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Largest Sodium Sulfur Battery Powers a Texas Town 301

Posted by kdawson
from the where-were-you-when-the-lights-went-out dept.
separsons writes "The largest sodium sulfur battery in America, nicknamed 'BOB,' can provide enough electricity to power all of Presidio, Texas. Until now, the small town relied on a single 60-year-old transmission line to connect it to the grid, so the community frequently experienced power outages. BOB, which stands for 'Big-Old Battery,' began charging earlier this week. The house-sized battery can deliver four megawatts of power for up to eight hours. Utilities are looking into similar batteries to store power from solar and wind so that renewables can come online before the country implements a smart grid system."
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Largest Sodium Sulfur Battery Powers a Texas Town

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  • from the article (Score:5, Informative)

    by polar red (215081) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @02:26AM (#31758372)

    the battery would cost 25M, while a second transmission line would cost 60M. o_O

    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by HalifaxRage (640242)
      Reminds me of the boom in wireless ISPs... telco claims prohibitive costs to lay new copper or fiber to a neighbourhood, instead a WISP comes along and at a cost of a few thousand dollars puts up an AP and we're off.
    • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

      by Snowblindeye (1085701)

      the battery would cost 25M, while a second transmission line would cost 60M. o_O

      But they are building both!. The second transmission line will be done by 2012.

      • Re:from the article (Score:4, Interesting)

        by Hadlock (143607) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @05:21AM (#31758966) Homepage Journal

        I wonder what a diesel generator would cost them? Reportedly many communities in Alaska are serviced by power generated by massive diesel generators. 4mw is what a data center consumes, right?

        • Re:from the article (Score:5, Informative)

          by MichaelSmith (789609) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @05:54AM (#31759120) Homepage Journal

          Reportedly many communities in Alaska are serviced by power generated by massive diesel generators.

          Well of course they are. Diesel is the default conservative power source for remote communities in Australia but photovoltaics are moving in. Solar power may not work as well in Alaska but wind power may do the job instead. Combine that with a BoB and you have a good reliable power supply.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          A gas generator would make more sense as the infrastructure is already available to fuel them.

          4 - G3516 LE [cat.com] should do the trick, plus there isn't a single point of failure. Get 5 generators and run them all at partial load.

          What happens when BOB gets wet?

          • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

            by cbreaker (561297)
            I'm confident the technology exists to keep something dry, in 2010.
            • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

              by digitalunity (19107)

              Of more concern to me is how exactly do you take 4 MW of DC power and turn that into sinusoidal 220 Vac RMS. Large motors with spark gaps or something similar will get you a square wave.

              A giant AC-DC inverter would work, but where are you going to find such a thing that can handle 4 MW?

              Rain should be the least of their concerns.

              • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

                by Myrv (305480)

                A giant AC-DC inverter would work, but where are you going to find such a thing that can handle 4 MW?

                Static Inverter Plant [wikipedia.org]

                They're used for high voltage DC transmission systems. Actually, they're probably overkill for a 4 MW supply as many plants have been built to handle hundreds of MW each.

            • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

              by Rob the Bold (788862)

              I'm confident the technology exists to keep something dry, in 2010.

              I, for one, am quite happy with my "roof", as it's called.

              • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

                by SOdhner (1619761)

                I'm confident the technology exists to keep something dry, in 2010.

                I, for one, am quite happy with my "roof", as it's called.

                Actually I've just been granted a patent on the 'roof' and so...

                Oh. Wrong kind of Texas story. Sorry.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by Thelasko (1196535)

          I wonder what a diesel generator would cost them?

          Diesel generators of that size (you would want to buy 2 of them) would probably run between 1-2 million dollars. But keep in mind that they would consume about 300 gallons of #2 diesel (non-taxed) per hour. What would that cost you?

    • Game of telephone (Score:5, Informative)

      by Rufus211 (221883) <rufus-slashdot@hackis h . org> on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @02:45AM (#31758472) Homepage

      It's amazing the game of telephone that happens when blogs steal news stories from blogs that steal news stories from blogs.

      Inhabitat: "Electric Transmission Texas ponied up $25 million to build the battery, and will add $60 million to build a second transmission line by 2012."

