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JB Straubel on energy storage

Good read except the comment after! Some idiot thinks his Pinto getting across the continent faster is all it takes to show Tesla is junk! Wow, incredible!

Now that you mention it I read his comment too. Oh well. It will be even faster if he flies that distance.

I know I am in the minority, but I disagree with battery grid storage to balance load. I prefer to do it with economics, hydro, and natural gas for the next 25 years.

Economics: charge different rates to flatten the duck. People and companies respond well to economics.
Batteries: small to manage load in microseconds.
Hydro: Turn on and off the spigot to vary generation in seconds.
Natural Gas: Fire up to manage generation in minutes.

Areas most difficult to regulate will be where renewables are dominated by wind or solar as opposed to a balance. Areas with a lot of hydro will be easy.

I just think batteries are too costly in the next 25 years. In 25 years things will be very different - perhaps nuclear fusion reactors? Certainly more cost-effective batteries.

So someone has a 1974 Pinto that runs? Gosh what a story! In those days, those cars went from 0 to 60 in about 30 seconds if aided by a tailwind and were best known for exploding on impact much too easily. In addition to which, if he does race it anywhere he'd better bring a tow truck along. That was good advice back then, too.

@tes-s - that is over. Largest pumped hydro was $800 per kW generation in 1980 dollars. Today a utility size Li-ion is $1000 per kW and $250 per kWh. A 1 MW 4 MWh battery installation is cheaper then a 1 MW NG peaker plant. Problem - not enough batteries.

@Kleist - no pumped hydro. Simply regulating power output of hydro dams to flatten the duck.

We already have the gas plants. Replacing them with battery would be more expensive than continuing to operate them.

Besides flattening the duck, gas plants can handle multiple days without sun - batteries can only flatten the duck - so we still need the gas plants.

I think we can flatten the duck with economics - "micro storage". BEV charging, AC, hot water heaters, etc - all will be timed to flatten the duck with appropriate economic incentives. I believe that would be more cost-effective than batteries.

I'm not an expert and not trying to convince anyone - just my opinion. JB was quite clear that the market is not yet fully baked. Depends on how it "bakes" will determine if there is a business case for storage.

@tes-s - the world buys and installs $30B worth of peaked plants a year. Just capture some of that market.

What's this about flattening ducks?

I doubt that time-sensitive electric rates will ever vary much no matter how many peaker plants we bring online. There will always be an incentive for electric consumers to user batteries.

Also aren't the dams running dry out west?

Here is why I don't think it works.

400kWh storage.
80% usable.
$.08 differential between off-peak purchase price and peak sell price.
75% round-trip conversion efficiency (AC -> DC -> AC)
One cycle per day, 365 days per year

400kWh/day x 80% x .08 $/kWh x 75% x 365 days/year = $7000 per year.

Useful life of 15 years? That is $100,000 to pay for the batteries, technology, installation, capital.

I think if we simply had smart meters and charged consumers a $.08 differential in electric rates between peak and off peak, they would shift usage. Flatten the duck by changing demand, rather than supply. No capital investment required (other than smart meters, which are being deployed anyway).

Just a different view of the world. Like I said, it is not a popular view - particularly among energy companies because they can't create a storage industry around it.

I don't trust 'The GRID' because of what happened in California fifteen years or so ago. First the electric power industry was deregulated. Supposedly that was to create 'more competition' to allow for 'lower pricing' for consumers by having more independent companies selling electricity.

In actuality, instead of competing with each other, they conspired with each other -- and ENRON -- to shut down the plants they operated in California one by one. Perfectly fine, fully functional power plants were 'closed for maintenance', and never brought back online. This led to shortages of energy and the dreaded rolling blackouts.

Guess what? Prices did nothing but go up. And they kept climbing, as utilities were 'forced' to purchase power 'off the grid' from other states. Well, the rights to all the excess power other states may have offered had been purchased exclusively by ENRON. They then amplified the pricing multifold before selling it to California for way more than anyone else in the nation had to pay for the same juice.

Oh, and this happened right about the same time that the GM/Saturn EV1 came to market, along with other EVs that got crushed. Literally. What a coinkadink.

So I say The GRID can hang itself for all I care. The sooner I, my Family, and all my Friends can go thoroughly solar, with battery backup, and electric cars charged at home, the better.

I wonder how much this commercial side will slow down deliveries of cars - it is a big industry...

...until the gigafactory is online and producing, that is.

"We are not thinking big enough," said Straubel.

I believe that thinking bigger will involve thinking smaller, when it comes to batteries. When you can store 2, 4, 8, 16 times the power in the same space, efficiencies and economies will improve.

For cars, that means that a 170 kWh battery might someday weigh about half as much as today's 85 kWh version, thus allowing for more range.

For stationary storage paired with photo-voltaic solar array systems, you might have 40 kWh of storage in the same cabinet space that previously held only 1/4 the capacity.

