We continue to stumble along and find our way. In this case, I think its important to share the process and ignore the embarrassment of “being wrong” as we go along. We need to walk our sins out with you. It’s peculiarly important in this case. As my needs for personal self-aggrandizement are modest and diminishing rapidly with age, cool.
As many of you know, I spent a personal fortune on a photovoltaic power system for my home in Morrison Colorado in 1998 – about $275,000 for what would today be viewed as a quaintly modest 15kW system. More recently we had a 24kW array installed here at the EVTV shop at a cost of $63,000, which was actually rebated by AmerenUE to $48,000 of that amount. And more recently yet, we added a little over 13kw as a DC test array using 40 Panasonic HIT panels that we just use for testing.
So it would appear solar power is pretty far along as a technology – perhaps even mature.
Our work with EV’s is really pretty much done. That doesn’t precisely mean we won’t do them anymore. But our mission, to promote the adoption of electric vehicles and magnetic drive for personal transportation is pretty well over. We kind of lingered in the tinkerer and innovator stage of this, but appear to be rather racing through the early adopter phase which looks like it barely occupied 18 months. The demand has basically “hockey sticked” or turned vertical and I take the Model 3 demand as evidence of that. Volkswagen is now issuing press releases indicating 16 new electric models. Capitulation by BMW, VW, GM, and essentially ALL automobile manufacturers. Forward from here, there is little EVTV can contribute to that process. Our impact will diminish by the hour. We won. An irony of winning in all the endeavors of my life has been to make myself irrelevant as fast as I possibly can.
Am I premature in this analysis? Well, I would hope so. Peering into the future rather demands a bit of that.
But it has caught many by surprise our sudden interest in solar technologies. They too have “hockey sticked” and indeed OVER HALF of ALL solar installations in the United States have occurred in the past 24 months. Of about 53 GW of generation capacity, over 25 of it was installed in 2016 and 2017. So it might appear we’re steering from one area that is taking off to another.
Perhaps. But I find a deeply disturbing situation in Solar and we need a resteer and we need it quickly. It’s rather part of an unholy alliance between the utility companies, legislators, and a backroom tie between the grid and Underwriter Laboratories and the regulatory schemata to require all installations comply with UL listed equipment that directs our entire solar effort toward the benefit of large stake holders at the expense of the small. The wild west nature of current installations has caused them to come quite out of the closet on this and they have dropped the facade. The irony is that it is actually NOT in the interest of the large stake holders, neither in the short term nor in the long. And I am incensed by the pathological stupidity and lack of vision of those managing those assets.
And it all centers on a central issue with solar energy that has never been satisfactorily resolved – storage.
Elon Musk has been the central figure correctly steering the adoption of EV’s. He’s done less well on solar. We’re never shy about offering him advice. I ordered a Powerwall TWICE, the original and the newer one. We’ve of course never received one. Most of those who have are in Australia. He can’t get Powerwall installations “approved”.
Those cluck clucking and admonishing about “following the law” are simply woefully ignorant of the history of technology and what the purpose of the laws are. It is kind of a unidirectional tool to CONTROL YOU and at any point if you find the powers that be breaking exactly the same law willfully and with malice aforethought, you will be shocked at how little is done about it. It is simply excused and swept away with vague and unsatisfactory misexplanations. Let me assure you, slavish adherence to law would have prevented you ever seeing a global Internet through which you access these words today. It would not have happened.
It is brilliantly obvious that the sun doesn’t shine at night, and it is rather dim through hurricanes, thunderstorms, and blizzards. The energy generated by photovoltaics MUST be stored to be useful. And we have idiotically designed a photovoltaic world where the grid is used AS the battery for energy storage, which it is curiously and almost uniquely ill-suited to perform. 97% of all photovoltaic rooftop systems in the U.S. have ZERO battery storage. They pump excess INTO the grid, and withdraw shortfall FROM the grid, using it AS the battery. And if the grid goes down, hysterically it can’t make ANY power at all by DESIGN of a grid that really has no storage of its own at all.
The solution is inevitable and inescapable. Lithium batteries WILL be the default storage for solar electrical power. There are other chemistries and indeed other storage forms. They are simply unworkable as a practical matter. Much lower efficiencies, much higher complexities, and extraordinary cost define them all. Oachim’s razor commands the simplest solution. And that is lithium ionic batteries.
