid-plus-solar-plus-battery. In three of the five cities, the grid/solar systems were economically beneficial to consumers today and they would be so in all five cities within a decade. The report also found that systems that included battery storage would be economical in three of the cities within 10-15 years. It also found that, regardless of whether the system included the storage battery, customers' reliance on energy from the grid decreases over time, especially as the cost of electricity from the grid increases and solar and battery costs decrease.
"Today’s electricity system is at a metaphorical fork in the road," said RMI CEO Jules Kortenhorst. "Down one path are pricing structures, business models and regulatory environments that favor eventual grid defection. Down another road, those same factors are appropriately valued as part of a transactive grid with lower system-wide costs and the foundation of a reliable, resilient, affordable and low-carbon grid of the future in which customers are empowered with choice.”
"These two pathways are not set in stone, and there is some room to navigate within their boundaries," concluded the reported authors, emphasizing the importance of planning for a future that will inevitable include more clean, renewable energy. "But decisions made today will set us on a trajectory from which it will be more difficult to course correct in the future."
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