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Why Elon Musk's Batteries Frighten Electric Companies 461

JoeyRox writes: The publicized goal of Tesla's "gigafactory" is to make electric cars more affordable. However, that benefit may soon be eclipsed by the gigafactory's impact on roof-top solar power storage costs, putting the business model of utilities in peril. "The mortal threat that ever cheaper on-site renewables pose" comes from systems that include storage, said physicist Amory Lovins. "That is an unregulated product you can buy at Home Depot that leaves the old business model with no place to hide."
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Why Elon Musk's Batteries Frighten Electric Companies

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  • by Mr D from 63 ( 3395377 ) on Friday December 05, 2014 @11:46AM (#48531311)
    So, what evidence is there that electric companies are scared? Sounds like just the contention of a greeny.
    • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 05, 2014 @11:54AM (#48531393)

      How much money they spend on protecting their status quo.

      • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

        by Immerman ( 2627577 )

        Do they really? The fossil fuel industry throws money around like it's confetti to undermine alternatives, but the electric companies? Do they really do any more than the usual profit-enhancing lobbying done by every government-sanctioned monopoly in the country?

        • by disposable60 ( 735022 ) on Friday December 05, 2014 @12:28PM (#48531759) Journal

          Apart from the handful of nukes and hydro installs, the electric companies are a segment of the fossil fuel industry.

          • by lgw ( 121541 ) on Friday December 05, 2014 @01:37PM (#48532481) Journal

            Can you really not distinguish between sellers and buyers? Electric companies have no love for any particular means of generating power, they just want it cheap, and for most of them their primary concern in life is the NIMBY problem.

            Electric companies, at least in some latitudes, are certainly worried about practical rooftop solar eating into their business, but for reasons that have nothing at all to do with love of fossil fuel.

            • It's not the mining of coal that's the major environmental problem, it's the burning of it. That's the Electric companies by and large.
              • by lgw ( 121541 ) on Friday December 05, 2014 @02:17PM (#48532961) Journal

                Yes, and? The Electric companies have no love of coal or anything else. They'll make power however it's cheapest to make it, limited in their ability to switch to new powerplants by the NIMBY problem, and limited in their ability to improve existing plants by the crazy perverse incentives in the environmental regs in most places. Natural gas is incredibly cheap right now, and generating would switch to it completely if it were practical.

                (I had college roommate who was an environmental engineer who worked for a while in this area. It drove him out of the field - you can't improve anything, even simple cheap ways to dramatically reduce smokestack pollution, without losing the "grandfathering" and having to pay more than the plant is worth to completely modernize every single component. And what's worse, the requirements for new plants weren't "get emissions below X" , they were often "you must use this exact emission control device, coincidentally manufactured primarily by someone close to the lawmaker at the time the law was made".)

                • by pixelpusher220 ( 529617 ) on Friday December 05, 2014 @02:30PM (#48533123)

                  They'll make power however it's cheapest to make it

                  And they fight attempts to change this because it's cheaper to stand pat. Which was the point you said wasn't true. They are dumping the costs of their power production on the environment and it's time they (& we) started paying for it.

                  • by lgw ( 121541 )

                    And they fight attempts to change this because it's cheaper to stand pat.

                    Only in the short term. "Real" infrastructure build-outs are not the internet - changes happen over 20 years, not 20 months. Whatever looks to be cheapest long term will dominate power generation long term. If we ever get a magic battery, that will be solar for most latitudes, but we're just not there yet, neither with the batteries nor the panels. It doesn't seem that far off though. Maybe 10 years out?

                    and it's time they (& we) started paying for it.

                    Feel free to pay extra if that makes you happy (my power company offers that option - a "green power

                  • And they fight attempts to change this because it's cheaper to stand pat. Which was the point you said wasn't true. They are dumping the costs of their power production on the environment and it's time they (& we) started paying for it.

                    And what costs are those, which are not already regulated, at least in the U.S. and most "Western" countries?

                    They (& we) have been paying for it, for a long time. Should they pay a bit more for the environmental damage they do? Possibly. But they already spend a fortune on smokestack scrubbers, land reclamation, etc. Which cost is passed on to you, the consumer.

                    The United States is among the cleanest and greenest industrialized countries on Earth, and has been for some time.

                    • by quenda ( 644621 )

                      It is all a conspiracy, like the anti-tobacco lobby.
                      Noone has ever been able to point to a single case of lung cancer that can be proved to have been caused by smoking.

                    • by lgw ( 121541 )

                      There are two way in which CO2 interacts with IR radiation:

                      1) It can absorb IR, becoming warmer, and in turn emit IR as a blackbody.

                      2) It can reflect IR.