      PopSci: "Electric Transmission Texas helped put the battery project together for around $25 million. But the utility has also agreed to build a second 60-mile transmission line to Presidio for about $44 million by 2012."

      NPR: "The other solution for this town would be to build a second line, and that line would cost somewhere in the range of $40 to $50 million. And so a battery project in the $25 million range looks pretty attractive."

      They all agree the battery costs $25mill, 2/3 agree that the 2nd transmission line will be built in 2012, and none of them agree on the price of the 2nd line.

      • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

        by alienzed (732782)
        How dare they...
      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by Mateorabi (108522)
        But they all agreed on Purple Monkey Dishwasher.
      • Re:Game of telephone (Score:5, Informative)

        by SpzToid (869795) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @03:29AM (#31758644)

        Not to detract at all from your point, however there's something worth pointing out I learned while listening to NPR.

        This particular city has a contract with a Mexican power company, to provide backup power during the all-too frequent times the lone cable to the US power is broken. However 'some time' is required to switch the city from US to the Mexican power grid. The purpose of this battery is to make the switch from US to Mexican power seamless to the end-user. Therefore, 8hrs is plenty of time for the battery power to last.

        Perhaps the battery buys the town time in more ways than one. Now the town is less reliant on someone building out that spare US transmission line for awhile longer. And I'm sure that price varies on which year the 2ns US power line is built.

        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by ls671 (1122017)

          > And I'm sure that price varies on which year the 2ns US power line is built.

          You are right, I have read another blog post saying the new line would have cost 35,000$ in 1905. At least, that blog post specified the year. What were the others thinking when not specifying the year ? ;-))

      • by syousef (465911) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @03:32AM (#31758656) Journal

        They all agree the battery costs $25mill, 2/3 agree that the 2nd transmission line will be built in 2012, and none of them agree on the price of the 2nd line.

        You don't work in IT do you? If you did you'd realise that sounds like any typical project plan.

    • Re:from the article (Score:5, Interesting)

      by Roger W Moore (538166) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @03:00AM (#31758534) Journal
      ...and how much would a gas or diesel powered generator with a 4MW capacity cost? Since the battery consists of rather dangerous chemicals (e.g. pure sodium metal), has a limited life span and has to operate at 350C (ok - that's probably less of an issue in Texas in the summer ;-) it is hard to see any environmental argument for it over a diesel generator once the heating, production and charge/discharge efficiency are factored in.
      • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

        by Rufus211 (221883)

        Do you have a reference to the fact that the battery needs to run at 350C? It seems a bit impractical to heat a house-sized building that much, especially when you have lost power.

        The main advantage of a battery over a generator is that you can switch power over to it in a matter of seconds. I'm guessing a 4MW generator would take a couple of minutes, maybe 10s of minutes, to spin up to capacity.

        • Re:from the article (Score:5, Informative)

          by marvinglenn (195135) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @03:40AM (#31758680)

          Do you have a reference to the fact that the battery needs to run at 350C?

          You could start with Wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sodium-sulfur_battery [wikipedia.org]

          It seems a bit impractical to heat a house-sized building that much, especially when you have lost power.

          Good insulation, and you don't heat the building, you heat the guts of the battery. Also, the lost energy is likely heating the battery.

          I'm guessing a 4MW generator would take a couple of minutes, maybe 10s of minutes, to spin up to capacity.

          Not the ones I've seen. (Hospital and nuke reactor backup.)

          • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

            by vlm (69642)

            Not the ones I've seen. (Hospital and nuke reactor backup.)

            Ever see them try to spin up a 1 MW class diesel locomotive engine in winter? Its not pretty in the best of conditions, even worse if everyone's stressed out. There's a reason they don't shut off diesel loco engines in the winter. And even in TX it does get cold on occasion.

