May 3rd, 2015: Tesla Reinvents Electicity

Nikola Tesla did not invent electricity but he certainly played a major role in the mankind’s efforts to produce and use the stuff. At various times he has been called ‘the father of radio, television, power transmission, the induction motor, and the robot, and the discoverer of the cosmic ray’. No wonder Elon Musk chose to honour him by naming his electric car company ‘Tesla Motors‘. If you haven’t heard of Tesla Motors by now you’re probably a hermit. News about the company and its cars is all over the media and the internet. Anyone who is even remotely interested in renewable energy is probably aware of last night’s big announcement of the release of Tesla’s new home energy storage system which is called ‘The Powerwall’.

The remarkably small and very stylish Tesla 'Powerwall'

The remarkably small and very stylish Tesla ‘Powerwall’

At first glance this may not seem like a revolution in the making. After all, it’s just a lithium-ion battery in a smart looking box, right?

Well, yes and no. Yes… it is a lithium-ion battery but no, that’s not all it is. The revolution is really in the price tag.

With a wholesale price of AUD$3,800 for 7kWh of energy storage, this baby might not seem cheap but as this excellent article from Solar Quotes points out, by the time you factor in the anticipated longevity of the Powerwall, it works out to about 1/4 the price of the current best battery option over its warranted 10 year life span.

That in itself is incredible, a 75% reduction in price in one hit! Now we can all go off the grid…Yay!

Not so fast… the Solar Quotes article also  reveals some of the deeper implications for this technology and for a small Australian startup company called Reposit Power. Reposit has developed software that allows electricity customers to buy energy from the grid when it is cheap and sell it back to the grid when it is expensive (i.e at peak times). If you combine their software with the right hardware (i.e. a solar power system and cost-effective energy storage) you can potentially make a profit from your gird connection.

The Powerwall provides the piece of the puzzle that has been missing up until now, i.e. cost effective energy storage, and apparently it will be available in Australia by early 2016 with the Reposit Power software already installed.

So forget about going off the grid and start thinking of your house as a small-scale power plant that can make a profit by storing solar energy and selling it to the grid when the price is high. As Finn Peacock from Solar Quotes puts it…

‘Many people think the energy utopia is grid disconnection. It’s not. You wouldn’t disconnect your computer from the internet, and you shouldn’t disconnect your home from the grid.

The benefits of lots of solar+battery systems all connected together – sharing power and flattening power spikes – are much greater than lots of off grid solar systems working in isolation. Now, with the smarts being developed by the likes of Reposit Power – coupled with the affordable battery systems that Tesla have announced – solar owners will be able to profit from staying on the grid.’

The truly exciting thing for me about Tesla Energy is that they are not only revolutionising the way we think about, produce, use and store energy, they are doing it globally, rapidly and on a massive scale. Tesla’s sister company Solarcity is already the second biggest installer of residential solar power systems in the USA. Tesla plans to open its Gigafactory in 2017 for making batteries on an enormous scale. And they are encouraging other’s to follow their lead (to the point of releasing all their patents for anyone to use).

Don’t be surprised if, within five years or so, every house has a Powerwall or similar energy storage device, and the entire energy infrastructure as we know it today is well on the way to being replaced by renewable energy production and storage. This really could be a game-changer.

Audi Makes Diesel from Carbon Dioxide and Water

In other news, Audi has succeeded in creating synthetic diesel fuel from Carbon Dioxide and Water. Since the by-products of burning a hydrocarbon are water and carbon dioxide, it makes sense that you ought to be able to reverse the process, and that’s just what they have succeeded in doing. As this Gizmag article puts it…

‘The base fuel is referred to as “blue crude,” and begins by taking electricity from renewable sources like wind, solar or hydropower and using it to produce hydrogen from water via reversible electrolysis. The hydrogen is then mixed with CO2… and the resulting reactions produce a liquid made from long-chain hydrocarbons…analysis shows the properties of the synthetic diesel are superior to fossil fuel, and that its lack of sulphur and fossil-based oil makes it more environmentally friendly. The overall energy efficiency of the fuel creation process using renewable power is around 70 percent…’

I can imagine a day when a diesel burning machine like a locomotive or (a cargo ship) captures all of its CO2 and H2O emmissions as it travels along and delivers them to a renewable-energy-powered processing plant back at the depot (or port) which converts the CO2 and H2O back into diesel. Click here to read the full Gizmag article.

Using Your Computer to Heat Your House

This home heating device is actually a small part of a larger distributed computer server.

This home heating device called an ‘eRadiator’ is actually a small part of a larger distributed computer server.

You probably know how hot your laptop can get when it’s sitting on your lap and you may have heard about the enormous amount of heat that large ‘server’ computers produce as they whir away doing what they do. Now a Dutch firm (appropriately calling itself ‘Nerdalize’) has developed a way to ‘ditch the usual server farm setup and put internet-connected servers in people’s homes, using the excess heat to warm the homes free-of-charge‘. The heat is free to the home-owner and the company saves money by not having to build a huge data centre… brilliant! Click here to read the whole story on Gizmag.


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