                      The energy transferred by effect 1 depends on the temp of the CO2. The energy transferred by effect 2 depends instead on the temp of what's being reflected. As these are "4th power of temp" effects, the difference is critical. Effect 2 is important to Venus's climate, and is irrelevant to Earth's climate, because CO2 does not meaningfully reflect IR at l

                • by Maxo-Texas ( 864189 ) on Friday December 05, 2014 @03:40PM (#48533849)

                  Electric companies have a huge investment in their current physical plant.

                  Any plant built in the last 10 years won't be paid off for another 10 to 20 years.

                  Solar and wind power combined with durable, inexpensive batteries has the potential to be "cheap enough" that people will avoid electrical companies and the "network effect" that benefits them will be lost.

                  You see it with AT&T now. When everyone had a landline, prices were lower. As fewer people have a landline, the per customer cost of maintaining the physical lines goes up.

                  I.e. if the fixed cost of serving an area is 1 million a year (for workers and materials) (either electrical or telephone) and 100,000 people in the area use your service, the cost per customer is $10. Your utility bill is $50 in the winter and $150 in the summer. If that drops to 50,000 customers- the fixed cost is up to $20. If that drops to 25,000 customers- the fixed cost is up to $40.

                  Where you "rolled in" the fixed cost before-- now you either need to raise rates or raise your fixed cost.

                  But as your rates increase to $90 in the winter and $180 in the summer-- it makes more sense for people to go to solar and wind power. As you drop to 10,000 customers in the same geographical area-- you are up to $100 per customer in fixed costs and now the monthly bill is $150 to $250 and it really makes sense to go to solar.

                  add to that the fact that solar has dropped from 10x the cost of generated power to 4x the cost of generated power in about the last 12 years alone and the future trend is solar power fundamentally cheaper than generated power. Plus there is already 2x cost solar panels-- it's just that germany has bought current and future production two years out for their industrial scale solar plants.

                  And yes- electrical utilities are starting to lobby very hard against solar. Removing subsidies, adding costs, adding regulations to make it more expensive to go solar, and altering laws so they can break out the fixed cost so grid tied solar customers will pay their full share of the fixed costs (which are currently partially held in the variable rates).

        • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Friday December 05, 2014 @12:36PM (#48531837) Homepage

          yes they do. Around here you can not legally live in your home if you do not have electrical service at your home. it specifically says, electrical utility with an active account.

          Also they fight like hell to make it illegal for solar installations to have grid interties.

          They dont want you to be off grid, as you dont make them money.

          • That seems very pessimistic. Laws requiring electricity are typically to force a minimum standard of living, and pushing power to the grid is a matter of complexity and annoyance rather than greed.
            • by pla ( 258480 ) on Friday December 05, 2014 @01:30PM (#48532389) Journal
              That seems very pessimistic. Laws requiring electricity are typically to force a minimum standard of living

              Then a home solar installation should satisfy that standard, no?

              Not to mention, some people consider not having electricity as a higher quality of life. Should we force the Amish to stay up late watching TV just because most Americans feel horrified that someone, somewhere might not know the latest news about the Kardashians?

              pushing power to the grid is a matter of complexity and annoyance rather than greed.

              Complexity? Fire up a generator at home. Use a double-male plug to connect it to an outlet. Congrats, you've just backfed power to the grid. In fact, it counts as so easy, doing what I just described actually breaks the law and makes you liable if a lineman gets injured or killed because of you (thus all grid-tie inverters either have anti-islanding protection, or a hard physical cutover).

              The complexity comes entirely from billing. Suddenly, your net power usage for the month no longer accurately describes your real use of the grid. Since your local electric company doesn't care where you get your power (you pay them for transmission, the actual cost of the electric supply gets billed through them but they don't keep it), this reduces to a simple matter of greed - They have no motivation to fix their own shortcomings because they won't make any more than they would by simply blocking end-user generation.

              I suppose you could fairly call that "annoyance", but y'know what? I really don't care in the least about whether the likes of PG&E or CalEd find my choices convenient. Though a utility, they still count as a for-profit company - They can either provide what the customers want, or the customers will find alternatives.
              • by Chirs ( 87576 ) on Friday December 05, 2014 @01:51PM (#48532663)

                Just randomly connecting to the grid and backfeeding power causes real problems (i.e. your generator electronics get fried, you can electrocute the guy trying to fix a power outage, etc.). You need special equipment to make sure there are no phase mismatches, it needs to detach itself from the grid if the grid-side drops in a power outage, and you need a new meter.

              • by pixelpusher220 ( 529617 ) on Friday December 05, 2014 @01:55PM (#48532721)

                Then a home solar installation should satisfy that standard, no?

