Batteries charged by the sun or wind could transform the way some of us power our homes
The latest battery-powered electric cars can travel hundreds of kilometres on a single charge. That’s an impressive amount of energy. The energy demands of cars and homes are very different, but it raises an intriguing possibility. Could batteries that store renewable energy help manage electricity use and lower energy costs in our homes?
But much of the global population lives in sunnier climes, and the question is whether home batteries can advance from niche markets like Hawaii to the global mainstream. “Batteries change the equation in the electricity business,” says Steve Levine, author of The Powerhouse, Inside the Invention of a Battery to Save the World. With effective home storage, he says, householders could not only create their own electricity, but manage it, reducing their dependence on utility companies. The key piece that’s been missing from the picture is a more affordable and efficient home battery.
Now companies around the world are ploughing billions of dollars into battery research and production. On a site outside Reno, Nevada, California-based electric carmaker Tesla Motors is building a huge factory. The company believes that production efficiencies will reduce the cost of its new home batteries, known as Powerwalls, making them more affordable.
In most mainstream markets, Breithaupt expects utility companies to play a role in increasing the use of large-scale electricity storage. With efficient batteries, such companies could store electricity when demand is slack, and pump stored power into the grid to meet sudden mass demand – for instance, when hundreds of thousands of people turn on their air-conditioners at around the same time.
Other companies aiming for the broader storage market range from industrial giants like General Electric of the USA to new firms such as Aquion, a US manufacturer of manganese oxide and water batteries. Investors in Aquion include Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates and Shell Technology Ventures, the venture capital arm of Royal Dutch Shell.