            I was told in a tour that the nuke backup engines go full power in much less than 10s, but, they keep the coolant and engine block heated to operating temp 24x7 with electrical heaters, they have bizarre oil systems that are kept pump

            • Re:from the article (Score:4, Informative)

              by Jarik C-Bol (894741) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @08:46AM (#31759930)
              I live only about an hour from the town where this is being done, and can attest; 'Its never winter in Presidio'
            • Re:from the article (Score:5, Informative)

              by NewbieProgrammerMan (558327) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @09:04AM (#31760040)

              Ever see them try to spin up a 1 MW class diesel locomotive engine in winter? ... I was told in a tour that the nuke backup engines go full power in much less than 10s, but, they keep the coolant and engine block heated to operating temp 24x7 with electrical heaters, they have bizarre oil systems that are kept pumping 24x7 yet somehow don't hydrolock the pistons, they have onsite 24x7 maintenance crews, and still they occasionally break so they need multiple ones for true redundancy.

              I've worked with diesel generators from 1MW up to the size this town would need, that were primarily emergency generators for a nuclear plant, and they were only run for testing, drills and the occasional power loss. They needed a small (like tens of kW tops) set of heaters to keep them warm even in the coldest weather, and there were maybe two 24-7 guys whose responsibility was to go check readings once an hour on multiple generators (and in the non-nuclear world you could easily replace those two guys with some sensors, a computer, a phone line, and an on-call mechanic). I don't remember there being bizarre oil systems, and the oil didn't run 24/7, because it was very quiet when they weren't running.

              They really just weren't a big hassle in the big scheme of things. You have to do maintenance on them at regular intervals, but you have to do that to any complex machine, like, say, a town-load-sized battery + inverter installation. Disclaimer: I've never worked with a 4MW UPS, but I don't think it's going to be maintenance-free.

            • Ever see them try to spin up a 1 MW class diesel locomotive engine in winter?

              Yes. I have 9 1.25 MW Generators and I can tell you that they spin up and close to the buss in 15 seconds.....even in winter. They're totally capable of meeting this need. That's not to say necessarily that this battery application was a bad choice for this town (I don't have enough details to make that determination), but it wouldn't be fair to say that the battery was chosen over a generator due to some start up delay associated with diesel generators.

            • Footnote: People giving tours frequently want you to be impressed with what they do and how hard their job is, so make sure to factor that into your estimation of how much trouble generators this size are. ;)

      • Re:from the article (Score:5, Interesting)

        by wagnerrp (1305589) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @04:03AM (#31758754)
        Agreed. A 4MW generator is going to run $1-2M, or you could buy one rebuilt for far less. For another million, you could install enough flywheel storage to last you until the generators can be brought online. Double it for added redundancy, and you're still talking 1/3 the upfront cost of the system.
      • Re:from the article (Score:5, Interesting)

        by Joce640k (829181) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @04:27AM (#31758826) Homepage

        The pilot studies in South Africa show that pebble bed reactors acn abe built for $800 to $1000 per kilowatt. A 4mW reactor could be built for around $4 million and they could completely disconnect themselves from the grid.

        • by Hadlock (143607) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @05:25AM (#31758986) Homepage Journal

          What's the cost of legislation for a nuke plant in the US per mW though? Diesel generators produce the same energy for half the price as nuclear in the kW range, and regulation is slim to none.

        • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

          by Aceticon (140883)

          The pilot studies in South Africa show that pebble bed reactors acn abe built for $800 to $1000 per kilowatt. A 4mW reactor could be built for around $4 million and they could completely disconnect themselves from the grid.

          Somehow I suspect that the costs of Pebble Bed nuclear reactors don't scale up linearly per-kilowatt.

          If that was the case, then one could get a "personal" 1kW pebble bed reactor for $1000.

          So there must be a "minimum" power value above which the price per kilowatt is close enough to the on

      • Re: (Score:3, Funny)

        by xero314 (722674)
        Now they have to open supply line and contract another energy supplier (diesel is just another way of transporting energy). They already have the power line in place and are all ready contracting with the power supplied. Keeping this Battery charged will actually reduce their per kw cost, as the over all volume will go up. As for environmental, building a pipe line, or trucking in Diesel would have it's own environmental impact. Never mind that you would have to store an explosive material.
        • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

          by xouumalperxe (815707)

          Never mind that you would have to store an explosive material.

          Not that liquid sodium is that much better, mind you

  • The house-sized battery can hold four megawatts of power for up to eight hours.