                The issue isn't individuals, but the broader society. If we allow only those who can afford electricity or solar to have it, the poorer segments are deprived and that ends up hurting everybody.

                Basic services are provided to just about everyone. Electric companies are regulated and have been quasi-monopolies because having 15 separate power grids running around town is wasteful. By allowing a single company to server a broader area they can amortize the costs of the more expense areas against the lower cost areas and give everyone access to the basic services. It's the franchise model that works well at getting widespread deployment but once that's done becomes a hindrance to innovation (i.e. cable companies).

                The problem is that if the rich areas start being able to mostly go off grid, the franchise provider is now screwed having to provide to the high cost areas while still also serving the low cost areas, but receiving much smaller revenue due to the roof top solar/batteries cutting usage of the grid.

                It's a macro-economics and social situation we're going to see more of as disruptive technologies challenge the entrenched franchises. Killing the franchises outright is bad, but not innovating and moving forward is bad too.

                How to move forward right now is the question.

          • by dgatwood ( 11270 ) on Friday December 05, 2014 @12:56PM (#48532031) Homepage Journal

            yes they do. Around here you can not legally live in your home if you do not have electrical service at your home. it specifically says, electrical utility with an active account.

            Want to get that law changed really quickly? Find yourself a prosecutor who grew up poor. Get that person to press charges against the power company for cutting off people's power when they fail to pay their bills, because doing so forces people to choose between committing a crime and leaving the area, which potentially constitutes election tampering. :-)

            • In my state, and I assume many others, it's illegal to cut off utilities like gas and electricity for lapsed payment. From what I've seen, it even takes a while before power gets cut to vacant homes.

              • by Richy_T ( 111409 )

                Unfortunately not in mine.

                The kicker? They're so busy with cutting people off (what with the economy right now) that there's a huge backlog of work. When you pay and want to be turned back on, the wait can be up to ten days.

                Of course, you can pay to "Expedite" things.

                Name & shame: This is Tennessee.

                (Just to be clear, this has not affected me personally but wrong is wrong)

          • Sounds like your State needs a "ballot initiative" process. There is no good reason to get stuck with bad laws. In my State only parents with children "have to" have electric access, (and even then only if it is the primary source of heating) and you can hook up to the grid with a home install as long as you have an approved inverter. (~$750 minimum these days, used to be $1500) Of course, we also only get wholesale credit for power sent to the grid.

            Education + ballot initiative system + vote-by-mail = poli

      • by Aighearach ( 97333 ) on Friday December 05, 2014 @12:55PM (#48532021) Homepage

        My public utility is totally behind renewables and if they could reduce the demand from the community they would.

        They are "greenies," as are most Americans.

        So both the claim that utilities are scared, and the claim that greenies think they are scared, these are both dubious to me.

        Demand won't actually shrink, growth will flatten. Greedy companies will freak out, public utilities will breath a sigh of relief.

      • by ShanghaiBill ( 739463 ) on Friday December 05, 2014 @01:25PM (#48532331)

        How much money they spend on protecting their status quo.

        Electric companies worry about solar because is intermittent. So electric companies are stuck providing expensive backup capacity that sits idle much of the time. These batteries make that less of a problem. So electric companies should welcome them, not fear them.

    • by TWX ( 665546 ) on Friday December 05, 2014 @12:01PM (#48531463)
      the local power company, SRP, is attempting to get permission to charge an insane amount of money for a solar home to be connected to the grid. They're trying to scare-off home solar by making it as expensive or more expensive than being grid-connected. In the middle of the desert.

      If nighttime storage issues get resolved, many homes won't need to be on the grid here, as our peak power use is also the time of year with the longest daylight hours and the highest demand is in the mid-afternoon when it's hottest and the HVAC units are running. If they get solar and battery tech going well enough that we can generate all the power we need at-peak and still have enough for nighttime use, then customers won't need the power company anymore.

      I am strongly considering this. I have a room that is climate-controlled but not part of the house that could be a battery and inverter room, and I've got enough land that I could install a demand-load generator if my demand or nighttime use peaks above production or storage capability. The only significant downside is that I have no natural gas service, so I would have to have fuel delivered for the generator.

      If I had natural gas service I wouldn't think twice about going solar for electricity and getting off-grid for electricity service.
      • You should pay attention to this technology: [] It might be able to eliminate the need for a generator completely.
        • by TWX ( 665546 )
          Yeah, because I'll be able to buy it at the home depot when I'm 120 years old.
      • I wonder about the value of capturing power during off peak hours and providing it back during peak hours.
        • by unrtst ( 777550 )

          I wonder about the value of capturing power during off peak hours and providing it back during peak hours.

