Tesla Introduces Whole-Home Batteries

Tesla batteriesIt’s easy to imagine your clock, cell phone, or cordless screwdriver running on a battery, but how about your whole house? Elon Musk’s innovative company Tesla Motors, maker of the popular line of electric vehicles, announced recently, that it will begin production on such a whole-home battery within the next six months.

Imagine being able to store power, such as the energy gathered by a rooftop solar system or a wind turbine, and store it until needed–or even sell it back to the grid, via reverse metering. No more worries about ever-mounting utility costs or power loss due to inclement weather; the feeling of independence and the comfort of acting responsibly about the environment would be enjoyable, as well. These batteries might make that dream of freedom a reality.

Tesla’s plan is ambitious and optimistic, but what challenges might the company face in actually bringing these batteries to market? Well, the obvious one is price–batteries are extremely expensive, as anyone who has fretted over the cost of even a pack of AAs knows. And batteries that could power an entire house would not only be expensive, they would be very large and heavy (a sizable part of the weight of an electric vehicle is simply from its battery).

Because of their size and expense, these home batteries are not something that you would want to replace on a regular basis, so they would need to be reliable enough to last for years, charging and discharging on a regular basis. Even power companies–who could use large batteries to store excess energy produced during less-demanding hours in order to bolster supply during peak times–are only deploying them in a limited and somewhat experimental way, so far.

If even utilities are a bit leery of adopting batteries on a grand scale, how readily could they become staples in a residential neighborhood? Tesla understands it might be slow going for a while, but the company is determined to keep pushing inexorably toward a greener future.

Besides being Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk also chairs the board of Solar City, a company that provides solar power systems for homes and businesses. He can see that more and more homeowners are adopting solar systems, especially as the price has steadily dropped over the past few years. Batteries that store the solar-produced power and discharge it when needed make perfect sense with this type of system, since the sun doesn’t shine all the time. The inevitable growth in demand for the batteries should lower costs, just as it has done with the systems themselves. Whereas before, most of us suburbanites could only dream of powering our homes with sunshine, it’s becoming more and more within our grasp.

Another way Tesla plans to reduce cost to individual consumers is by mass production. Tesla’s “Gigafactory”, currently under construction near Reno, Nevada, will be the world’s largest battery factory, enabling Tesla to help alleviate cost concerns by having the ability to produce the batteries in large quantities. As for any concerns as to reliability, Tesla’s years of deploying the lithium-ion technology in its car batteries has provided a good track record.

Many other companies are poised on the brink of jumping into the storage-battery game and will be watching Tesla’s every innovative move. Even if not all the power is yet produced by clean sources, the use of batteries will still help curb the overproduction of power by the non-clean ones, and that’s a win by any reckoning.

See Also: Oncor Proposes Battery Storage for Texas Electricity Grid

 

 

Reduce Your Energy Bill By Keeping In The Heat

lower electric billsHeating and cooling account for 48 percent of the energy use in the average U.S. home and is the largest energy expense, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. In addition, the U.S. Energy Information Administration reports an average cost of $679 to heat homes with natural gas, $909 for electrical heat and $2,046 for those using heating oil. Regardless of what method you use, heating a home is an expensive endeavor. However, there are quick ways to trim your bills with some simple fixes around your home.

Rearrange Your Furniture

Your perfectly staged home may be the culprit for wasted heat. Move furniture and shelving away from radiators and vents to allow the heat to move freely. This doesn’t just apply for couches and chairs, either. Don’t forget about the bedrooms where large dressers and beds can block much needed heat. This technique takes minutes and costs nothing to accomplish.

Close the Gaps

Close the damper in your chimney when not in use and look for gaps in the mortar of the brick or stone on the outside of your house. Call in a chimney sweep to address any lingering soot in the stack that may be holding in moisture and damp air. Check for gaps around your front door, and add caulk or a door sweep to keep cold air from getting in and precious heat out.

Seal Windows

Old and new windows can be heat wasters in most homes. First, seal any open spaces between your windowpane and the frames with caulk. Next, use dead air as an insulator inside your windows. All you need to do is install a clear plastic film with double-sided tape over the inside of your windows. Grab a hair dryer and heat up the plastic to make it shrink down and look less noticeable, suggests This Old House.

