Technology

Free Energy Forever – Taking Your Home Off The Grid

The first person ever to use the word battery, anywhere was Benjamin Franklin, the polymath founding father of the United States who in 1749 was fooling about with electricity and learning how to store it up.

Let me be clear here – he wasn’t the first person to build or even use a battery – there is plenty of evidence that they’ve existed as long as we have been able to make metal.

But here’s the thing – batteries – up until pretty recently have been pretty inefficient. They haven’t really been able to store capture energy efficiently, story it efficiently, release it efficiently or be recharged efficiently.

There are a bunch of reasons for this – the big one is the first law of thermodynamics which is all about the conservation of energy – but the big one has been that energy has been cheap and plentiful so there hasn’t been much point.

But now there is. Energy comes with the cost of pollution – the cost of pollution used to be zero,  but now its not and the race is on to find a way to harness and release all the non-polluting forms of energy that there is.

Now that challenge seems to be over: enter  the Lithium-ion Home Battery: the first ever technology that enables you to have twenty-four-hour renewable power, available at a price point which makes it the kind of thing that middle class households can afford.

Within the next five years, the Government projects that more than one million Australian homes will be off the grid.

This change comes at a perfect time, comes at a perfect time, with many of us wanting to transition away from fossil fuels to more ecologically friendly forms of power without losing our ability to have power on tap.

Why you want one

You want one because it means that you can use solar power all day and all night. It takes out the guilt and it takes out the risk of being without power.

In the past, people with solar power would sell their excess to the grid during the day as the technology, earning either cash or credit, but at night night they would have to buy the power back and consequently, lose their earnings and keep the coal fired or gas powered power stations running.

It also didn’t actually make a difference. Here’s the thing about power stations. You can’t just turn them off when you aren’t using them. They run 24/7/365 no matter how many solar cells they are – because they have to.

However as battery technology takes off fewer power stations will need to be built and households can go off the grid.

Essentially this technology means that every home becomes a power station, during the day, solar panels generate the electricity needed for the house while simultaneously charging the battery – any excess can sold to the grid. At night, during the peak power usage time when prices are expensive, the battery provides power to the house.

So for those in a house, the ability to save money by cutting the cost your of electricity bill (or the entire bill) can be enough of a financial incentive, but having the potential to actually earn money off power generation will be a huge motivation for the long term.

The Tesla Home Batter (Image Credit: Tesla)

OK, So how much?

Until 2015, the original price for buying and installing a seven-kilowatt home battery inverter was around $15,000, which may seem like a hefty price for one investment, but once that amount is paid back from the cost saved on electricity bills, it will begin to act as an additional form of income.

However, in the last six months of 2016, as more of these batteries became available on the market, that average price has gone down by over a third, to just under $10,000.

According to Mr Kobad Bhavnagri, Head of Australia Bloomberg New Energy Finance, the price will drop much more in the coming two-three years. While he believes the uptake of batteries will be slow to begin with, by 2020 prices for batteries will have dropped significantly, and combined with his estimate that electricity prices will only continue to grow, these batteries will become an extremely attractive proposition.

Right now home battery kits are the preserve of niche companies and energy businesses – AGL and Tesla are currently offering a complete home package for about $10,000 which they have subsidised to get more batteries on the market.

Tesla: one of the leaders in clean energy technology (Image Credit: Shutterstock)

The time is now.

Australia is leading the way when it comes to battery powered homes, and our environment provides the perfect conditions for a product of this kind to really boom. We are a country rich in sunlight and relatively speaking wealth and tech savvy.

Added to that – power here is at least in world terms, expensive. which makes the battery economically viable, but we are also a socially conscious population that actually wants to be more sustainable.

Solar Power: a technology that can now be stored (Image Credit: Shutterstock)

How could you do it?

There are three options available:

Going Completely Off-grid: This is the best option for isolated, rural homes, and in some cases is already cheaper than remaining on-grid. The risk is being completely self-sufficient – if you run out, you’ll be left in the dark.

Virtually Off-grid: You generate most of your own power, but during more power-hungry times (usually at night) you rely on the normal grid as a backup in the case you run out of stored power. This method also allows you to sell your excess power back to the grid.

Peak Time Batteries: This is arguably the most popular method. You install a smaller battery for peak power hungry times to avoid expensive peak time prices, and then use the grid for all other times. This will dramatically reduce your power bill, and is less expensive to install.

Looking to the future.

Battery-based technology is expected to expand in the future, and if 1.4 million homes install this type of renewable power, it will become the largest source of energy in the country. This technology however is not just available for houses.

Over fifteen per cent of Australians live in high rise or duplex apartments, a number that will only increase. There are also plans underway to expand the technology to make batteries bigger, from powering an entire building this is already happening at the Barangaroo development in Sydney,  to powering an entire suburb , there are two projects on a suburban scale underway in Perth.

The scale of battery storage isn’t the only aspect being developed, so is their composition.

There are many people around the world trying to improve the efficiency of batteries, Australia is at the forefront.

Dr. Thomas Maschmeyer has developed a new gel-zinc battery which is 90 per cent more efficient than current market batteries, will charge much quicker, is cheaper to produce and is fire-resistant. These batteries are scalable and can be used in everything from phones to electric cars, and have already been picked up by LendLease to be used in future high-rise developments in Sydney.

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