          Hot damn that sounds like a great idea!
          While I'm confident it wouldn't be profitable due to combo of price of batteries + efficiency of them (ie. loss) + difference between day/night rates won't be enough to cover the loss and up front cost, it's still a fun thought.

          Your load avg would look crazy, especially if you had solar during the day feeding excess back to the grid - massive negative usage during the day, massive usage at night... ramp it up as high as you can.

          If it were profitable, the gigafactory it

      • by Lumpy ( 12016 )

        More than night time storage needs to be dealt with, where I live you need 7 days of storage, honestly having 14 days of storage is safer as in the winter the possibility of nothing but dark cloudy skies for 2 weeks straight are possible. So I need 14 days of storage that can be charged up at a very high charge rate, so when the sun does come out I can get the battery bank to 100% charge in a single 8 hour day.

      • by slew ( 2918 ) on Friday December 05, 2014 @01:33PM (#48532421)

        As I understand it, most of the power company's objections to solar is being forced to buy the power back and subsidize it.

        Maintaining the lines to your house is a fixed cost and they are recovering that cost using amortization over periodic billing based on usage. People who go solar are essentially the freeloaders in this system as they pay less of the overhead for the amount of transmission service they receive. This is not unlike the gasoline tax for highway funding debate or numerous other situations.

        Governments tend to attempt to make things simpler for consumers by mandating "tariffed" service to avoid "skimming" by the providers. Unfortunately that generally doesn't work as governments generally attempt to use these regulations for subsidizing service for some by burdening others and the companies just get smarter about skimming. Unfortunately, some customers discover the workarounds to freeload for a while (e.g., internet VoIP w/o universal service fund fees, or solar panels with forced power buyback, or electric cars that pay no gas tax). They claim their microeconomic observation about their freeloading is the new economic reality and people should just wake up and smell the coffee.

        Unfortunately, when there are too many freeloaders them, then the model just breaks down and need to be fixed so that more people pay full freight. Often, the freeloaders then discover that paying full freight isn't makes the it much less attractive (but at least they got theirs whilst the getting was good). The result is generally simply a different reality than the previous, but generally not much different.

        For example, the power company would much rather demand be totally flat. Provisioning for more power is a big capital cost (building power plants, increasing transmission capacity, etc.) that they can only recover by amortization. This is the reality that the power companies lived in the 80's with nuclear power decommissioning. Sadly, we have a big nasty habit of kicking the can down the road on these things...

        At least when you collect a welfare check directly from the government you are being honest with yourself...

    • In Wisconsin, electric companies almost doubled fixed charge "transmission" rates to get more money from people who are shipping electricity back into the grid. []

      In other words, they were frightened enough to attack one of the main financial benefits of distributed solar.

      • So, every time they try to charge for something, it means they are scared? Or is it just in these circumstances?
        • Right on! It costs them something to accept electricity from such non-traditionnal sources. Every next door bozo believe he can just plug his stuff on the grid, feed it and collect money for it. That is not that simple.
          • by Lumpy ( 12016 ) on Friday December 05, 2014 @12:48PM (#48531939) Homepage

            it costs them? You have ZERO clue how electricity works or solar grid syncing systems work?

            I pay 100% of the equipment costs, I pay 100% of the installation costs, I pay 100% of the inspections and certifications. they pay NOTHING. Then they get to resell my power to my neighbors. Their meter does not run backwards to give me any credits. They do nothing at all.

            I strongly suggest that you learn about what you are spouting off about before you open your mouth and sound like a complete and utter fool to the rest of us that actually have solar installations.

        • >> every time they try to charge for something, it means they are scared?

          Not sure where you got the "every time". Dig into a few of the articles and you'll see that these changes were specifically aimed at solar. For example: []

          • You missed my point completely. The logic that they are "scared' simply because they are charging for the connection is not backed up by anything. Yes, solar has impacts that change the market. Many things change many markets, it is not evidence of fear. That conclusion is simply reached by those who feel good at the thought of scared, evil utilities.
      • You have it backwards. They are not scared to charge for a connection because they know there is value in it to the customer. If they were scared of batteries, they would not be adding a charge that makes it more compelling to move to batteries completely.

        If there is no value in having the connection, then people can disconnect.
      • In other words, they were frightened enough to attack one of the main financial benefits of distributed solar.

        In other words they did the math and realized that their costs of distributing power is higher than they previously thought. Maybe the "financial benefits of distributed solar" are artificial;
        1. tax subsidies.
        2. low distribution costs.
        Perhaps the new charges better reflect the actual costs rather than giving incentive to go solar.