Use Thick Curtains

Trade in your thin curtains for something thicker to work as another layer of insulation. In a pinch, adding a shower lining beneath a set of heavy drapes can help keep the heat in your home. For more window dressing options, pick up insulating blinds or shades to serve the purpose of double-pane windows or inserts.

Close Off Unused Rooms

Don’t waste your money heating up a barely used guest room. Draw the curtains, close off the vents or radiator and add a rolled-up blanket or door sweep to keep the cold air isolated to that room. Then, when it’s ready to be used, open it up for a few to let the air flow again. This way, you won’t be spending money heating rooms you don’t use.

Add Rugs

Hardwood floors can give your home a charming, cozy look, but they also can account for up to 10 percent of heat loss if they’re not insulated, according to the National Energy Foundation (NEF). To help with this problem, cover bare floors with rugs or carpets to help hold in the heat and add some warmth to your home. Also, consider slipping on some heavy socks, slippers or boots to help warm up your feet so that you don’t need as much external heat.

Change Your Furnace Filters

Dirty furnace filters could be making your home work harder to stay heated. Change your filters monthly or whenever they look dirty to clear out any potential heating blocks. This will help your energy bills and also extend the life of your furnace by allowing it to run efficiently.

Texas Electricity Capacity Adequate For Spring And Summer Of 2015

ERCOTThe Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT) is forecasting that the state will have adequate electric capacity to meet demand for the upcoming spring and summer seasons.  This comes as good news after recent worries about the state’s electricity capacity that have trouble the Texas grid the past few years.  The, now optimistic, outlook has been brought about by both an increase in power generation within the state as well as improved forecasting methods that generally paint a more optimistic picture of future demand for power in Texas.

ERCOT’s Seasonal Assessment of Resources Adequacy (SARA) predicts a peak demand of around 62,000 MW this spring against and expected system capacity of over 76,600 MW.  This puts the reserve margin at over 19%.  Forecasts for the summer are a bit tighter but still within a comfortable range.   ERCOT is expecting a peak summer demand of around 69,000 MW with and estimated capacity of around 77,000 MW.

While the forecast is based on average weather conditions over the previous 12 years and a typical amount of capacity loss due to outages, the forecast means that the grid should even stand up to extreme conditions such as the 2011 drought.  In a repeat of such a scenario, the grid would still have around 500 MW of reserve power according to the forecast.

ERCOT is the organization responsible for maintaining the reliability of the Texas electricity market.  The Texas grid is independent from the other main grids that provide electricity to the continental United States.  Texas is also the largest deregulated electricity marketplace. Competition among electric providers in Texas helps keep electricity rates lower.

 

Fake Checks Are Being Sent To Unsuspecting Victims

scam-alertPeople from across the country have been receiving surprise packages with suspicious looking checks inside.  Usually, the checks are for the amount of $2,570 and are made out to the person that lives at the address where the check was sent to.  In every case, the checks are signed by a computer-generated signature.  The signature is unreadable, but the initials look to be B.B.

In all cases, the checks were sent 2-Day Priority Mail via the US Postal Service.  The return sender information shows the letter as coming from Robert Hill of the North Texas city of Plano, Texas, yet all of the tracking codes appear to originate in Poth, Texas — a town located in South Texas with a population of just 2,300.

If you receive such a check, please do not attempt to cash it.  Feel free to reach out to us for more information.

 

Seal Your Home To Save Money On Your Energy Bill

home energy billsCold winter weather and hot summer sunshine mean high heating and cooling bills. New homeowners may be especially surprised at the utility bills as they experience the seasons for the first time in their new home. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to conserve and manage your home energy costs.

Is There Enough Insulation?

Proper insulation is crucial. If you didn’t join the home inspector in the attic before you bought your house, put it at the top of your list and get up there. Inspect the insulation, noting bare spots and any uneven levels of insulation materials. If you can, identify what type of insulation it is, then use the U.S. Department of Energy insulation checker to determine if it’s adequate for the area you live in. ENERGY STAR offers a free guide to sealing and insulating to help homeowners understand insulation R-values (thermal resistance ratings) and how to evaluate the effectiveness of the existing insulation. Generally, the higher the R-value, the better the insulating effects. If you find your insulation isn’t adequate, add more to prevent heat loss during the winter and to keep cooled air in during the summer.