    I wasn't sure what that was supposed to mean. Does the battery discharge in 8 hours if you don't use the energy?

    The original NPR article http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=125561502 [npr.org] leads me to think they are saying that the consumption of the town is 4MW and the battery can feed it for 8 hours, so it holds 32MW (or less, since the 4MW is the peak load).

    On an unrelated note, why does the inhabitat article have four links, which all go to the same popsci article? Does the author get paid by

    • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @02:43AM (#31758470)

      A watt is a unit of power not energy, that'd be 115 gigajoules (or 32 MWh if you're lazy)

    • Energy not Power (Score:5, Informative)

      by Roger W Moore (538166) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @02:48AM (#31758490) Journal

      so it holds 32MW

      No - it can hold 32MWh (=115.2GJ). Batteries hold energy not power. Since power is energy per unit time you have to multiply it by a time to get energy.

      • so it holds 32MW

        No - it can hold 32MWh (=115.2GJ). Batteries hold energy not power. Since power is energy per unit time you have to multiply it by a time to get energy.

        Thank you, 007, for clearing up this little misunderstanding.

        I wonder how long this battery will last and what the cost of a refurbishment is. Also, how does the lifetime change with more dischare/charge cycles? I think these numbers are as important as the initial cost, but usually do not get mentioned.

        A $25M batter which lasts 50 years sounds like a pretty nice piece of technology if it can be discharged/charged daily. If it lasts 5 years and has a 100% refurbishment cost, it does not sound so gre

        • by uglyduckling (103926) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @03:51AM (#31758710) Homepage
          They can last about 2,500 complete cycles or 4,800 80% discharge cycles. (From the wikipedia article linked elsewhere). Presuming a power outage once a week requiring 80% discharge, it would last about 90 years, if the number of cycles is the only thing determining its longevity.
          • by bezenek (958723) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @03:59AM (#31758732) Journal

            They can last about 2,500 complete cycles or 4,800 80% discharge cycles. (From the wikipedia article linked elsewhere). Presuming a power outage once a week requiring 80% discharge, it would last about 90 years, if the number of cycles is the only thing determining its longevity.

            That is 10-15 years when used as a night-time backup for solar collection.

            This might be useful.

            -Todd

            • by hairyfeet (841228)

              Uhhhhh....if you are simply wanting to capture solar energy, wouldn't using molten salt [cleantechnica.com] be not only much cheaper but also more efficient?

              After all it is certainly cheaper to have some mirrors focus the sun on a tank than to try to build truly efficient solar panels (last I heard the best were around 30% efficient and VERY expensive) and molten salt would at the same time solve the storage problem without the need for the expensive battery.

              According to Scientific American [scientificamerican.com] we could have nearly 70% of our el

    • I wasn't sure what that was supposed to mean. Does the battery discharge in 8 hours if you don't use the energy?

      That is extremely unlikely- that's a LOT of heat.

      A Watt is a power unit. A Watt-hour is a energy unit. They most likely meant it is a 32 Megawatt-hour battery.

      On an unrelated note, nobody seems to have pictures of the finished thing, or how it was constructed, etc- just one picture of a concrete shell, clearly early in the process. Anyone find more pictures?

  • by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @02:42AM (#31758462)

    It's been a long time since I last heard about Sodium/Sulphur batteries. Twenty-plus years ago Ford Aerospace in Newport Beach, CA had a small research facility looking at this technology. The smell of sulphur was pretty strong around that building which was cleverly situated both downhill and downwind from the rest of the campus. The idea of being anywhere in the neighborhood of a bunch of hot,liquid sodium and a bunch of hot,liquid sulphur somehow never seemed like a good idea to me.

  • Leaky battery (Score:5, Informative)

    by iliketrash (624051) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @03:00AM (#31758538)

    "The house-sized battery can hold four megawatts of power for up to eight hours."

    "Power" is not "held." Power is delivered. Energy is held. The unit of energy is joule.

    • Yeah. It delivers 4MW, it takes 8 hours to charge and 8 hours to discharge.
    • by tgd (2822)

      That that to He-Man. He had the power.