        • People should realize that markets adjust to new conditions in many ways. In this case, utilities have always embedded infrastructure costs in the per kwh rate. Now that the market is changing, it makes sense to separate those costs. It should be viewed as a good thing, because in the end it allows people to be charged properly for what they are getting, and make their own decisions accordingly.
          • My utility certainly does not include distribution costs in the kWh rate. We pay a connection (distribution & administration) fee and per kWh. Ours is a co-op and I've actually read the financial breakdowns (I was under the impression that, as a regulated utility, these documents would be available from any power company). It really only costs about $15 per household to handle distribution costs, and that includes overhead for improvements and emergency repairs.

            Granted, our area isn't that suitable fo

      • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
        They need to "increase" the fixed rate because it needs to reflect that the solar users use less power and the "fixed costs" of delivery aren't being fairly covered by these users..... Well then, why not just make the "fixed costs" be correct for everyone?
    • by Firethorn ( 177587 ) on Friday December 05, 2014 @12:06PM (#48531531) Homepage Journal

      Well, I'd go with something like Florida [], where they're mandating a hookup to electric and water for everybody. Even if the individual has spent the resources to have it provided through alternative means.

      In Arizona [], the woman even had water, though the level of solar provided might not be enough, given that she was getting some electricity from the neighbors.

      The officials decided it was better for her to be homeless than to live in a house without air conditioning or heating. Well, they denied knowing that she'd end up sleeping in her car when they kicked her out. Probably ended up costing the state more money in shelters and what not.

      So while Florida might be like the rules for waterless urinals - plumbing code still says you have to run water there, but all you need is a valve and a capped pipe in the wall - so if you ever decide to get rid of the waterless urinal and get a water using one(or put toilets in or something), it's easy. That's a static cost.

      Or if you have to have a meter and pay a monthly connection charge, even if you consume 0 kwh. Like Arizona.

      • If there is no value in having that connection, then get rid of it. If there is value in having that connection, then pay for it. Its quite simple. If the power company is charging to much, just disconnect.
        • by jbengt ( 874751 )
          Worse than that, there's a value in not having that capped connection, as any significant length of dead-end pipe full of water will eventually grow microbes that can potentially contaminate the potable water you drink.
      • by Bengie ( 1121981 )
        It's quite normal for a house to be considered "condemned" if it does not have grid electricity, running water, or heating. You house NEEDS to have the basic features expected for a house, if you're in a city. It's not so much for you, as it is for someone else. If you were to suddenly die or otherwise not not be the owner of your home, the next person coming in should not have to make any changes.

        Similar idea with education. Around here, education is a requirement. Not educating your children is conside
    • by killkillkill ( 884238 ) on Friday December 05, 2014 @12:24PM (#48531711)

      A solar array and grid tie inverter are expensive enough at the moment that a good portion of the developed world only has enough sunlight to get a ROI in 7-10yrs. That's a lot of electric bills to pay up front. Even with a dramatically reduced rate on batteries it will still at another good chunk to the investment and you need to upgrade to a more expensive inverter or as TFS suggests (by referencing an unregulated product) you could go without connecting to the grid, in which case you only get a return on the electricity you use. The rest of the potential energy production is wasted.

      The economics make going fully solar a reasonable sacrifice for those who want to lower their environmental impact but it's not going to attract anyone who isn't willing to put their money where their mouth is. I hope that changes, and cheaper batteries will help, but I think we're several years out before solar is a good investment and several years past that before it's an investment most will be willing to afford.

      When the economics of solar do swing that direction, the smart utility companies will be the first to jump on board and their advantage of scale will still give them an advantage. They are not shaking in their boots.

    • So, what evidence is there that electric companies are scared? Sounds like just the contention of a greeny.

      Given many are trying to limit what they have to reimburse for non-utility generation by homeowners and businesses, establishing access and other mandatory fees to compensate for lost generation and or transmission revenue; I'd say they are certainly con corned, if not scared, and trying to get ahead dog the issue by getting laws and regulations in place before solar / storage becomes a major competitor. Once it is more common it'll be harder to shift costs to consumers.

    • by Mike_EE_U_of_I ( 1493783 ) on Friday December 05, 2014 @12:59PM (#48532069)

      The Edison Electric institute is a trade group for electric utilities. They published this report in January of 2013. []

      That report changed the attitudes of a huge number of electric utility executives. Before this report, I would describe most electric utility executives as indifferent to solar PV. They viewed it as a marginal technology and that it would probably always be a bit-player. After that report, pretty much none of them feel this way. Many executives at electric utilities are terrified of solar and are spending significant amounts of money lobbying against it.

    • Attempts to pass state level regulation are usually the best way to define utility fear. A simple Google search should show they've been trying to ban home solar / net-metering in some areas along with their attempts to raise the cost by instituting a grid fee.