Check for Leaks and Air Seal Your Home

Gaps and cracks in windows, doors, roofs and vents cost you money. ENERGY STAR recommends weather stripping and caulking around doors and windows when you have drafts, uneven temperatures between rooms or cold floors in the basement in winter. Check for leaks and seal around windows and door frames and trim, as well as ductwork, electrical outlets, fireplaces, crawlspaces, basements, and vents in the clothes dryers, bathroom and oven hood. If you want to take it a step further, a blower door test will pinpoint all the leaks in your home. You can rent blower door equipment to do the testing yourself or hire a professional home energy auditor.

Other leaks to check for to save money on energy costs are appliances like refrigerators, freezers and dishwashers. Older appliances with loose doors and worn gaskets work harder and leak conditioned air, costing more money to run. The American Council for an Energy-Efficient Economy recommends checking door seals by putting a dollar bill in the door as you close it to see if it stays in place, or placing a lighted flashlight inside a fridge pointed at the door seal in a darkened room; if you can see light shining through, you’ve got a worn gasket. Replace worn gaskets with custom-made silicone housing seals to extend the useful life of older appliances while reducing energy costs.

Use the Vents in Your House

If you’ve weather proofed and air sealed your home and checked that the insulation is adequate, you can use the vents in your house to control your energy use even more. Close the vents in unused or little-used rooms and close the room up. You won’t be sending heat or cooled air to that space or paying to do so. Family Handyman cautions homeowners to consult an HVAC professional before closing off vents this way, especially if they have a high-efficiency system, because if the return air duct isn’t also properly sealed, it can cause problems like an overworked furnace or forced air through leaks into wasted areas like crawlspaces and basements.

ERCOT Releases The 2014 Breakdown Of Electricity Generation In Texas

West Texas wind energyJust 10 years ago, the majority of electricity generated in Texas was derived from the burning of coal. Since then, the state has taken great strides to diversify away from the high carbon-emitting energy source.

The electricity production numbers are now available for 2014. Last year Texas generated 36% of its electricity from coal, 41% from natural gas, 12% from nuclear plants and 11% from wind.

Texas is the largest producer of wind energy in the U.S., accounting for 20% of all wind energy produced in the nation. As additional transmission lines get more of West Texas and the Panhandle connected to the ERCOT grid, that number should continue to grow.

See Also: New Transmission Lines To Bring West Texas Wind To Dallas And Austin

 

Oncor Proposes Battery Storage for Texas Electricity Grid

Texas energy storagyTexas’s transmission and distribution utility, Oncor, which manages the largest power line network in Texas, has proposed an infrastructure upgrade plan to invest 5.2 billion dollars in a network of large storage batteries that will be connected to the power grid. The plan, which calls for the purchase and installation of up to 5 gigawatts’ worth of energy storage, is proposed by Oncor to be implemented in 2018.

How Can Batteries Enhance the Power Grid?

Power demand in Texas is uneven. Because most Texans power down when they go to sleep at night, demand drops considerably, and power plants can sit idle. During the day, demand increases so greatly that its potential to outstrip capacity–resulting in the occasional power outage–is an ongoing threat. Power generation is uneven, as well, as Texas gets a growing amount of its energy from alternative sources, like solar and wind power. It’s clean and green, but unfortunately these sources can be intermittent. Sometimes the sun shines and the wind blows, and sometimes, not so much.

With their ability to store a surplus of energy and then feed it back into the grid when necessary, utility-scale batteries can solve the problems of both intermittent supply and cyclical demand. Power plants can operate on a more smoothed-out schedule of 24 hours, instead of cranking frantically in the daytime and foundering listlessly at night. Solar arrays and wind farms, such as Duke Power’s Notrees wind farm, with its 36-megawatt battery facility, can store power generated at peak weather to help ease demand on the grid even in non-ideal conditions, such as those hot summer days with nary a breeze to alleviate a jump in air-conditioning use.