They are expensive. But not so very much so. And in an irony of my life, the solution is held in the problem of the electric vehicle. Batteries. Our universal suspicion of batteries has driven automakers to offer absurd warranties of eight years and 100,000 miles OR MORE, on batteries for EVs. ALL Tesla electric cars since the first model S delivery (not including the 2400 Roadsters) are STILL under warranty. And the very first to expire with regards to calendar won’t be for another two years.
It is also THE most expensive part ever devised for an automobile. And when the car is destroyed, the battery rarely is. But there is NO automotive market for it as a replacement. All the cars on the road are under warranty. They will be for some time. And relating the battery warranty period of eight years to the normal working life of an automobile, 9.6 years, the automotive market for salvaged batteries is destined to ever be essentially nonexistant.
Irionically, the demands for storage and power in solar installations are truly trivial juxtaposed to those in a car. A Tesla battery has to be able to deliver 350kw of power for brief periods. Solar installations, at least for homes, would reach 20kW only in large homes and only for a few seconds.
Battery capacity does diminish with age and use. For a 75 mile range Nissan Leaf, reducing that range to 45 miles severely limits the utility of the car. It does little to a solar installation, indeed we can START with the 45 mile range and use it for years. Unlike the car, we don’t have a range, and having two elderly Leaf batteries or even three hardly strains the storage capacity of a house or barn.
Absurdly today, if you have a rooftop solar installation in the U.S., if the grid goes down, you have a 97% assurance that you can’t make ANY electrical power even with a 50kw array on the roof with full sun shining on it. You are grid tied.
And so we are examining this. And everything you think you know about solar equipment and solar energy MIGHT be true. I’m from Missouri. I think a fresh look is in order. And you kind of have to show me.
I wanted to experiment with using an off-grid inverter to provide the necessary AC waveform for the “grid-tied” inverters to synchronize to and so produce power even when the grid is lost. To do so, I had to of course shut off the grid. When I did so, I found my grid tied inverters on one circuit, and the rest of my shop on another, and they weren’t connected at all. Examining the setup, I found it more than a bit bizarre although ultimately it all made sense. We had TWO grid shutoffs and when we shut them off, we disconnect the two sides. So we had to “rewire the sucker” so we could put them back together on our side of the wall.
I had noticed an anomaly with our utility bill and came to the bizarre conclusion in this video that I had one side going UP the meter and then DOWN the meter to the other side. That would partially explain the billing anomaly. I had inquired of our grid provider, AmerenUE and while they always promised to get back to me, nobody ever gets back to me.
After making this video, a number of viewers noted that my connection COULD NOT work that way. Yes and no. The separation was real, but the loop through the meter simply cann’t be. Falling on my sword, I jumped to a bizarre conclusion. It’s a bizarre situation.
I have since contacted AmerenUE rather insistently. Here is a copy of my most recent bill.
I was pleasured to be entertained by the ever charming Ms. Kimberly Alexander of the AmerenUE Missouri Business office – an erstwhile refugee of Charles Murray’s Bell Curve. I very politely asked her to help me understand how this bill was calculated.
Note that there are TWO electric readings at the bottom of the bill Both on meter 17317959. The upper reading, I happen to know, increments with my use of energy FROM the grid and never decrements at all. It shows a use in this billing period of 448 kWh.
The line below it, I happen to know, only increments when we are PRODUCING power from the grid-tied array. It never decrements at all. It shows 1101 kWh during this period.
The ELECTRIC ENERGY CHARGE at the top of the bill is a modest $37.49. And while modest, it doesn’t quite explain how I produced over twice the electricity I used, but still wound up with a due amount. And so I asked her to walk me through it.
She did. And it was shocking. First, she did so in unctuousely condescending and indeed lecturing tone. She explained that you took the 440kWh from the top line, added it to the 1101 kWh on the bottom line to get a total of 1549 kWh. You then multiply that by the winter rate of 8.3 cents per kWh and presto chango, you get $37.49.
I waited a full minute in silence for her to catch her embarrassing 2nd grade arithmetic mistake. “Can I help you with anything else, Mr. Rickard” was the next thing I heard.