I believe that The GRID will still have its place as a source of power for industry, government, and commerce. But eventually it will not be needed as a sole source of energy for single home residential applications. Some might remain tied to the grid as a backup, just in case.

@NKYTA - not at all, car production has priority until the GF produces enough and the second GF is to cover any upside.
Also interesting is what JB said... "you can ramp storage production much faster then cars".

@tes-s - you look at it from a consumer perspective, not from a producer/distributor. CA as I type uses 27 GW of electricity, but 39 GW of plants are operational in case someone turns on a switch... that is were the money is.

@redacted - here is the famous "Duck curve".
Flattening the Duck curve means to store some energy around noon and release it around the usage peak at 9pm.
The 9pm peak determines the number of thermal electricity plants you need - adding solar doesn't help, because the sun doesn't shine at 9pm. Only shifting energy from noon to 9pm allows you to stop building thermal plants or even shut some down.

Besides adjusting supply with store and release, the curve can also be flattened by shifting demand from peak time around 9pm to mid-afternoon. Or likely some combination of both.

This is just for CA ISO, where the duck curve is the most extreme due to the high amount of renewable concentrated in solar, More wind would help, and more solar would help. Areas that have a better balance of solar, wind, and hydro would have less of a duck curve.

oops - meant more wind would help, and more hydro would help.

Sorry to be a newb, but the dependent axis isn't labeled well. Presumably it is not the measure of energy used at the particular time (which would peak at the hottest and busiest time of day) or energy generated (which would peak, at least from solar, around noon), so I assume that this is measuring the amount of energy required of combustive and nuclear plants? That would also account for the daytime drop over time due to increasing solar rollout.

Please correct me if I'm wrong.

The appeal of storage is reduction of dependency on grid. Blackouts do happen and when they happen it is critical to retain at least some functionality.

Another possible application is price arbitrage.

Utilities are called "natural monopolies". I don't find anything natural in a monopoly. Although that's probably a long shot.

Al1, "The appeal of storage is reduction of dependency on grid."

Precisely. Elimination, or at least smoothing out, the effect of hits on the grid is imperative, if you remain grid connected. Some functions of computers and communication systems are best maintained with battery power, rather than switching over to generators. This is especially true during power outages due to inclimate weather. It can also help to deal with brownouts as an unexpected drain of power is placed on the grid when the power plants aren't optimized to deal with it. If such things weren't important, a lot of battery backup Uninterruptible Power Supplies (UPS) would be worthless. JB Straubel wants to allow that to take place on a much, much larger scale.

@redacted - the y-axis is labeled correctly in units of power = energy flow in MW, the energy would be measured in MW per hour or short MWh.

@tes-s - sure you are right to educated when to use electricity is a powerful tool to level the usage curve. Unfortunately the tired E1 rate which most PG&E customer in CA have is doing nothing like that... turning on your dryer at 8pm costs you exactly the same as running it a 3am in the morning. Owning a Model S and going through E1, EV-A and now E6 has made me first time aware of all the details - I wouldn't care without it. I went from paying $200 for the car electricity a month to making money of owning a EV in less the a year - what an educational journey.
Today my investment in a Model S and solar pays me fifty times more compared to have the money in a bank account. At the end of the month there is about $500 more in my checking account left then before - gas and electricity bills are gone. And I am not even counting oil changes, smog check or what the utility pays me for the excess.

@redacted - the link below shows the live status of the CA grid. The third graph is the most interesting as it shows the actual thermal capacity need as the green curve ( net demand = total demand - renewables ).
The more generic duck curve suggests you should charge around noon, however the actual net demand shows it is better to start around 9am until noon ( and that is what I am doing on weekend days I am at home... and fully covered by my solar )

@Kleist - tiered rates help and will either change habits so demand is more in line with renewable generation, or people that won't change will pay for the cost of ramp and non-renewable power.

But tiered rates are just the beginning. Imagine if the rate were continuously variable based on grid, ramp, and generation costs. The rate change would signal smart loads which would determine the "value". For example, and AC might vary the temperature from 68 degrees with power is .02/kWh all the way up to 80 when .75/kWh. Same with an EV charger - might vary charge rate based on time, rate, and level of charge. Some people may be aggressive in their settings and only charge when cheap; others may simply charge as they do now.

Large buildings can be even smarter - having the cooling system store energy (ice or plates) when rates are low, and release it when rates are high. Similar affect to storing energy in batteries, except more efficient and cheaper. Some facilities (like the Tesla plant) will store energy in batteries so they can buy energy when it is cheap and release it when expensive - either for their own use or even feeding the grid. But for any storage system, or demand-flattening system, to work, the electric rates need to vary to show the true cost.

The idea is as rates go up, demand will go down. Tiers help, but continuously variable smart demand is what is really needed to smooth demand.

Back to storage. What if hydro plants are shutdown except from 4pm to 10pm to handle the ramp and peak? "Storage" is free (water simply builds up behind the dam), and the same release occurs every 24-hr period - just all in a 6 hour timeframe.

