Thursday, April 12, 2007

MIT Club event on Energy Storage

The MIT Club of Northern California's Renewable Energy and Clean Technology Series hosted a panel on Energy Storage at the PG&E auditorium on 4/11. As with most MIT Club events the panel was very good and the audience very engaged. Even the Thai food served was pretty good :-) Most MIT Club events are hosted in Palo Alto, but this was in San Francisco due the PG&E sponsorship. This is a bit of a drive from Cupertino, but its always fun going to San Francisco. The speakers included Dan Rastler from the Electric Power Research Institute, Dr. David Mills, Chairman of Ausra Inc., Mike Gravely, Research Program Manager with the California Energy Commission's Public Interest Energy Research Program and Rick Winter a consultant with Distributed Utility Associates.

In the pursuit of alternative energy solutions we don't often hear about energy storage. Interestingly, for the public utilities like PG&E and for alternative energy providers it is a very important issue. In the US we rarely have load shedding or blackouts, but in countries like India where this is common homeowners are very used to backup power supplies, mostly made up of lead-acid batteries. This is indeed a common and cheap storage mechanism as the panelists pointed out. The target for storage technologies is $150/kWh and currently most of them are 2-5x the target. Dr. Mills talked about Ausra's Concentrating Solar Power, which uses solar power stored as superheated steam and recovered using steam turbines. He claims over 95% efficiencies for the storage part. However, the technology requires a lot of area and is targeted at medium to large installations, O(MWatts), and not for residential or portable storage. The interesting technologies which are suitable for residential customers are lead-acid mentioned earlier and Lithium ion batteries. Yes, the same battery technology used in laptops and MP3 players. Due to mass manufacturing planned for this technology to address consumer markets, this will be a viable energy storage mechanism for larger applications, approaching $250/kwH in cost.

Mike Gravely talked about research programs funded by the State of California on renewable energy projects. This is the State of California's effort to encourage the development of renewable energy. It is seed money available to businesses and individuals to develop their ideas in the space. The grants are awarded every 4 months based on proposals received. The process appears easier than trying to get seed money from angel investors, if you have a good idea. Its only fitting that the State of California encourage innovation as an angel investor :-)


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