The Evolving Auto Industry

The Evolving Auto Industry

Remember the EV1 – GMs experimental foray into electric vehicles? Although the EV1 was a failure in terms of mass market sales, it captured the imagination of both car and environmental enthusiasts. Tesla’s leadership has proven that EVs can indeed be a marketable product. Now, virtually every automaker has a selection of practical EVs and longer-range hybrids.

Enphase Battery Storage System Review

Enphase Battery Storage System Review

Future energy sources in our homes and businesses will be a combination of rooftop solar, battery storage and power delivered by the local utility. Reliable and affordable battery storage has — to date – limited this vision to just solar and utility power. But battery storage systems have been improving rapidly, both in terms of up-front costs and overall performance. Get that image of 10,000 little AA batteries powering the new Mercedes AA class car out of your mind. Rather, envision an easy-to-install turnkey energy storage appliance designed to match up with existing and new solar installations.

To help bring solar installers up to speed on commercially available residential battery storage systems, the team at Cinnamon Solar has scheduled a series of hands-on reviews of commercially available energy storage systems. Reviews are based on the installation and usage of each system using commercially available products and software, provided by manufacturers. The intent is to provide useful real-world experiences to installers, home owners and manufacturers as Behind the Meter (BTM) battery storage systems become more popular.

The Enphase Storage System is a modular AC coupled battery storage system designed for residential customers with and without grid-tied solar power systems. Each modular battery is comprised of a 1.2 kwh lithium iron phosphate battery and 280-watt inverter in a 55 pound indoor-rated wall mounted enclosure.

The Enphase Storage System is ideal for customers who want to store locally generated solar energy or inexpensive grid energy so that this energy can be consumed during peak electric periods, thereby reducing electricity energy charges. Key benefits of the Enphase system are that the equipment is relatively inexpensive and easy to install. Since the system is AC coupled it does not require a PV system to operate, and is compatible with the entire installed base of grid-tie PV systems. Note that the Enphase AC Storage System does not provide backup power.

The simplicity and modular nature of the Enphase Storage System make it one of the most straightforward systems to design (with the Enphase AC Battery Sizing Tool), install (with the Enphase Installer Toolkit phone app), operate (with the Enlighten web portal) and maintain. Enphase is an established solar equipment supplier with a reputation for delivering good product and service quality.

For more about the Enphase Storage System, listen up to this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy World.

San Jose Mercury News Op-Ed: More solar panels and battery storage at homes could prevent power failures

San Jose Mercury News Op-Ed: More solar panels and battery storage at homes could prevent power failures

At 1:30 on a Sunday afternoon in June, I experienced the second power outage at my Silicon Valley home this year. Then, last weekend a transformer explosion at a Los Angeles Department of Water and Power substation left 140,000 people in the San Fernando Valley without power. In both cases these power failures occurred during a 100+ degree heat wave.

According to PG&E, there was a “local transformer issue” in our neighborhood; the Los Angeles utility is still investigating the cause of their transformer failure.
Local transformers are those big can-shaped things at the top of utility poles. Most were installed before electric vehicles were commonplace and when temperatures were a few degrees cooler. So when people crank up their air conditioners and plug in their EVs, transformers can become overloaded and fail.

Power was out in my neighborhood for about 12 hours while PG&E deployed a crew to diagnose the problem and replace the transformer. But the blackout would not have happened if just one more home in the neighborhood had a solar or battery storage system.

The output from that incremental solar or storage system would have supplied the electricity needs of that home — and the excess solar or battery power would have flowed back to the local grid, reducing the load on that transformer and preventing its failure.

High temperatures and new electric vehicle demands are causing outages like this all over California. Solar power coupled with battery storage is the cleanest and most cost-effective solution to this problem, but only if these systems are deployed in the right place.

The challenge is to get the power from remote utility solar plants to the homes and businesses that need it. Unfortunately, the local power grid is the weakest link, and it is expensive to modernize neighborhood grids to meet today’s higher power demands and two-way energy flows.