  • by GerardAtJob ( 1245980 ) on Friday December 05, 2014 @11:49AM (#48531343)

    Why the customers should care? It's called progress : jobs are created and others are closed... Personally I don't give a fsck about what's going to happen to utilities... Even if my own job is at risk (I'll find another).

    • Re: (Score:3, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward

      You should care about how they might respond with Lobbying and Legislation that will block your and everyone's ability to actually use the batteries.

      They will respond to protect themselves and their revenue stream, most anyone would.
      History has shown they will not hesitate to utilize almost any method available.

      That is what you should be concerned about.

    • Jobs are fairly fluid as you say, but infrastructure less so. It costs about a billion dollars to build a coal plant, on the anticipation it will operate for 40 years. I would imagine the financing and legal arrangements (such as price guarantees) that entice people to make such investments could easily leave not only investors but taxpayers in the lurch.
    • You might care if there is not enough money to build new generation plants and you get a blackout on a cold winter day when solar is ineffective. The issue with most home solar installations is that they are still connected to the grid and will use grid power when needed. This requires the power companies to have and maintain generation plants that are usually producing far below capacity but they still need to be on line is case they are needed. This is a huge cost and will drive up grid electricity prices

  • by eldavojohn ( 898314 ) * <> on Friday December 05, 2014 @11:49AM (#48531349) Journal
    What the hell is up with the title of this article? Nowhere did I find any indication of anyone being "scared" or "frightened." On the contrary the article presents contradicting information:

    Still, the Edison Electric Institute, a trade group representing America’s investor-owned utilities, recently announced that its members will help to encourage electric vehicle use by spending $50 million annually to buy plug-in service trucks and invest in car-charging technology. “Advancing plug-in electric vehicles and technologies is an industry priority,” said EEI President Thomas Kuhn.

    Uh, "advancing as a priority" is actually the opposite of fear.

    Southern California Edison is planning to spend about $9.2 billion through 2017 to allow the two-way flow of electricity on its system, said Edison International CEO Ted Craver. “We are certainly big supporters of electric transportation,” Craver said. He added: “That electric car isn’t just going to stay at home. It’s going to go other places. It’s going to need to get charged in other places. And I think our ability to provide that glue for all those things that are going to plug into that network is really how we see our core business.”

    Again, sounds positive. Actually the only negative thing in the article is that electric cars might cause a load our infrastructure isn't ready for -- to the contrary a solar charging station in the home would mitigate this. Is the new journalism format to title your articles with a thesis directly contrary to all the actual evidence you're about to present?

    • by Anonymous Coward

      They're talking about pairing batteries with solar. That Tesla is also a car company is almost irrelevant. The key argument against solar is that it is very periodic and needs substantial cheap storage to be useful e.g. at night. Tesla, through battery manufacturing, supplies that, making solar as usable as utility power.

    • I'm curious about the capacity to manufacture batteries for electric vehicles - or any batteries - compared to the capacity to recycle, and the environmental impacts at both ends. I found this: [].

    • by M_Hulot ( 859406 ) on Friday December 05, 2014 @12:07PM (#48531535)

      What the hell is up with the title of this article? Nowhere did I find any indication of anyone being "scared" or "frightened."

      The threat that the article explains is that cheaper, better batteries makes going off-grid easier. Of course, electricity utilities aren't going to release a press release stating that they 'are afraid of this new technology and will try to kill it'! You may have doubts about how much of a threat batteries are to electricity companies and how that potential loss compares with the gain from electric cars, but the article is clear on the risks, in my opinion.

    • The share of renewable or solar is so insignificant compare to the overall picture of the market the utilities do not need to worry at all. At the end, it is also far to be evident the customer can produce a positive balance of energy to sell back and if so, it is far to be evident he can do it at a competitive price taking into account distribution fees. It may be nice to reduce your bill where it applies and is cost effective, but there is nothing to fear here for the utilities.

      In particular this quote fr

      • by mspohr ( 589790 )

        Right now renewables are a small part of the market but they are growing exponentially. The utilities can see the writing on the wall. They can either adapt or die.
        The electric utilities need to change their mindset. They should be grid management companies, not electricity generators.

    • to the contrary a solar charging station in the home would mitigate this.

      There's a couple things I don't like about this.

      1. You hook the solar up to your 'grid'. Even if it's a home level grid. No sense wasting electricity
      2. Solar car charging stations would probably be more useful at work. I tend to picture 'solar car parks', where ostentatiously the solar panels are for charging the employee and maybe even customer cars, but it's actually hooked into the grid. It's just that having a car shade is a really nice under appreciated perk, and it doesn't cost that much more to

  • by Anonymous Coward on Friday December 05, 2014 @11:51AM (#48531367)

    Learn about the super tricks the Electric Companies don't want you to know about!