One of the main supporting factors behind Oncor’s push to get batteries into the grid is that the cost for the batteries is forecast to be lower by 2018 than previously projected. Electric car manufacturer Tesla, with whom Oncor is in talks, will be producing industrial-sized batteries at its new “Gigafactory” battery production facility in Nebraska, scheduled to open in 2017. A study conducted by The Brattle Group estimates that the lower outlay of costs, along with the ability to bring in revenue by renting storage space on the batteries and a reduction in power prices, would likely result in a savings for power customers of 34 cents per month off the average bill. Consumers would benefit both from a more consistent and reliable source of energy and a small reduction in their utility expenses.

Oncor is responsible for transmitting power to most North Texas including the Dallas and Fort Worth areas.

See Also: New Transmission Lines To Bring West Texas Wind To Dallas And Austin

 

Saving Multiple ‘Greens': Affordable Nanotechnology For Eco-Generators

energy generatorWhen we think of nanotechnology (if we think of it at all), it’s usually in relation to our understanding of lightweight spacecrafts or the latest set of golf clubs to hit the market. And while many of us may not realize it, nanotechnology has quickly become part of our daily lives. From the sunscreen that protects our skin, to the electronics in our homes, nanotechnology has quickly become a driving force behind the most basic technologies in today’s market.

Nanotechnology and the American Market

According to Unitar.org, nanotechnology is so prevalent in the american market that it is found in over 500 different products. This number is quite high when compared to the European market, which offers roughly 350 products that implement nanotechnology features. With so many avenues to venture down, many researchers are arguing that nanotechnology should no longer be considered an industry in itself. This has largely been the result of nanotechnology becoming a staple for products of all sorts.

Much like the advent of plastics in the early 20th century, nanotechnology has revolutionized the market with groundbreaking advancements in every field from medicine to athletics. Still, this game changer of a technology is relatively new. With only twenty years of product development, this advancement has already changed the landscape of the American market. It’s no longer a perk of high quality products, it has quickly become an industry standard.

The industry is expanding and finding its way into sustainable energy sources. With the rising cost of energy in all forms, companies are continually looking for new ways to lower the costs of energy consumption. Many corporations have already taken new and exciting steps toward developing more cost effective tools for providing energy sources. Advancements in nanotechnology have given way for the development of new generator insulation to be much thinner than it has been in the past. By doing this, they are becoming smaller, and more efficient.

How it Works

Generators use large quantities of insulated copper transmitters that transfer tens of thousands of volts from copper bar to copper bar. Previously, insulation for these voltage emitters has had trouble maintaining the voltage carriers, causing a massive loss of energy. By implementing elements such as scales of mica and silica into the plastics that surround the copper, energy is preserved longer and causes less damage to the copper itself, according to Azonano.com. Some companies have taken a leading edge in this burgeoning technology and started to integrate it into their generators already. Sunbelt Rentals, for example, has developed drastic improvements in this technology and already offer it in many of their generators, focusing heavily on the larger, trailer generators used for industrial power sources.

What does this mean for the consumer? Well, it’s benefits are actually as obvious as they first appear. We are being presented with lighter and more efficient generators, and while this might not seem like a big deal for the generator you use to power a camp-out, it does mean significant price decreases for the larger generators that are often used for larger events and industrial sites.

Interestingly enough, these new technologies are underutilized in the energy market with the bulk of nanotechnology being implemented into markets like health, fitness, home and garden. So for the time being, very few companies are providing energy-producing materials that implement nanotechnology.

Solar Power Generating Capacity Up, Reports EIA

Solar power in Texas electricityThe Energy Information Administration (EIA), an agency of the federal government that collects, analyzes, and reports information about the energy sector to help create effective energy policy and to educate the public, has released a report about solar electricity generation in the United States. The news is impressive: Capacity for generation of electric power from solar has risen dramatically over the past four years, from 2,326 megawatts in 2010 to 12,057 MW in 2014, going from .22% of the power generation capacity of the United States to almost 1.13%, an amazing 418% growth rate.

If one percent or so sounds miniscule, consider that it means more than one in 100 people in the country can get their power from a clean, renewable source. That’s over 3.2 million people, at present, and if solar were to maintain its meteoric growth rate of over 100% per year, that capacity would more than double every year, providing two-thirds of the country’s capacity in six short years. While it’s unlikely that capacity will burgeon that dramatically, prospects for continued robust growth look good, owing mainly to the sharp decrease in prices for solar power generation systems in recent years, coupled with increased government incentives.