There are two solutions to modernizing overloaded local grids. The “business as usual” solution is to pay the local utility for upgrades that include bigger transformers, wiring, control systems and battery storage. Unfortunately, ratepayers get stuck with higher electric bills for this.

A much better solution is to encourage homeowners and businesses to install their own solar and storage systems. These customer-owned “Behind the Meter” (BTM) energy systems do not require expensive transmission and distribution grid upgrades. Since investments in them are made by homeowners and businesses, utility ratepayers are not burdened with upgrade costs.

With over half a million solar-powered homes and businesses, California leads the country in both solar power generation and solar jobs. This was the result of public policies that encouraged solar installations. As a result, solar costs have come down so much over the past 15 years that incentives are no longer needed.

We have the same opportunity now with battery storage systems as California moves toward an electric grid powered 100 percent by renewables. Two policies will help us achieve this goal.

First, as other states have done, we should ensure that there are no arbitrary limits on a customer’s ability to install solar and battery storage. Second, we need to reduce the up-front costs of battery storage systems, which are relatively expensive at this early stage of the market.

To jump-start the battery storage market and improve local grid reliability, California has proposed SB-700, the Energy Storage Initiative. It mimics the California Solar Initiative in a way that supports home or business-owned energy storage systems with incentives that decrease as costs decline. With policies like this, electric customers throughout California will be the first to benefit from a modernized electric grid that is both lower cost and more reliable.

Originally published July 12, 2017. Barry Cinnamon is the CEO of Cinnamon Solar and previously founded Akeena/Westinghouse Solar. He wrote this for The Mercury News.

Best EV for the Money

Best EV for the Money

In spite of the fact that it’s neither fast nor furious, the Chevy Bolt is currently the most practical and economical Electric Vehicle. Hybrids (like the Volt and Prius) and pure EVs (like the Bolt and Teslas) have seen phenomenal growth over the past decade. Their popularity will continue to grow as battery costs decline and EV charging infrastructure improves.

The two most important considerations for EV drivers are up-front cost and range. At about $30k (with the $7,500 federal tax credit) and 238 miles of EV range, the Bolt excels on both of these dimensions. The only car that comes close is the upcoming Tesla Model 3 – which is expected to have similar pricing and range. Compared to the Tesla Model 3 the Bolt is more spacious and less luxurious (Car and Driver calls it “dweeby”). But the Bolt is shipping now in volume, and is very likely to become the best-selling EV in the U.S.

EVs are clearly not for everyone. Where gas is cheap or electricity is expensive, a number of ordinary economy cars are more economical than the Bolt. And with gas engines there is no “range anxiety” that concerns almost every EV driver. Nevertheless, the benefits of EVs with 200+ miles of range that can be fueled by clean and inexpensive solar and wind are compelling. There’s no doubt in my mind that our grandchildren will be zipping around in cars that look more like the bubble cars in Woody Allen’s “Sleeper” than the rolling living rooms that have been on the roads for the last 75 years. For more about the inexorable trend toward EVs, Listen Up to The Energy Show on Renewable Energy World.

When Can I Get Solar Shingles?

For over fifteen years I’ve been talking to homeowners who want solar shingles. This is a concept called Building Integrated Photovoltaics, or BIPV. The idea is for the outside of your building — the part that is exposed to the sun — to do double duty: roof shingles or coverings that generate electricity, windows that let some light in but also absorb light and generate electricity, or some kind of wall covering that generates electricity. The hope is that money will be saved by combining two product categories (for example, shingles and solar panels), while at the same time improving the aesthetics of the home.

BIPV is a great concept, but very challenging in reality. I’ve seen dozens of BIPV product announcements, done a number of BIPV installations myself, and then observed almost all of these products disappear from the market. In retrospect, there are three reasons that these BIPV products almost always fail to get market traction:

  • They are more expensive than ordinary solar installations, even considering the avoidance of ordinary building materials;
  • They are never as reliable as ordinary solar, and;
  • They have a difficult time meeting new safety requirements (arc-fault, rapid shutdown, fire clearances).

