Just visited the Renewable Energy World Conference. Lots of really interesting topics to consider. Lots of companies making progress in so many areas, it’s hard to sort everything out. Solar Power, tracking systems, Wind Power, engineering companies, geothermal systems. All trying to define their role in the new energy economy.
Several companies, notably including Honeywell, are offering small wind packages. These are systems with varying sizes of equipment that will generate electricity from wind. Small wind can be defined as sized for operation of a single family home. In the case of the Honeywell system it is designed to eliminate 18% of annual electrical power required. With a target selling price around $4500 it will take a while for this unit to pay for itself. And that is the difficult part about small wind. There are many systems out there, from 2500 watts to 10,000 watts maximum output. But the wind blows when it wants to, so it’s hard to tell what the payback will be for a small residential system.
A really “hot” topic is energy storage. The demand for power does not follow the ability to produce power when wind or solar sources are being used. So there has to be an intermediate storage capability to help the system manage the difference. Anybody got a storage cell?
Well, as a matter of fact, A123 batteries who has been leading the lithium storage race, does have a storage cell. They have a lot of them. Some 2 Megawatt storage systems that fit inside a semi trailer. Pretty impressive stuff. They call it an APU, Auxilliary Power Unit. Just like a diesel generator, only no smoke, no noise and no moving parts at all. Pretty impressive. And there’s more.
A123 has a technology migration path that they believe will create significant improvements over the currently available product. The current wave of nanoscale processes applied to lithium battery chemistry will lead to decreasing costs and increasing energy density even further. Both critical aspects of the business since competition for high energy density battery technology is coming from all over the world, including China and North Korea. So if we want to hold onto this product technology and all the markets it applies to, we need to keep pushing the cost and performance envelope.
One interesting aspect of all this technology development is that we may see choices as consumers of power. The current model of energy delivery being a highly centralized industry is going through a transformation of sorts. This change may come quickly, and may have huge repercussions in our economy as the current group of utility companies are forced to change their operating model. What if everyone went off the grid? What would the role of utility companies be? They might cease to exist, or become maintenance and operations experts keeping everything running.
What will the future of the power industry be?