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  • Writer's pictureDean Anthony Gratton

The Humble Life of a Battery

Who’d have thought it – a humble battery has been all souped-up and offers a charge that perhaps was once thought unimaginable. Let me explain …

The clean energy cashback scheme

In last month’s column, “Sustainable energy: Switching on the community,” I talked about how I wanted to adopt a greener alternative where I recently decided to choose solar panels for my home; my decision to “go all green” was further compounded by my larger-than-life energy bills. Essentially, the area in which I live has no gas, so I’m wholly reliant on electricity to fuel both my hot water and heating. As such, the choice to select a solar panel system seemed obvious, and I wondered why I didn’t come to the decision sooner!

Anyway, the panels have since been installed onto my roof and the specialist electrician has now connected everything so that, not only can I feed back into the national grid to provide unused electricity, but I’m additionally compensated with a feed-in tariff (FiT) or clean energy cashback, where ordinary energy users, like myself, are offered a payment for generating their own energy.

It’s no ordinary battery

Naturally, before I could move forward with any installation, a surveyor had to inspect my property. The surveyor needed to ensure the viability of installing solar panels on my roof and, likewise, to assess whether it would prove beneficial based on the location and size of the roof, along with horizonal tilt and degrees south. To be honest, I was fairly confident anyway, since the roof at the front of the house was largely south facing and has the sun on it for most of the day.

But, what took me aback, if you recall from last’s month’s column, was when the surveyor suggested installing a battery, which would help reduce the cost of my energy further. Forget the relentless Energizer bunny, I was assured that this is no ordinary battery; it’s a 4.8kW PylonTech. Nope! I wasn’t any the wiser, but the surveyor went on to explain the benefits.

My current consumption is essentially free!

Firstly, the PylonTech energy storage system is upgradeable – so I could add additional cells to increase its capacity in the future, in a daisy-chain manner, as they’re currently provided in 2.4kW units. Moreover, the system would be charged throughout the day based upon superfluous energy; whereas in the evening, the battery is charged using my Economy 7 tariff, if needed. What’s more, the battery is used to take over my energy supply once dusk occurs and its longevity is, of course, subject to my use during the evening. The battery also kicks in, during the day, if necessary, if the solar isn’t generating sufficient energy to provide my home – I’ve seen its use dip in and out when there’s a particularly cloudy day.

Now my installation is up and running and I have access to an app where I can see first-hand my energy use during the day and evening, as you can see in the above image. So, on the far left in the image, we have my battery, which is fully charged and the charge is being nominally topped-up at 24W. In the centre of the image, we can see my newly installed panels generating 3339W despite it being the end of September and the sun bobbing in and out of the clouds; on the far right of the image we can see the superfluous energy being fed into the grid at 2642W; and finally, at the bottom we can see my home is consuming 436W – there are two desktop computers running, various devices on standby and I’m currently playing music on the “Everywhere group” courtesy of Alexa. In short, my current consumption is essentially free!

The image is a snapshot of my pseudo real-time energy use across my home and, alas, I’ve become somewhat neurotic about what devices are consuming my energy – how dare they! I have now routinely become proactive in ensuring what should be on and off and whether its viable to leave anything on standby – honestly, I have seemingly developed a unique superpower, where I can hear the buzz of any device consuming electricity.

Using your whitegoods at no cost!

I was also advised to shift my thinking as to how I use my whitegoods, such as the dishwasher, washing machine and dryer, for example. You see, I always set my dishwasher to start during my Economy 7 period, in order to take advantage of the lower rate. But the surveyor advised me to use my appliances during the sunniest times of the day when the solar energy is being generated. He went as far as to say, I would be using these goods during a time when there was natural energy available – yep, this would be at no cost!

This shift in thinking has inadvertently bestowed an awareness of my daily energy use and, in turn, when to optimally use it. With the app, I can see the solar panels generating an abundance of energy and this is when I decide to use my whitegoods. Naturally, I should use each appliance consecutively, as using them at the same time, would inevitably draw too much energy, which would be greater than that being generated. Similarly, if it’s a cloudy day, then I will defer use of the dishwasher and other appliances until such time there is sufficient energy being generated.

Renewable and sustainable energy for all

For me, in this context, this is where a smart meter would prove beneficial since, not only are you creating your own energy and having access to pseudo real-time energy data, but you additionally have access to how lights, appliances and gadgets on standby or charge are consuming electricity, exploiting the holistic view of consumption across the home. Lastly, my new energy storage system will kick in if there is a power outage in the village, ensuring supply continuity within my home.

You may recall from last month’s column, I recently attended CIGRE in Paris during August and was privy to several of Siemens’ presentations surrounding renewable energy and its sustainability across residences, business and industries.

Extending battery life beyond the warranty period

For Siemens, the humble battery has become pivotal within the residential, commercial and industrial arenas, as an incumbent factor in sustainable energy, along with the use of solar – it seems the two go hand-in-hand. What I learned during the event was how batteries used in electric vehicles have the opportunity to take on a second life. In particular, a battery that was formerly used to provide momentum in a vehicle, at the end of its life, could be reused within a residence for a further 10 or so years.

Siemens are not the only ones repurposing batteries in a second-life form; numerous car manufacturers have taken the lead to ensure that batteries are repurposed for other contexts, whether that’s for residential or business.

Until next time …

For me, this inevitably raised a question: “What about a third, fourth, fifth life?” which led to the assurance that this is an ongoing innovation strategy that Siemens are continuing to work on since, for now, the humble battery, once it has expired its second life, is destroyed. Yikes, what a terrible and sad ending for the humble battery.

So, this is where a “long live the battery” Dr. G signs off.

Originally published in Technically Speaking.


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a technology influencer, analyst & futurist 

I dispel the rumours, gossip and hype surrounding new technology

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