    • In which case, do they mean they can deliver 4 megawatts for eight hours on a fully charged battery, which would make the usable capacity roughly 115 gigajoules - or did they mess up the units completely somehow?

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by nuckfuts (690967)

      I can't recall ever seeing a battery rated in Joules. Small batteries are rated in both volts and mAh. The voltage times the amperage tells you how much power it can put out. The power times the duration tells you how much energy it can deliver.

      Rather than stating that the battery can "hold 4 megawatts of power for up to 8 hours", the article should perhaps have stated that the battery can "deliver four megawatts of power for up to 8 hours", as is stated in the /. summary. From this you could derive that it

  • NPR Link (Score:5, Informative)

    by VTI9600 (1143169) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @03:11AM (#31758572)
    This story originally came from an NPR interview. Here is a link [npr.org].
  • Should the device explode, given the amount of energy stored inside the battery and the kind of chemicals employed in the facility, it could level out the surroundings. Furthermore keeping it underground should make easier to cool the device while charging.

  • Seriously, guys, are you that desperate for views?
    The article linked to in the summary got the article from PopSci [popsci.com], who got it from NPR [npr.org].

    That aside... They should probably just stick a little reactor nearby to power their community and other nearby communities. Maybe even sell some power to Mexico.
    I'm sure they've got enough wasteland that you could build one on without causing too much damage to human settlements in the region (which is all the NIMBYists care about).
  • BUB (Score:4, Interesting)

    by jamesh (87723) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @03:17AM (#31758598)

    BUB might be a better nickname. Big Unexploded Battery.

    I'm sure it's safely enclosed and all the safety aspects have been taken into account, but it will be an impressive boom when it does go off, assuming the size of the boom goes up proportionally with the size of the battery (I had a tiny watch battery blow my little remote control car apart...)

    • by SpzToid (869795)

      A buddy of mine who is in the electrical contractors union tells a tale of what went wrong once. You know those huge ( I think they're called) step-down transformers? Someone was briefly working amongst, walking across, (am unclear precisely on this) and this unfornate person dropped a wrench, which caused the current to arc, in a Big Way. This person became One with a Big Mass of Metal. You'd think this wouldn't happen, but apparently things go wrong sometimes.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Terrasque (796014)

        Reminds me a bit of a story I heard once from one of my teachers.

        There are some small power control stations around, and this was about one of those. This particular one was high up in a mountain, and a capacitor was in need of change. Size a bit smaller than a garage.

        So a person put the new capacitor in his backpack (yep, one of the rather big ones..), got up there (took a few hours), cut the power, removed the old one and popped in the new one. Put on the power, everything looked ok and he went back down.

    • ... it will be an impressive boom when it does go off, assuming the size of the boom goes up proportionally with the size of the battery ...

      So how many exploding iPod/Laptop batteries is this critter, which uses molten sodium. Did your high school chemistry ever do the "this is sodium; this is water; this is sodium in water" trick?

      Good thing that it doesn't rain much in Texas.

      But I guess that the folks building the battery will know about the dangers, and take appropriate safety measures. Like, getting their asses out of town when the puppy goes online.

      Does some poor soul have to do the "lick the connectors on the 9 volt battery" test, to

  • by msevior (145103) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @03:27AM (#31758632)

    This thing cost 25 million to make and apparently stores 192000 KWHr of energy. That is $130/KWHr. On average my home uses 17 KWHr/day so I can store my average needs for only $2210.00.

    Thats a small additional cost on the 6 KW of Peak Power worth of PV's I need to provide the 17 KWHr for my house.

    Does this thing scale down?
     

    • by sFurbo (1361249) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @04:23AM (#31758816)
      No, Sodium-sulphur batteries scale down horribly. They need to run hot enough for the sulphur to be molten*, and keeping large things hot is easier than keeping small things hot, as the thermal energy scale with the cube of the size, but the escaped heat scales with the square. I don't know how small they can get, though.