I replied that I didn’t think that her calculation was correct. She insisted it was. And I asked her to try that on her calculator. “Oh, I see what you mean. Yes, Mr. Rickard. It appears we have UNDERCHARGED you on this bill. I’ll make the correction now.”
I have decided to BE nice during this call. And as all EVTV viewers know full well this is just NOT part of my skill set or core competency. But straining heroically and indeed in physical pain from the effort I attempted to explain the solar installation and the raw concept of net metering and how it was supposed to work.
That caused some serious attitude on her end and I could see the fight was on. So I reined it in and asked to speak to any other humanoid in her vicinity. She replied that she was only trying to help me and she was sure she could handle it. And so I kind of blew up and told her to lose the attitude and put her mickey fucking mouse listening ears on then.
Incredibly, she must have been used to that type of blowup and indeed apparently enjoys it. She told me she wasn’t trying to have an attitude and would be happy to inquire about the bill from the accounting office as indeed there appeared to be something amiss. I thanked her, gave her a brief course on the basics of net metering and how I thought it was SUPPOSED to work, but stressed I had no idea how they were actually doing it. She assured me something was definitely wrong then and she would absolutely get back with me within ONE day – no longer.
Sounded good. Actually it was FOUR days later. She did call, and said that they had looked into it. They were sending me a 12 page billing correction and would I like a check for the $2346.85 credit for the past two years.
I pointed out that the system was installed four years ago come July. She told me that they only kept billing records for the previous two years, and then noted the most profoundly spiritually life changing pronouncement I believe I have ever heard. Resuming the arrogantly superior and condescending tone of our initial contact: “You know it is the CUSTOMERS responsibility to ensure the accuracy of the billng Mr. Rickard. We of course don’t have anyone checking these things.”
At this point, I was having fun. I told her, “Kimberley, let me play back what I heard, and you compare that to what you think you said. You all MAKE the electricity. I BUY the electricity. You use YOUR meter, to calculate how much I have used. You then send me a bill for it. MY RESPONSIBILITY is to write the fucking check. And if I don’t do that within just a few days, you disconnect me. What would I know about the accuracy of the bill? On Tuesday, you carefully explained to me how read the bill and how it was calculated, and YOU didn’t get ANY PART OF IT CORRECT and you work in the AmerenUE Business office. So if YOU can’t read the bill correctly, how can it be MY RESPONSIBILITY to do so?”
To her credit, she did giggle out loud and somewhat at length. Glimmer of sentience?
Compare this with Elon Musks assertion that it is the DRIVER’s responsibility to drive the car when in autopilot mode. FIVE YEARS ago I went on a raging rant wanting to know WHY he was going to give up the cart blanche pass granted automobile manufacturers by our legal system in the event of a car accident. The first responsibility is driver and driver error. And if any mechanical failure occurs it is ASSUMED to be due to the driver/owner failing to maintain the vehicle. But autopilot virtually assures that some 20 year old girl in court will be telling the judge: “But your honor, I thought the CAR was driving. It said so on the web site.” This month he is assuring us that it is THE DRIVERS RESPONSIBILITY to make sure the car doesn’t have an accident while on autopilot. Indeed, they have LOGS proving that the driver had his hands entirely off the wheel for six full seconds prior to the collision.????
And so we are on the brink of establishing lack of responsibility by declaration. If you DECLARE that it is someone else’sresponsibility, then it is. Methinks NOT. Maybe if you add some four point type in the Owners Manual. Well that’s on screen now so you can even add it to the manual in arrears.
Two solar stories have emerged since our episode. One involves a California utility that is addressing battery backed up Solar installations. They are incensed that the end users are CHARGING the batteries at the low Time of Day rate, and then selling electricity BACK during the high TOD rate period. They are buying their own electricity back. And they MIGHT support the notion of battery storage for solar installations, but ONLY if they can get an Underwriter Laboratories requirement that the battery be entirely UNABLE to charge from the grid.
This was the first time I’ve actually seen a utility note that they conspire and collude with UL for profit. I’ve known it for decades but here they are publicly admitting it.
