The Oil Killers: When Google’s Data Meets Tesla’s Visions and MIT’s Brains
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 . Tesla has announced the Tesla Powerwall . 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 .
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 ? 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 data and helps people figure out how installing photo-voltaic (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:
- If going solar is a good idea for you.
- How much electricity PV panels on your roof could generate.
- What financing plan makes sense for you.
- 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 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.
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.
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’s Project Sunroof makes buying an energy saving solar electric system almost as easy as ordering a pizza .
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.
That’s understandable. Yet if Elon Musk, of Tesla Motors 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.