      *According to wikipedia [wikipedia.org], they need to run even hotter, 300-350 degree celsius
    • by tpwch (748980)
      Thats not entirely accurate since it can be charged and discharged multiple times. Apperantly thousands of times according to a comment earlier. So the price in your example goes down by a few factors.
    • Here's what you do. Go down to the auto parts store and get yourself a bunch of car batteries. Put them in your basement. Get an alternator and a good switch. Find an electrician who can hook them up to your house. (I'm an electrical engineer so I can't help you. I make less money than an electrician and I also don't know anything about electricity, since an EE degree only covers calculus and some very basic RLC circuits.)

      We all know that car batteries last 10-12 years of daily use, so this rig could

  • by Rogerborg (306625) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @03:30AM (#31758648) Homepage

    Not based on the $25 million sticker price: that's just bullshit accounting. I'd like to know the Joules expended in the extraction, refining, shipping and construction of this thing, including the energy required by the workers, then let's compare that to the energy that it will actually store and deliver over its working life.

    Eventually, we are going to have to start asking these questions about "renewable" generation and storage, because you can only hide a net energy loss in the books for so long, until the fossil fuels that subsidise these energy sinks start to run out.

    • by Prof.Phreak (584152) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @06:59AM (#31759360) Homepage

      So you're saying instead of smelting metal, making concrete, and paying construction workers to build the battery, it might be more cost effective to pay that same smelting facility, concrete making plant, and construction workers to provide a few hours of power for this town every week or so?

      I doubt this project has anything to do with "renewable" but all to do with convenience of not having to lose power for a few hours every few weeks. Sure those few hours may be 10x as expensive as normal, but, eh, you don't have to adjust clocks on all those VCRs every week.

      • Re: (Score:2, Troll)

        by Rogerborg (306625)

        I'm not saying anything, I'm asking a question. It's one which is rarely asked, and almost never answered. You'll note that I discounted (dollar) "cost" right up front - I'm only interested in energy. You'll further note that the article explicitly talks about using BOBs as storage for renewable generation.

        If you don't know the answer, you could just say so.

        • by je ne sais quoi (987177) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @08:37AM (#31759856)
          He's saying that you're biased -- you only focused on the energy it takes to create the renewables and you never asked the question how much energy it would take to create that transmission line, or to create the fossil fuel or nuclear power plant that delivers the power conventionally. All of this stuff is known as EROEI - energy returned on energy invested. Here [blogspot.com] is a web-site that gives a range of estimates of EROEI for various power sources:

          Power Source: EROEI(actual)
          Hydro: 50, 43 and 205
          Nuclear (centrifuge): 18.1, 18.4, 14.5, 13.6 and 14.8
          Nuclear (diffusion): 6.0, 6.7, 5.8, 7.9, 5.3, 5.6 and 3.9
          Coal: 12.2, 7.4, 7.32, 3.4 and 14.2
          Gas (piped): 16
          Gas (piped a lot or liquefied): 3.4, 3.76 and 4
          Solar: 10.6
          Solar PV: 12-10, 7.5 and 3.7
          Wind: 12, 6, 34, 80 and 50

          As you can see, the estimates vary widely, there's a lot of guesswork involved in making these estimates. Overall the renewables don't fare that badly, especially wind and hydroelectricity.

          In case you were wondering, here's [world-nuclear.org] the CO2 emissions:

          g/kWh CO2 Japan Sweden Finland UK: SDC EU ExternE WNA
          coal 990 980 894 891 815
          gas thermal 653 1170* -
          gas combined cycle 450 472 356 362
          solar photovoltaic 59 50 95 53
          wind 37 5.5 14 6.5
          nuclear 22 6 10 - 26 16 19.7 17
          hydro 18 3 -

          So yes, even with all the intensive energy requirements for renewables, they still are better than fossil fuels. The problems with widespread use of renewables are political (i.e. Republicans and conservatives don't like them), require intensive upfront capital costs, and infrastructural (the power grid is not designed to carry power where likely wind generation sites are).

    • by Aceticon (140883)

      Two things:

      One:

      Dollar cost is the easiest path to determine the energy cost of a project because it already takes in account all the inputs directly and indirectly (for example, the manpower costs include not only the transportation costs for that worker but also all the side-costs such as entertainment costs, housing costs and more of using that specific kind of worker - after all, if the pay was lower that the money the worker spends then he would - usually - not take that job).

