Editor's Note: Updated at 2:15 on 2/26/08
It calls to mind the old jokes about solar-powered flashlights (and the related screened door for your submarine), but it's surprising to discover that many small-scale solar power systems actually don't have batteries. That means they can only generate electricity when the sun is shining, obviously, and therefore can't provide for the typical home's 12kwh daily power requirements (unless you go all Abraham Lincoln at night).
Not surprisingly, enterprising off-the-gridders have been rigging up battery systems for years to get around this problem, but now Sharp Corp, Daiwa House Industry Co. and Dai Nippon Printing Co. have announced a plan to work together to commercialize a storage battery for household solar power systems as early as 2009, reports Asia Pulse.
The companies are working on a lithium ion battery that can store up to 18kwh of power. It's currently being developed under a joint venture between Daiwa House and Dai Nippon Printing, and Sharp will buy in as an equal partner next month by purchasing 600 million yen ($5US.59 million) in new shares. The three reportedly plan to issue additional shares in autumn.
The venture is expected to build a 15 billion yen factory in Kawasaki.
Edward Morrill, a solar installer who has worked in Southern California and Arizona, says he is looking forward to what the companies develop -- if they can make the price right. He says batteries have always been a problem with solar installations, whether that's for RV, home or other systems. "We were all aware that various super batteries were being developed, yet we had to waste our money on crappy kinds," says Morrill.
Super batteries and cheap inverters will make solar power fun in the future; now it's still a big investment," he says.
Gary Schmitz, a spokesperson for the National Renewable Energy Laboratory in Colorado, says these new batteries are likely to have limited, rather than broad, application. "Most homeowners don't want to use batteries," he says. That's because most who install solar panels are still attached to the grid, and can often take advantage of net metering, meaning when they produce more electricity then they need it feeds back into the system (earning them credits from their utilities).
It's true that net metering is currently governed by state and isn't available everywhere, but Schmitz says homeowners would have to carefully look at the economics to see if batteries (which tend to be expensive) might make sense. More likely, Schmitz says better batteries will be a boon to those who truly live off the grid, and will eventually be vital for the next generation of electric vehicles.
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