The EIA report analyzes data from three different sources of solar power generation: Residential and commercial photo-voltaic (PV) systems that are connected to the grid via net metering; “utility-level” (defined as producing more than one megawatt) PV systems; and utility-level solar thermal systems. Net metered systems have increased annually by over 1,000 MW since 2010, and there are many incentives at the state level to encourage further growth. Net metering, which allows individual customers to sell the excess energy produced by their systems back to the power companies, is about equally divided between residential and commercial applications (there are also some self-sufficient systems that are “off the grid”–not net metered–but these were not counted among the data).

In the two utility-level categories, solar PV applications at the utility level finally surpassed the net metered PV capacity in 2013, currently accounting for more than 5,500 MW. Not surprisingly, sunny California and Arizona are the leading states in this sector, but somewhat-sunny North Carolina comes in third, due to statewide incentives. Solar in Texas is still struggling to take hold due largely to a lack of incentives and low electricity rates from traditional sources of power such as natural gas.  Solar thermal systems, which employ the sun’s heat where PV systems use its light, currently lag behind PV, with a generating capacity of about 1,050 MW, but the forecast for growth in this sector is also strong. Because of its storage capacity, solar thermal can supplement PV on cloudy days or at night. Several new solar thermal plants were brought online recently, more than doubling the prior capacity, and plans are in the works for further development, both in solar thermal and PV, as well. It is anticipated that net-metered solar will expand accordingly, making solar a robust sector for growth.

See Also:  New Transmission Lines To Bring West Texas Wind To Dallas And Austin

 

 

Home Remodeling Projects That Can Reward You At Tax Time

As anyone who has ever tackled a home renovation project knows quite well, it can be both an exciting and stressful time. Although it is nice to look forward to an updated bathroom or kitchen or new set of windows, it can also be a pricey project that takes up a lot of time and money.

Fortunately, there are several home improvement projects that will reward people with a reduction in their taxes, or a credit or rebate. For homeowners who are interested in earning some green while making their homes more green in the process, the following resources offer information about the types of tax credits and rebates that are available:

The Internal Revenue Service

For anyone who is interested in tax rebate info, the IRS website is a great place to start. The site reports that people who made home improvements that made the residence more energy-efficient may qualify for a home energy tax credit. For example, the Non-Business Energy Property Credit is worth 10 percent of the cost of specific products that were used in a home. These include roofs, doors, windows and more. In addition, depending on what types of systems were installed, homeowners may also quality for a credit on HVAC units and water heaters. In order to get the tax credit, homeowners need to have written proof from the manufacturer that their product qualifies for the credit. This is important information to have when April 15 rolls around and taxes are due.

ENERGY STAR

The ENERGY STAR website is also a wonderful resource for people who are trying to choose the most energy-efficient remodeling projects for their home that will also reward them with a refund. For homeowners who are interested in switching from traditional power to solar power will find tax credit info on the ENERGY STAR site. Right now, the tax credit is worth 30 percent of the cost, with no upper limit. The same tax credit is also available on geothermal heat pumps and small wind turbines that are made for residential use.

In addition, homeowners who are hoping to replace their old windows with more energy-efficient models can often find information about possible rebates through the specific window company they are hiring to do the work. For example, Champion Home Exteriors is dedicated to offering homeowners replacement windows that will make the home more energy-efficient and save homeowners money on their heating and cooling bills. As a result, the Champion Home Exteriors website features helpful information about the ENERGY STAR label, and the company also sells windows that feature the trusted rating.

Database of State Incentives for Renewables and Efficiency

When it comes to learning what different renovation projects will allow in terms of rebates and tax credits, the DSIRE website is a one-stop information shop. The website, which is the most comprehensive source of helpful advice and info on energy-related incentives, is funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. The site includes information on all 50 states. Homeowners can simply click on their state to be taken to another page that features a long list of incentives, tax credits and other information on a wide variety of home improvements. For example, clicking on Texas brings up a long list of financial incentives that homeowners throughout the state may take advantage of, including the LoanSTAR Revolving Loan Program, and Utility Rebate Program information for different power companies.