  • Shit, if you could get an 85KW storage system with a decent support plan in place, then you'd see large scale electric grids wither in all but the most densely populated areas. Solar/Wind Charging during the day, comfortable power at night and when the recharge capabilities diminish beyond a certain point they come and swap it out for another storage system. Yeah if I were one of the big electric conglomerates I'd be nervous too. Adapt or die.

  • by MickyTheIdiot ( 1032226 ) on Friday December 05, 2014 @11:55AM (#48531407) Homepage Journal

    How fast until his business model is made illegal?

    Seriously... that's the way it works in the USA right now. Everyone is pro free market until their business model gets twacked by new technology.

  • by StonyCreekBare ( 540804 ) on Friday December 05, 2014 @11:56AM (#48531413) Homepage
    But all I see putting the Utilities business model in jeopardy is inept management and political pandering. Rooftop solar and battery storage cannot even begin to compete with efficient central generation and distribution. Utilities however have no incentive to run an efficient organization. For decades that have been drunk on the power of captive rate-payers, with no competitive pressure to be efficient. Rooftop solar and batteries threaten to bring that competition to the game. Modern utilities are so bloated and inefficient that the rooftop solar and battery combination is a threat despite being much less efficient. So yeah, utilities are scared, but not for the reasons, or in the manner the Solar proponents claim, but scared they will have to grow up, and abandon the monopoly model and actually run an efficient business. Competition always frightens the monopolist.
  • by bigmo ( 181402 ) on Friday December 05, 2014 @12:03PM (#48531497)

    Electric utilities would in fact love local storage for solar rooftops. The big technical problem for them is that when a cloud goes over an area, all the electricty being pumped back into the grid suddenly drops drastically and the power company has to have generation capacity to add in within seconds to avoid brown outs. By having even 30 minutes worth of storage in the home, the batteries could fill in for the local drop and ease the imapct on the power company.

    This is becoming a very big problem in Germany now and there are companies whose sole business is to supply incredibly expensive (thousands of dollars per kilowatt hour in some cases) electricity within a few seconds notice. I believe there was even a bloomberg article on this a few months ago.

  • by RobinH ( 124750 ) on Friday December 05, 2014 @12:10PM (#48531569) Homepage

    This will revolutionize the grid. I was reading that lithium ion batteries are around $500/kWh right now wholesale (and I've seen some you can buy from China that make me believe that's roughly true). Then there's a projected cost as low as $180/kWh in about 5 years after Tesla's factory ramps up (and no doubt others start to come online).

    Right now (in Ontario) I can buy peak electricity at about 13 cents per kWh and maybe 7 or 8 cents per kWh at night. Imagine a system of batteries where I buy power at night, store it, and then use that during the day. I worked the rough numbers and at today's battery prices I'd be hard pressed to get a return on my investment in 20 years, and that's only considering battery cost. However, if you use $180/kWh, suddenly you might see the payback period on a system like that drop below 10 years, and if I can do it at that price, what can a utility do with its economy of scale?

    The addition of economical grid-level storage will radically change the way the utilities run their business. You won't need so much idle generating capacity such as natural gas or coal sitting around to service peak loads because you can charge up your battery banks at night using nuclear and during the day with solar and consume them during the peak periods.

  • by King_TJ ( 85913 ) on Friday December 05, 2014 @12:25PM (#48531723) Journal

    I think it's great that someone is trying to advance battery storage technology. Tesla finds itself in a position to have a real vested interest in doing so, for the sake of improving sales of its vehicles AND because it opens up a whole new area they can market products to (PV solar owners who want to charge batteries for power storage to use when the sun isn't shining).

    The hype come in with all of these statements about power companies being scared by it, and it putting existing business models in peril.

    Frankly, that's a load of B.S. for the foreseeable future.

    For starters, this stuff has very high up-front costs. There's no way around the fact that storing enough electricity to power an entire home for a whole night (or longer if it's rainy and cloudy all day, so solar isn't generating a whole lot of power) requires some big batteries. Right now, most people could honestly see a lot more savings/return on investment by reducing their power consumption before even thinking about any of this stuff. (How many homes are still full of older appliances that use as much as 2-3x the amount of power as new, high-efficiency alternatives? What about buying the most efficient furnace or heat-pump or A/C unit available? People say they can't justify or "afford" it because you know... it might cost several thousand dollars to upgrade it. But even $7-8K for a new central A/C and furnace isn't even coming close to what one of these battery storage systems will cost you. And what about replacing all those incandescent or halogen bulbs in the house with low wattage LED versions?)