      Don't forget that indirect

    • by khallow (566160)
      Looks like the battery has somewhere around 30 MwH of storage (4 MW at 8 hours) and 1,500 or more cycles of lifespan (the latter according to Wikipedia [wikipedia.org]). So the question you are asking is whether it costs more than 45 GwH of energy to make. That much energy is a bit over $4.5 million at $0.1 per KwH. So yes, it is possible that it could cost more energy to make than it discharges over its lifespan, depending on how much of the cost is energy-related.

      That's not particularly relevant because this battery i
  • by Col Bat Guano (633857) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @03:58AM (#31758724)

    Look in any computer shop and you'll see NaS storage systems!

  • Flywheel energy storage (FES) works by accelerating a rotor (flywheel) to a very high speed and maintaining the energy in the system as rotational energy. When energy is extracted from the system, the flywheel's rotational speed is reduced as a consequence of the principle of conservation of energy; adding energy to the system correspondingly results in an increase in the speed of the flywheel.

    - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Flywheel_energy_storage [wikipedia.org]

    Maraging steel, UHMWPE, and carbon fibres are some of the materials with the highest known tensile strength. The higher the tensile strength, the higher the energy density, which is good for mobile applications but perhaps not necessary for a small town.
    I suspect a flywheel would also be more reliable and environmentally friendly than most batteries.

    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      I found an online calculator and apparently the energy squares with either the diameter OR the speed. The only linear input is mass.

      So let's try this: A 100-meter wide flywheel, weighing 10 metric tons, spinning at 1hz, gets you 68 kWh, or double that if you move the mass to the outside (which I presume you would for something that big). Now that's probably light for something so big, so at 100 metric tons you could get up to 1.36 MWh.

      This battery has 32 MWh.

      You would need to spin it 5 times faster (300r

  • by Ungrounded Lightning (62228) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @04:34AM (#31758846) Journal

    I'm curious as to why they used Sodium Sulfur rather than Vanadium Redox.

    I'm unaware of any advantages to S.S. except maybe size (which wouldn't particularly matter in a stationary installation. And the Vanadium Redox is already productized for exactly this service.

    Maybe too much patent encumberment and the guys with the V.R. patent don't have enough production capacity or are charging too much?

  • Try doing a Google streetview on that place. God what a dump. It doesn't even seem to have some kind of a city centre, houses are just all over the place, with huge empty pieces in between.
  • by Hognoxious (631665)

    The house-sized battery can hold four megawatts of power for up to eight hours.

    Sorry, I don't speak metric. What's that in ampere-parsecs?

  • The units in the summary are meaningless and uninteresting to almost everybody, and make science geeks twitchy. I propose several alternatives.

    For physicists and engineers:
    8 hours = 28800 s
    W=PT
    =4e6 W * 28800 s
    =115.2 GJ

    For people who measure energy in electricity bills: 3200 kW h

    For people who like impressive comparisons: About 2 M-29 Davy Crocketts [wikipedia.org].
  • by Ancient_Hacker (751168) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @07:56AM (#31759606)

    Let's do the math here.

    The article suggests the battery can put out 4 megawatts for 8 hours. So that's 32,000 kilowatt-hours. My electricity here costs about 7 cents a kWh, so that BOB can hold almost $225 worth of electricity. At a cost of many millions, that does not sound like very economical power per kWh!

    For example, your basic Honda generator can run for two thousand hours, putting out 1,500 watts, before the little putt-putt engine needs an overhaul. So that's about 3,000 kilowatt-hours for $400. Let's assume the power fails ten times a year, so you'd wear out 10 Honda generators per failure (avg), at a cost of $4000 per, or $40,000 per year. By comparison BOB's cost of financing in itself is going to be at least $3 million a year, not to mention maintenance.

    So these poor sods are paying about 75 times as much as they should.

    ( Not to mention that generators are much more economical in larger sizes )

    • by careysub (976506)

      Let's do the math here.

      The article suggests the battery can put out 4 megawatts for 8 hours. So that's 32,000 kilowatt-hours. My electricity here costs about 7 cents a kWh, so that BOB can hold almost $225 worth of electricity. At a cost of many millions, that does not sound like very economical power per kWh!

