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21 August 2009

Just How Do You Store All That Sun Power From the Solar Panels Anyway?



From Denny: Lately, I've been watching Renovation Nation and other green shows on planetgreen.com (check out Emeril Green for great food!) and the science channel. The solar panels all sound great as a cheap way to acquire energy. I've long wondered why new houses in the South don't come with solar panels already installed. Of course, this last week I found out that the panels are less efficient in hot weather than in cool weather. Who knew?

Another thing I've wondered about is how to store all that power. I was less enthused when I saw the huge batteries and wires and all for those houses using a large number of solar panels. In the South we have to think about what we put up on our roofs for two reasons: one, hurricane damage from high winds and flying debris and two, flooding as you may be forced up into your attic and have to take an axe to cut your way out of your home. In low-lying areas like New Orleans and closer to the coast that happens often. America saw some of that during the Hurricane Katrina news coverage.

More than anything I'm a bit uncomfortable with all the wires and other goodies that seem to require a little space apart from the house to contain it all. Somehow having all that electricity buzzing in my attic seems an invitation to a fire as our attics can get extremely hot around here in the middle of the summer.

Then I happened upon this article from New Scientist demonstrating this hand sized battery so small and yet it can power the whole house! Cool! Remember, you can have a gazillion solar panels but still require something to store all that power or they are useless. Right now the house battery is a prototype.

This new battery was developed out of a Utah-based company called Ceramatec. It's supposed to be able to store up to 20 killowatt hours which is enough to power a whole house for a day.

This is exactly what I've been hoping for in solar energy development. After all, what's the biggest point of going solar but to get off the energy grid? Without a way to store solar power you are still bound to the grid. I want complete self-sufficiency and the ability to sell excess power back to the energy companies (my dream of revenge at stuipidly high energy prices in the hurricane zone). Even if you are still bound to the energy grid at least with this new battery you would be able to stockpile that solar energy during the less expensive off-peak hours and lower your bill by using your own energy during peak hours on the grid.

What does this new battery run on? A sodium-sulfur composition which normally operates above 600 degrees F. You see that this combo is considered more energetic than the composition of lead-acid. The point is to get it to operate at a lower temperature so it can be employed for residential use.

Ceramatec's new house battery is a success story as it runs at less than 200 degrees F. How do they do it? Apparently, their secret is a thin ceramic membrane that gets squeezed like a sandwich filling between the sodium and sulfur. The reason for this is that only positive sodium ions can pass through it which means it leaves electrons as masters of the energy grid universe to create an electrical current we can use in our homes.

So, when is this miracle battery available? The company is going into market testing in 2011. At this time they have priced the battery at $2,000 when it is available for sale. Let's hope it's available a lot sooner - and cheaper by then! Well, I guess you could just refinance your home and roll it into the note... :)


Written by Denny Lyon
Copyright 21 August 2009
All Rights Reserved
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