    The people buying this stuff anywhere in the near future are just the "early adopters" who have other motivations besides proof of pure financial savings. Heck, even if you could eek out a small net savings with this stuff -- you could *probably* just invest that money wisely and see more return that way.

  • by Tumbleweed ( 3706 ) on Friday December 05, 2014 @12:38PM (#48531849)

    They do not like anything that winds up with them selling fewer electrons. They don't even like cogeneration. When I was a reporter, writing about the electric industry about ten years ago, at the time the industry was saying they would help large businesses implement cogeneration to achieve greater efficiency, I learned about the "cogen killers" - people working for the electric producers who would on the sly, go and pressure large businesses to NOT implement cogeneration. This industry is rife with this kind of thing, so I would suggest you take anything one of their PR people says with a gigantic grain of salt, and then start following the money.

  • In the developed world with a very reliable grid, it would take a while for rooftop solar to effect a break through. But where grid electricity is unreliable they will go solar much more voluntarily, even paying premium prices. Already in India almost all the homes have inverters and lead-acid truck batteries. They typically provide 10 hours of juice for one TV, two ceiling fans and two or three fluorescent lamps. Richer folks there routinely run portable gas generators, (that noisy smelly polluting Honda thingie) all night long when there is a power cut. There are folks who drive around the city in their air conditioned cars when there is a powercut. In those places rooftop solar with battery back up will fetch premium prices.

    It is very much possible the utility companies may be able to stymie and delay the solar adoption in USA, but rest of the world will pay premium prices, and pay off the installation costs of these factories. So when the dam breaks and they start flooding the market, there is nothing that will save the utilities.

  • by EmperorOfCanada ( 1332175 ) on Friday December 05, 2014 @01:48PM (#48532613)
    One of the things that has been driving battery development is size and weight. Basically the higher the power density the cooler the iPhone. But with a house you don't really care if the battery is the size of a deep freeze as long as it does its job. This is not entirely true in that shipping and installation are a bit of a concern but once there most people won't care.

    What an ideal house battery will have is long term durability (20+ years), very low maintenance, and very low cost per Kwh.

    These are close to what researchers are looking for with car batteries ;thus house batteries not only benefit from the car battery research but can use low power density discoveries that cars might not readily use.

    But where this all gets interesting is that the economics look very bad for the power companies if only a few percent of customers are able to abandon the grid. Typically those who can abandon the grid will be private homes owned by slightly wealthier people. These are easy and typically profitable customers to service so losing many of them will see profits vanish while not seeing infrastructure costs drop significantly (you still have to run power past their houses).

    But the power companies are facing all kinds of much more subtle problems. For instance people generally hate the power company, thus they will typically enjoy screwing them over if the costs are roughly equal. Also people like going green which means that they are willing to endure minor hardships to go off grid (appeals to boomers). Lastly as boomers are heading into retirement one of the most important things is to nail down a budget. Energy costs can be unpredictable and so installing a fully off grid system could result in a near perfect guaranteed energy cost.

    Going forward people are also going to have more and more electric cars. A full solar system with large batteries will potentially mean little or no energy costs when running a car. This again will appeal to people on a fixed budget as they can then watch gas prices go up and down and simply not care.

    But the economics are very interesting. If the power company loses 5% of their customers that will almost translate to a 5% drop in revenue with only a tiny drop in costs. This could then start a vicious cycle where they try to make up for it with higher rates which drives away customers and so on. This could spiral until the only people still on the grid are those who can't go solar because of too high a demand for too little surface area (tall buildings) or simply don't have the capital wealth to finance the upgrade (poor people).

    Some people have commented that some factories can't go off grid but this is a fallacy in that other than the heaviest of heavy industry most factories could easily meet their energy needs with a solar system combined with some local generation. The key to the local generation making sense is if the above vicious circle were to drive up electrical prices local generation would make sense for a growing number of situations.

    There is a great historical precedent for this. Horses in large cities. Basically if in 1880 you drove your buggy into any large city you weren't alone and there were plenty of services available. But once the car began to take over and the richer made the switch it not only ate into the customer base a bit but it caused many horse service companies to no longer be able to justify the lower profit use of such prime downtown real-estate. So as more and more horse servicing companies closed it became more difficult to have a horse in a big city. Then the city officials realized that horses sort of sucked (cleaning horse poop and dead horses from the streets isn't cheap) so they began to push them out. Horses continued in the countryside for decades longer but in the cities the horses were mostly gone very very quickly. So one cannot simply compare the costs of a horse to a car and make a prediction. It becomes the whole situation from psychology to short ter

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