Smart Home

The Oil Killers: When Google’s Data Meets Tesla’s Visions and MIT’s Brains

Guy McDowell 18-09-2015

Invention 10 Websites With Really Cool Inventions You Don't Know About Read More is the art of connect-the-dots with seemingly disparate bits of technology to create life-changing tools 5 Fascinating & Inspiring TED Talks That Explore The Edge Of Technology Throughout history, humans have been absorbed by mastering the challenges of their time. Over the past century, developments have been moving forward in an evermore breathtaking speed. We call it modern technology and it has... Read More .


This article isn’t about a single life-changing invention. This article connects the dots between three different energy saving technologies that, when brought together, will change the world.

Google has introduced Project Sunroof Want to Go Solar? Google's 'Project Sunroof' Wants to Help Google Maps is an incredible tool. It can direct you to the pizza place, or help you avoid traffic jams - but can it cut down your electric bill? Actually, yes. Meet Project Sunroof. Read More . Tesla has announced the Tesla Powerwall Did Elon Musk Just Save Us From Fossil Fuels? Read More . MIT and Samsung have published about a Solid State Electrolyte (SSE) battery. Individually, they are nice ideas and innovative nudges, but when the triumvirate converges – watch out. The world will change.

Merging Energy Saving Technologies

If all of these things come together as beautifully as they should, we would see consumer use of oil, coal, and natural gas as sources of energy drastically decrease; possibly even die off altogether.

Here’s the scenario: you own your own home and you’re thinking about green energy, self-sustaining energy, and frankly, cheap energy. Altruism doesn’t pay the bills. You’re thinking solar energy 8 Awesome Solar-Powered Gadgets Every Home Should Be Using Solar power is a free resource that can help reduce your household bills. Here are the best solar-powered gadgets for your home. Read More .

Your home is a tidy older two story on a quiet street. Not too big, not too small. Let’s say it’s the home in the following picture. We might as well, as that will be the home all the numbers in this article are based on.



This 1,600 sq.ft. home is worth between $300,000 and $400,000. It sits on a 3,800 sq.ft. lot. It uses about 7400 kWh/yr at a cost of about $120/month.

How do you get away from using expensive electricity generated mostly by burning carbon-based fuels? How do you get to that green, self-sustaining, cheaper energy Goodbye Power Company: Why You May Soon Be Generating Your Own Electricity Solar power allows the clean generation of electricity, using a source that is guaranteed to never run out in our lifetime - the sun. But will it ever beat out the power companies? Read More ? Innovation gets you started.

I Want Solar Power. Where Do I Even Start?

In August of this year, Google engineer Carl Elkin publicly announced Project Sunroof. Project Sunroof takes Google Maps 4 Things You Didn't Know You Could Do With Google Earth Pro Google Earth Pro used to cost an eye-watering $400, and comes with some amazing exclusive features. Here are four you probably should check out. Read More data and helps people figure out how installing photo-voltaic Efficient. Cheap. Awesome. Here's Why New Spray-On Solar Cells Matter The cost of solar energy is set to drop precipitously after a team of scientists working at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom announced development of solar cells using a spray-on process. Read More (PV) panels will help them.

Project Sunroof incorporates data from many sources and makes it into information anyone can use. Just put in your street address and you’ll find out:

  1. If going solar is a good idea for you.
  2. How much electricity PV panels on your roof could generate.
  3. What financing plan makes sense for you.
  4. Who, in your area, can install it.

Data is currently limited to just the San Francisco Bay Area of California and the Greater Boston Area of Massachusetts. But you know Google. Soon, they’ll cover the whole planet.

This is a very large step forward in shifting from oil to solar. Anyone can figure out their solar needs and costs 4 Companies That Will Help You Run Your House On Free Solar Energy With all the electronics that are running in your smart home, you need some juice to power it all. And there's nothing better than not worrying about climbing utility bills by using solar energy. Read More in a matter of seconds. Before this, you would have had to have a professional come in and do an assessment and quote for you. It was a tedious process.

Google Project Sunroof Quick Info

Project Sunroof says you’ll save up to $32,000 dollars with a solar PV system over the next 20 years on our subject house. Pretty impressive for a $19,000 investment. That’s a 68.42% return on investment. How are your stocks doing?

It used to be tedious to try to figure out what’s the best way to pay for your solar PV system. Should you get a loan? Should you pay outright? Is there any other option? Project Sunroof calculates that for you. At a glance, you can see which payment method is going to work best for you. They also list possible financiers or leasing companies in your area.


Google Project Sunroof Lease Loan Buy Options

Finding someone to install your solar electric system used to require detective-like skills. There weren’t many installers out there, and they weren’t advertising very much. Project Sunroof will show you who deals with these systems in your area, and give you an idea about their experience level. If you want, you can also send these vendors your contact information. Then, instead of trying to find them, they’ll come right to you.

