VARIOUS TEXTS: Power to the people in energy revolution

Power to the people in energy revolution
By James Dean, The Times, May 02, 2015

Household batteries that will save consumers hundreds of dollars a year by collecting solar power and cheap off-peak electricity are to become as common as washing machines after a scientific breakthrough, experts have predicted.

The device, unveiled yesterday by Tesla in the United States, was hailed* as the start of a new era of cheaper electricity and home-generated renewable energy.

The wall-mounted battery stores energy collected by roof-mounted solar panels and garden wind turbines. It can also suck cheap electricity from the grid* in the middle of the night for use in peak* daytime hours.

As many as eight of the units, called Powerall and manufactured by the American electric carmaking company Tesla, can be linked together to provide extra storage capacity for homes with high electricity demands.

Elon Musk, the billionaire technology entrepreneur and chief executive of Tesla, said that affordable* home battery packs were the “missing pieces” that had stopped families switching from fossil fuels to renewable energy.

“Our goal here is to fundamentally change the way the world uses energy at the extreme scale,” Mr Musk said at a launch event near Los Angeles yesterday, which was powered by solar energy stored in Tesla batteries. This is a feasible* thing. It’s very important to appreciate that.”

Sam Wilkinson, research manager for energy storage at IHS Technology and a leading expert, described the decision to manufacture the Powerall as “like lighting the fuse for the industry”. “This is the future,” he said, with household batteries to become “far more common” in homes across the world.

The price of Tesla’s batteries was “significantly below what we’ve seen in the market”, which would bring competition among other suppliers and push prices down, he said.

The energy storage industry is expected to grow from $US200 million in 2012 to $US19 billion in 2017. The price of rechargeable home batteries is expected to drop by half in the next two to three years.

Two versions of the Powerall will be made available by the end of the year.

One, a “daily cycle” battery that can store up to 7 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity, which is for day-to-day use, will cost $US3000 ($3800) initially when it goes on sale in the US this summer. Another, a 10 kWh “back-up” battery, which is intended to provide emergency power in the event of a blackout*, will cost $US3500.

A single use of a washing machine consumes approximately 2.3kWh of electricity, Tesla estimates. A refrigerator uses 0.2kWh a day and a flat-screen television 0.1kWh a day.

The case for using a household battery in Britain, for example, is strong, Mr Wilkinson suggests, because energy tariffs in the UK fell heavily in favour of households that generated and used their own electricity.

Karl Brauer, a senior analyst at Kelley Blue Book, who has followed the development of Tesla’s electric car, said: “As solar panels get cheaper and easier to install the only thing keeping consumers tied to the energy grid is a need for electricity when the sun isn’t shining. There’s a universal application for portable energy and storable energy. It’s really just a matter of getting the business model together.”

A spokeswoman for Ofgem, the UK energy regulator, said: “Clearly, there is scope for energy storage, both at domestic and grid level, to help shift towards smarter consumption and a lower-carbon energy supply.”

Some smaller companies are making household battery packs. Ecotricity, the British green energy company based in Stroud, Gloucestershire, is experimenting with its “Black Box” battery unit. It will test the technology in 100 homes this year.

Most solar energy is generated in the middle of the day when the sun is at its hottest, but household power demand is highest in mornings and evenings. Battery storage overcomes this.

The same concept applies to the industrial Powerpack battery, also unveiled by Tesla yesterday, which is intended for utility companies* that generate renewable energy. The units can also be used to store energy from renewable and non-renewable sources for release into the grid as demand rises.

The industrial Powerpack battery can store up to 100 kWh of electricity and can be linked with others to provide capacity of more than 10MWh.

Mr Musk said that two billion Powerpacks could hold enough energy to meet the entire world’s electricity needs of 20 trillion kWh annually, the equivalent of powering a single family home for 1.8 billion years.
740 words

* to hail - freudig begrüßen
* grid - Stromnetz
* peak..hours - Spitzenzeiten
* affordable - bezahlbar
* feasible - machbar, realisierbar
* blackout - Stromausfall
* utility companies - Versorgungsunternehmen

1. What devices are necessary to use houshold battery storage units?
2. Under what circumstances would household batteries be most efficient?
3. What advantages would the use of household batteries have if every household worldwide was able to afford such devices?
4. How many times/days would a washing machine, a refridgerator or a flat-screen TV set respectively run on a 10kWh battery?
5. Besides using renewable energy in households, where else would batteries be beneficial?
6. Do you see any disadvantages in using battery storage units?

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