A New Battery Technology That’s a Game Changer For Solar Power Electricity
After 10 years of research and testing, a new generation of cost-effective, deep-storage battery has arrived that’s small and safe enough to sit in your basement and power your home. It may be the single most important breakthrough to date for the potential of wide-spread residential solar power electricity. The breakthrough comes from a company called Ceramatek.
Solar energy has been around for a while, but it has historically been prohibitively expensive, however costs have been recently dropping sharply due to new photovoltaic (PV) thin-film chemistry and manufacturing techniques. Some companies are reporting PV panels for under $2 a watt which is a four-fold cost reduction from the $8 it was only a few years ago. The convergence of these and other PV panel advances with this remarkable new development has profound implications for alternative energy and our dependence on fossil fuels.
The essence of this huge breakthrough is that high levels of energy storage can now be efficiently achieved safely at operating temperatures below 90 degrees C temperatures which allow solid components instead of hot liquid. It’s an amazing new technology because most of the high capacity batteries currently available are huge containers of super-hot molten sodium, swirling around at about 600 degrees. At these temperatures the material is highly corrosive and toxic – conditions very unsuitable for use in the home.
The unique key in this science is a paper-thin, yet strong and highly conductive advanced ceramic electrolyte material developed by the manufacturer, which serves as the barrier between the battery’s sodium and sulphur. The thinner the barrier, the cooler the battery can operate. The ceramic membrane conducts electrically charged particles called ions back and forth to generate a current.
The company says their new battery, about the size of a refrigerator, will store about 20 to 40 kilowatt hours for 3,650 daily discharge/recharge cycles over 10 years of battery life. Since this product is expected to sell for approximately $2,000, this cost translates to less than 3 cents per kilowatt hour cost over its life. Conventional power from the grid typically costs in the neighborhood of 8 cents per kilowatt hour, and typical deep-cycling lead/acid batteries are only good for a few hundred cycles so they last for only a year or so.
The new technology also has profound ramifications for the U.S. electrical grid which is an inefficient, aging relic of a century-old approach to energy, and is a weak link in national security in an age of terrorism. Taking a load off the grid through home energy production and storage could extend the life of the system and avoid the expenditure of hundreds of billions dollars to make it “smart.” However, centralized management of the grid requires the use of computers, which creates security issues like hackers and terrorists. Also, large-scale generation from centralized power plants creates the opportunity for regional grid blackouts caused by a “point failure” on the grid. The opportunity with this new storage breakthrough is to ease pressure on the grid and move homeowners closer to greater energy independence.
With decentralized small-scale power generation and cost-effective storage taking place at millions of individual homes these problems could be either eliminated or significantly reduced. Can you imagine anything more secure than generating energy with the sun at your own home and having a safe, cost-effective way to store it? It’s the ultimate in security, and the ultimate in control.”
The company indicates that they are close to moving from initial scale-up toward a commercial product, and this presents an unparalleled opportunity for home generation of solar power.