      For example, your basic Honda generator can run for two thousand hours, putting out 1,500 watts, before the little putt-putt engine needs an overhaul. So that's about 3,000 kilowatt-hours for $400. Let's assume the power fails ten times a year, so you'd wear out 10 Honda generators per failure (avg), at a cost of $4000 per, or $40,000 per year. By comparison BOB's cost of financing in itself is going to be at least $3 million a year, not to mention maintenance.

      So these poor sods are paying about 75 times as much as they should.

      ( Not to mention that generators are much more economical in larger sizes )

      A more realistic comparison would be to price some cheap megawatt class diesel generators: http://www.dieselserviceandsupply.com/Used-Generators/ [dieselserv...supply.com]. Slightly used units seem to run $175,000 for a 1 MW unit, if a 4 MW unit is available at the same price point (the required output) that is $700,000 (they do have a new 6 MW natural gas unit for $2 million). So a conventional peaking plant would seem to be a much cheaper alternative, but at a multiple of 10-25 (including siting costs), not 75.

      The explanation for

    • by Fantastic Lad (198284) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @09:18AM (#31760188)

      I spent a minute squinting at your maths in an effort to see things your way.

      I think you didn't figure into the generator plan the following expenses. . .

      -Initial start-up costs. Large data centers, for instance, will have a couple of huge diesel generators in the basement and they tend to start in the hundreds of thousands of dollars before all the associated costs, (cooling, air circulation, electrical infrastructure, fuel storage) kick in. Diesel back-up power for a whole town would easily be a multi-million dollar endeavor.

      -Fuel costs.

      -Your projected maintenance costs are not in sync with the real hardware required for the job. Also, you'd need to hire a technician to oversee the operation. Employees are not cheap, and I'm sure this was figured into the town's budget for their battery but left out of yours.

      It is entirely possible, given the way politics and city planners work, that poor decisions were made, but even so, towns tend to be on tight budgets and so I'm sure there were at least a few board meetings where the various alternatives were explored with the bottom line being one of the primary concerns.

      As well, clean energy is important for many people. The town also installed a field of solar cells to charge the battery between use periods. Solar cells pay for themselves after a few years and then keep on giving, whereas fossil fuel costs are ever-present and unreliable. There are also many hidden costs involved with fossil fuel; for instance, you don't have to build billions of dollars in military hardware and kill thousands of people in order to maintain an oil supply. (Of course, some people prefer the idea of society running on bombs and blood, but there's something deeply screwed up with those people.)

      Even if new types of cleaner energy cost a little bit more, (and often new technologies do cost more than tested older tech), then the populace will benefit from knowing that they're not a bunch of loud-mouth assholes. This kind of self-assurance is worth more than money. A happy population is a healthy one.

      From my own personal experience, I've noted that loud-mouth assholes tend to live petty lives, have few real friends, and die early of heart-disease. I don't see the appeal myself.

      -FL

  • by giantgeek (1170007) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @08:20AM (#31759744)
    I am interested in how the battery becomes AC to be distributed. It must be an impressive inverter to go along with the large battery.

    Its always amazes me that so few people understand fundamental concepts about the energy that they use. The reporter probably just assumed that the battery is directly connected to the town grid.
    • Re: (Score:3, Informative)

      by ahaveland (701186)

      One word: IGBT

      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Insulated-gate_bipolar_transistor

      It's a lump of silicon about as big as a car battery, easily handles 5MW, and has revolutionised the connection of solar/wind/wave energy to grid.

      Equipment costing hundreds OR thousands dollars now replaces what used to cost hundreds OF thousands, so connecting the battery to the grid is probably one of the easiest and cheapest problems to solve.

  • ... but will it power an iPhone more than 2 hours?
  • by hotdiggity (987032) on Wednesday April 07, 2010 @09:19AM (#31760196)
    People, this is rural Texas. You think locals are actually calling it the "Big-Old Battery"?

    It's the BIG OL' BAT'RY. You bunch of citified nerds. Have some respect for the Good-Old Boys.

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