Google Project Sunroof Installers

Google’s Project Sunroof makes buying an energy saving solar electric system almost as easy as ordering a pizza 2 Ways to Use PayPal on Amazon (And Other Sites) Yes, you can use PayPal on Amazon (and other online shops) using two simple tricks: a PayPal Access Card and Amazon Gift Cards. Read More .


You’ve Got Solar Energy Now – Where Will You Store It?

When the installer shows up with a plan and a quote, you might still be put-off of getting installed. If you want true power independence, you’ve got a battery bank to house and maintain. Maybe it’s not for you after all. It’d be nice, but you just don’t need one more thing to take care of. Your home is already crowded.

solar battery bank

That’s understandable. Yet if Elon Musk, of Tesla Motors Tesla to Release Autonomous Car Features This Summer Tesla owners may get a peek at self-driving features sooner than expected. Tesla has its own autonomous car program, and they want to push some of their software to end users this summer. Read More fame, has his way, you’ll be using Tesla’s Powerwall batteries. Because the Powerwall uses lithium ion batteries, like the ones in your laptop or tablet, it takes up less space and is simpler to install than traditional lead-acid batteries. It’s also virtually maintenance free, and is more pleasing to the eye than a bench full of car batteries. Maybe if your solar electricity system used a Powerwall, you’d be more willing to go right off the grid.

A battery bank for our subject house would require fifty-six 12-volt 100 amp-hour batteries. Cost? $19,320 Space? 23 cubic feet. Two Tesla Powerwalls would do almost the same for $6,000 in about 14 cubic feet. Elon Musk just saved you $13,320 on your battery backup.

The current version of the Powerwall, in itself, isn’t a world-changing advance in solar power though. It offers greater power storage in a smaller area, that’s true. But it’s nothing we didn’t already know. Not much of a world-changer, honestly.

But it could be. Tesla has taken the electric-car from being a gutless joke only hippies and weirdos wanted, to being a beautiful, well-appointed vehicle capable of blowing the doors off of most gas burners out there. The Tesla vehicles are status symbols now, right alongside the BMWs and Mercedes of the world. Not bad for a made-in-America hippie’s dream.

What happens when that kind of momentum and exposure gets behind the Powerwall? What happens when we finally talk about being off-the-grid with as much reverence and matter-of-fact attitude that we talk about the Tesla cars? You get Elon Musk’s vision of a grid-less society being our reality.

Tesla Powerwall and Model S

With Tesla’s plan to establish a $5 billion “Gigafactory” which would produce 35 GWh per year of battery capacity, thus cutting Tesla’s battery prices by one third, that’s a reality we could adopt very quickly. You can even pre-order the Powerwall today.

Tesla Gigafactory

Unfortunately, Powerwalls aren’t super-cheap yet. Have hope; a recent study done for the Australian Renewable Energy Agency suggests Li-ion battery prices will drop by 60% by 2020. Will a Powerwall drop in price the same way? Let’s hope so. Also, Li-ion batteries do need to be replaced about every 7 years. That still leaves us putting hazardous waste batteries into landfills. That little piece of information may dash your energy independence dreams. They aren’t quite as green and affordable as we need. But what is?

The Battery that Lasts Forever

Between the sheer brainpower of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and the resources of Samsung, there has been a major development in battery technology. Imagine a battery that could hold more power in an even smaller space than a Li-ion battery. Picture it as not having to be changed for…who knows how long? Decades? Ever? Think about a battery that wouldn’t leak acid or explode if overcharged, overheated, or punctured.

Burned Li-Ion Battery from Boeing 787 Japan Airlines

That would be the battery that MIT and Samsung has in their minds. Most batteries of any kind have a liquid in them. That’s the electrolyte. If you’re old enough, you might remember having to add water to car batteries every so often. It’s the fact that the electrolyte is currently liquid that causes many of the problems associated with batteries. What the MIT/Samsung team is proposing is a solid state electrolyte (SSE) battery.

Lithium Solid State Battery

You could puncture it or smash it and there would be nothing to burn. The safety factor alone is enough to make these batteries revolutionary.

Their research shows that a SSE battery could hold as much energy as a Li-ion battery in two-thirds the space. Considering a Li-ion battery holds as much energy as a lead-acid battery in two-thirds the space, you can see how small an SSE battery could be. It would be almost one-third the size of a lead-acid battery of similar capacity.

Lead Acid to Liquid Li-Ion to Solid State Electrolyte Battery Size comparison

The energy saving battery would also have a lifetime far longer than a Li-ion battery. No definite answer has been given as to how much longer. Yet, estimates give it hundreds of thousands of charge cycles. A charge cycle, or recharging, is one of the measures considered when calculating battery life.

Our Boston Home would now need just one Tesla Powerwall if it were SSE. That should cut the cost of battery storage at least in half – maybe more. And you’d only ever buy one.