In areas with a decent amount of hydro, I think this would completely solve the duck problem - hydro could completely flatten the graph so demand from non-renewables is constant 24 hours per day. No ramp.

Hydro has its issues; adding capacity means submerging another mountain valley. And there's not much geography left to flood most places.

tes-s wrote, "Imagine if the rate were continuously variable based on grid, ramp, and generation costs."

Aren't they already? The difference is that rather than the variance happening during a day, it happens seasonally. 'Variable Rates' of any sort always make me nervous when it comes to billing. Some things should be simplified. The cost is the cost is the cost. Period.


I trust you are not from California, nor have you read much about our water history. The dams and reservoirs are not for hydro generation; hydro power is just a sensible use of the energy contained in water flow. Many hydro plants in California are upstream of the reservoirs. Surface water is diverted from its natural beds into large "penstocks" that carry the water horizontally for a large distance before dropping precipitously to the hydro plant before returning to the stream bed to flow into the reservoir.

It is not so simple to flip a switch on or off to generate power. Water is king in California, and the impoundments are primarily for storage from snow melt to be saved and distributed throughout the entire state (save the North Coast) on a ratable, consistent and reliable basis for the thirsty southern half of the state. To a lesser extent the dams are used to regulate flooding in the natural rivers and streams during those winters when snowfall is 175% of "normal", and by May 10 the temperatures reach 95 degrees.

Agriculture relies on a steady supply of this surface water from March through November. Agriculture is the primary industry in the interior valleys of California. Zero precipitation from May through October has a way of prioritizing our needs for water storage.

Moreover, most large impoundments that generate hydro power are also popular recreational areas. People fish, water ski, camp and use their boats for fun. Fluctuating water levels would increase the risks associated with these activities, because the users would not be aware of when and how fast or slow the water levels would change.

@central - 15% of CA power comes from hydro. I'm not suggesting any new dams or change in flow - same amount of flow in a 24-hour period as today. Just use it during the times needed.

Hydro is as simple as switching a switch - just open a valve more. Not all hydro is candidates for large variation due to water level fluctuation - but some are and should be plenty. Lower flow midnight to 8am, and noon to 4. Higher flow other times. I think hydro is bigger than all renewables combined - seems like there should be a way to use it to balance the supply.

@red - no, the consumer pays the same rate for electricity all the time, or possibly based on time of day. TOD is based on "general" needs and does not vary based on grid, demand, generation, ramp, etc. Simple is nice, but will not work for grid smoothing.

@Brian - no new hydro. The existing hydro in CA is plenty to smooth the duck.

Water, gas, electric utilities all seasonally 'bump' their rates.

When there is a drought, they raise rates. When there is a surplus of water, they raise rates. When people use 'more than average' water, they raise rates. When people use 'less than average', they raise rates.

Gas and Electric? When it is cold, they raise rates. When it is hot, they raise rates.

"It's hot, people aren't using gas as much, so we'll charge a little more for those who do..." "It's hot, people are using their air conditioners more, so we'll charge a bit higher to discourage load..." "It's cold, people are using their heaters more, so we'll charge a little bit higher to encourage conservation..." "It's Christmas -- people are hanging out lights, let's gouge the hell out of them, because we can!"

Do they lower them? Sure. Reluctantly. After Acts of Congress. And then only to the Elderly, whom they've already sent a stratospheric bill... Or the extremely poor, because it makes them look bad if they don't.

Screw the averages, and curves. Charge me for what I use. No more.

Red Sage, well said.

Tes-s - Leveling demand is a noble concept, but it focuses on how to live with limitations.

When there's a power shortage, or a drought, we compromise to help each other. But raising your hvac temp, letting your garden go brown, or delaying your car recharge - those are all suboptimal living choices we make because of limits we think we're stuck with.

The funny thing is all those limitations are a direct consequence of our legacy infrastructure model. They're not intrinsically the way the world is. The world is as good as we make it.

Technology can improve our ability, and people can live their lives without worry about managing the timing of what they consume. It's thrilling and wonderful to realize that we can drive as much and as spirited as we want, just from the sunlight that hits our roofs.

A bizarre reality - beyond the duck curve, it's quite absurd that half the energy we produce is lost in the grid itself. Distribution wastes most of our energy, so we burn more coal to make up for it. This is sort of insane.

For most of the country, solar is totally viable. By harvesting your power at home, you automatically bypass the 50% loss on the grid. To make this real, you need batteries for your home - less than the capacity of a Model S will do the trick.

That is the underlying notion behind why JB is so excited about batteries. Great batteries are central to all these fundamental changes to how we live.

There are always limits in the world. But it usually works better to try to relieve limits rather than conform to them.

JB thinks much bigger than a single Gigafactory, because that is a far more hopeful world - where we can live robustly, yet in a way that can be sustained indefinitely.

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