Nevertheless, intrepid companies continue to innovate BIPV products including solar shingles. I remain hopeful that someone, someday will find a way to solve these problems. For more about the promises and challenges of solar shingles and other Building Integrated Photovoltaics, Listen Up to this week’s Energy Show on Renewable Energy World.

Fueling Freedom Book Review – The Faulty Rationale for Fossil Fuels

I don’t normally do book reviews, but I came across a recent book called “Fueling Freedom – Exposing the Mad War on Energy,” by Stephen Moore and Kathleen Hartnett White. From the book’s jacket: “…climate policies are pushing a grand-scale shift to unreliable, impractical, incredibly expensive, and far less efficient energy sources.” Hmm, really?

What makes Fueling Freedom even more timely is that both Mr. Moore and Ms. White have just been named to Donald Trump’s economic advisory team. Media Matters recently commented that Moore and Kudlow have long histories of playing fast and loose with the facts while making outlandish and incorrect claims about the economy. After reading this book, I couldn’t agree more with this characterization.

Understanding the premise, data and conclusions of “Fueling Freedom” — and similar seemingly authoritative but deceptive books — are important for people working hard to transition to future energy sources. So Listen Up to the Energy Show on Renewable Energy World to hear my perspective and rebuttal of these specious arguments for past polluting power plants.

The Next Big Energy Appliance

We’re witnessing the transformation of electricity generation, storage and usage of electricity in buildings. The “home of the future” will have an appliance that combines an inverter, rooftop solar, battery storage and an EV charger – linked together with easy to use management software.

In August, Tesla implied they are developing such a product. But other companies have been working on similar complete systems — as well as individual components — for years. SolarEdge, Enphase and others for inverters; dozens of solar module manufacturers; multinationals such as GE, Siemens and Schneider for chargers and home electronics; and thousands of software entrepreneurs who hope to create an “app for that.”

Developments of Next Big Energy Appliance are being driven by new technology in solar, battery storage and power electronics. From a consumer’s “demand” perspective, it is becoming increasingly cost effective to generate and store one’s own electricity. And from a utility’s “supply” perspective, the realization is dawning that they cannot maintain their “we generate it so you must buy it” business model.

The challenge is to build a profitable business around this future building energy reality. Can one company dominate the commodity manufacturing of solar panels and batteries to create a complete “home energy appliance” product offering? Or will multiple companies collaborate as they provide pieces of this appliance, integrated by one or more suppliers of electronics and software? For more about the Next Big Energy Appliance, please Listen Up to the Energy Show on Renewable Energy World.

Electric Vehicles – Save Money and Have Fun

Electric vehicles will continue to gain popularity for the same reason as rooftop solar – the economics keep improving. Batteries (mass production) and charging costs (from solar) are getting less expensive, gasoline will inevitably increase in price again, and virtually every single automaker is rolling out new EV models. But it’s easy to overlook some of the other benefits of electric vehicles: they are fun to drive, require almost no maintenance, and reduce your commute time with HOV lanes.

The fun part is evident the first time you get into an EV and floor the gas pedal. Acceleration is brisk, and in high performance electric vehicles better than even the quickest sports car. But the extra battery weight of electric vehicles does inhibit their performance around corners.

Range anxiety is the biggest disadvantage of EVs. Charging up a high capacity battery takes time, and public chargers are neither widely available nor inexpensive (public charges are usually 2-3 times more expensive than charging at home). Moreover, it is inconvenient to plug your car into a charger every time you pull into your garage. Nevertheless, every EV owner I have met will not go back to a gas vehicle for their daily commute. For more about the benefits, disadvantages and comparative operating costs of different EV models, Listen Up to the Energy Show on Renewable Energy World.