In its lifetime, a Li-ion battery could be recharged anywhere between 300 and 4,700 times. You get somewhere around 7 years life under proper care. If it takes a Li-ion battery 4,700 charge cycles to become useless over about 7 years, that’s 671 charge cycles. Doing the math, a hundred thousand charge cycles would give you about a 150 year lifetime on the SSE battery. Even though that’s a very rough estimate, it essentially means no replacing them.

The Convergence – When the Three Shall Meet

Even though each piece in this puzzle has its strengths, on their own they aren’t going to kill oil. Yet, you can see how the combination has a synergistic effect. The whole becomes greater than the parts. Much greater.

The International Renewable Energy Agency suggests a 40% drop in cost by the end of 2017. By then we could have SSE batteries in Tesla Powerwalls for around $1,000 and you’d only need to ever buy one.

That off-grid solar electric system for our Boston home that would cost about $30,000 today? It could be as low as $12,000 total well before 2020. If you got the same $25 thousand in State and Federal Incentives and Solar Renewable Energy Credits (SRECs), your system would be, well, free. That adds an instant $30,000 to your return on investment, bringing it from $32,000 to $64,000 over 20 years.

What would you do with an extra $64,000? How good would it feel to know that no matter what happened, you’d have electricity? How cleaner would the air and water be if just 1 in 100 homes in America did this? That’s when the snowball’s chance in hell of killing oil becomes an avalanche of reality, and the world turns the carbon corner for good.

Image Credits: Tesla Powerwall, Tesla Gigafactory via Tesla Motors Solar Battery Bank,
Exploded Battery from Japan Airlines Boeing 787, Li-Ion Solid State Diagram via Wikipedia, Battery Graphic via PixaBay.

Related topics: Energy Conservation, Solar Energy.

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  1. Anonymous
    September 18, 2015 at 11:56 pm

    And while this revolution is happening, what are the oil companies doing? Watching their profits disappear? No, they go out and corner the market on raw materials needed to make the solar panels and the Powerwall batteries and charge solar companies an arm and a leg, raising the costs of solar out of the range of affordability.

    When the 1 in 100 homes switch to solar, the government will come to the conclusion that it cannot afford to subsidize so many people. Or it will raise taxes to pay for the subsidies. Already the US Congress is talking about phasing out subsidies.

    I own a single family house that has been uninhabited for a few years. Once the threat of sub-32 degree temperature is over, I shut off the electricity. Not one watt is used between beginning of April and end of October. I still wind up paying $40 a month to the power company in all kinds of BS fees - line fee, connection fee, delivery fee, surcharge on all the fees, etc.

    When the 1 in 100 homes switch to solar, power companies will jack up the costs for the 99 homes who still get their electricity through the company. They will also add more fees and surcharges.

    I would love to see the future you promise. However, you and most of the alternative energy proponents, are looking at the picture too narrowly. Yes, it will be great for the environment to eliminate the use of fossil fuels but can the world's economy survive the elimination of most of the oil industry and a lot of the electric power industry?

    To help the revolution along, the government should mandate that all buildings put up after certain date must have solar roofs and concomitant battery storage.

    • Guy McDowell
      September 21, 2015 at 11:33 pm

      I can see the sense in a policy like your last paragraph. Yet at the same time, not all areas are going to be suitable or worthwhile for solar electricity generation.

      About what the oil industry will do? Who knows? When the Rockefellers got completely out of oil earlier this year, it gives pause to wonder what they know that we don't.

      I did have several paragraphs addressing the oil economy in the original draft. It's a topic near to me as I worked in oil and gas and have family and friends that do. Those paragraphs needed to come out to make this article a readable length.

      You suspect that I'm an idealist when it comes to alternative energy, and in some ways, I suppose you're right. But I'm not looking at it narrowly. The article looks at it narrowly, but I'm not.

      People who ask what will happen to the economy if the oil industry is eliminated need to think back to what happened when other massive technologies became obsolete. Everyone adjusts and we move on.

      Those same people think oil and gas men only know oil and gas. Many in the industry feel the same way too. What they aren't realizing is that they aren't oil and gas experts. They are energy experts. As long as energy is needed, there will be a place for them. In fact, the oil and gas fields are some of the largest users of alternative energy out there.

      I've worked in fields where the instruments were run by over 1600 solar panels. Being so remote, they had to be. Wind power is quite prevalent in the oil patch as well. The companies don't bring in solar or wind specialists. They don't need to. Often they have a better understanding of alternative energy than the so-called alt-energy experts.

      Big oil saw the writing on the wall long before any of us. Do you think they don't have a transition plan? You bet they do. British Petroleum is one of the biggest names in solar.

      So, don't panic. We'll get there. We'll all survive. And as log as we use plastic, and many other things, there will always be a place for oil in our lives.