Solar power is growing by leaps and bounds and making a positive impact on how American energy consumers use electricity. One area that has lagged a bit though, is how to solve the problem of the “peak solar” times and the “peak demand” times not overlapping. Solar panels produce a lot of power during the day, while you’re likely at work, and then are not producing as much when it’s dark, and you’re home watching Netflix and doing loads of laundry.
This problem of time mismatch leads to a lot of wasted solar energy that could have been used if it would have saved. Having batteries to store this excess energy has been a goal of the solar industry for years, but there were too many issues to make it practical for most people. For one, these batteries were bulky and it took many of them wired together to store anywhere near the energy a normal home would need. The other main reason though, is that purchasing these kinds of battery storage systems was simply cost prohibitive for the average consumer.
For a little battery 101, the three main types are alkaline batteries, lead-acid batteries, and lithium-ion batteries. Alkaline are single-use and are used in AA or D batteries for powering portable appliances. Lead-acid batteries are rechargeable and cheap, but their lifespan is often just a year, and they can leak toxic substances that make them less safe for a home with children. Lithium-ion batteries on the other hand, last many years, do not have the same risk of toxic waste, and are also rechargeable. This is why lithium-ion batteries have been the go-to energy storage for things like cell phones, computers, and other technological devices.
The solar power industry has also used them, but their price often made them less attractive to consumers. Well, we are now approaching a battery revolution. Billions of dollars are being poured into improving on the lithium-ion battery and new types of batteries are popping up that may also have promise.
One particular lithium-ion battery that has had a lot of people talking is Tesla’s Powerwall. This battery looks almost like a sleek Apple device or a video game console. It’s mounted on the wall of a home and is charged like a big cell phone battery. During the day, when the sun is blazing, it will be charging, and when the owner returns it will be fully charged with 6-10 kWh, depending on the model, enough to provide the electricity needs of most homes.
Whether it’s Tesla or one of the many startups sprouting across the country, everyone is looking toward the next big thing in battery storage. If they are capable of bringing the price down from $400 per kWh of power to a more affordable range, it would be an immediate game-changer. More people would have these in their homes just as a backup in case the power went out, or so they could buy power from the utilities in cheaper low-demand times, and then use it during higher demand times. This will be an interesting area to keep an eye on for the solar industry as technology continues to advance at a lightning pace.