But what strikes you about this? A couple of things should. First, they don’t want to sell you electricity when they experience low demand and so charge a low rate for it. And they definitely don’t want to buy it back during high demand periods when they charge more for it. In other words, they don’t even know WHAT they want. Just whatever YOU want they DON’T want. OBviously they NEED power during high demand periods and definitely need USE during low demand periods. You do realize they pay DOUBLE THE RETAIL rate in some cases for additional capacity to peaker plants and even more bizarre, they pay LOAD suppliers to absorb electricity when they have excess. Why would they even WANT you not to do storage for them and pay you for it.????? This is an eggregious case of dog in the manger without benefit of sentient life form oversight.
The second thing notable in the article was what the periods were. There has apparently been SO much solar installation in California that afternoon periods of highest level of irradiance is the LOW rate period now when they have an excess of electrical generation capacity. This inverts the historical situation where we use about 55% of the level of electricity at 3:00 AM as we do at 3:00 PM.
The bottom line is that solar installations and batteries offer a serious advantage to levelling the demand curve FOR electric utilities. But they are so myopically focused on short term business model issues caused by a relic system of monopoly rate structuring, that they cannot see the forest for the trees, and indeed in this case the trees for all the leaves. Moronic and deeply troubling dysfunctional public policy going forward.
A second story in Montanna just brazenly and without art announces that the utility companies are tired of net metering and will not survive unless the legislature removes it and replaces it with net billing – described specifically in our video this week. In this story, they actually correctly used the same terms we did in our explanation.
And so the war between utility grids and home solar owners I predicted several years ago is on FULL BORE. You’re in it whether you think you are in it or not. My job is to show you how to win it. But you will have to break the law. And most importantly, you have to learn to break it safely. Comic incidents and explosions that pose a danger to the community will be used to make the case for more regulations and less freedom to generate electricity at the point of use.
Here is our latest efforts. I advocate using full batteries from EVs as they come out of the car. But currently most of our viewers just aren’t there yet and want to deal with 48vdc banks of MODULES extracted from the batteries. Unfortunately, most of the equipment available just isn’t a very good match to the voltages in the current Model S modules.
We’ve commissioned a Chinese inverter design firm to modify their 12kw 48vdc inverter to work SPECIFICALLY with the voltages of two Tesla Model S battery modules as kind of an OEM version for EVTV. It will actually do 36kW peak for up to 20 seconds.
It connects to the grid from the rear. And in AC mode it simply passes the grid through to the loads and to a series of AC coupled microinverters. It also charges the batteries kind of bidiretionally from the grid power and/or the microinverter output. Microinverter output in excess of the batteries and loads would push to the grid.
On grid failure, or if in BATTERY mode, it works with the microinverters and produces AC from the batteries and panels to the loads. Only if the battery reaches a low level of charge is the AC grid power or generator power switched in. It even provides a generator start output.
This vastly reduces the body count and expense of such a system. It also probably breaks 30 or 40 laws in the process. But it will operate on loss of grid. IT won’t present solar power to the grid if the grid goes down. And should be reasonably safe. IF nothing else, it provides an inexpensive way to update one of the 97% grid tied systems to have battery backup.
We’ll be doing a build of a large box with 10 Tesla Modules for 50kW storage using this for a gentleman in Costa Rica I believe starting next month.
Finally we did acheive what I originally set out to do and BLEEW UP our 20kW inverter by tying it to the grid-tied inverters. With two cars charging, and with about 10kW charging the batteries, the batteries reached full and automatically disconnected from the inverter. We lost all electrical power of course, but this time we blew the capacitors in the inverter rather completely with an enormous BOOM but no fire or smoke really.
I think we can repair it. But it illustrates the common wisdome that you can’t use an inverter to trick a grid-tied inverter to make electricity. Actually it doesn’t. You can. But you have to have a battery to absorb any excess and so we have to come up with a contactor control system to disable the microgrid inverters when the battery becomes full and no grid to push to. WE’re working on it.
It’s actually quite easy. What I would like to do is work out some Power Line Communications (PLC) system to effect it to eliminate two wires.
I dismiss and indeed laugh out loud at pathetic attempts to be an activist and shrilly demand change based on nonsense global warming religious arguments. Jute grocery bags are not going to change the world. But I do have deeply held true religious beliefs that command and direct a better stewardship of our planet, it’s environment, and the lives of the humanoids living there. Not by ineffective chants and polemics and shrilly annoying anyone who might otherwise find common purpose.
I believe empowering and enabling the generation and storage of electricity at the point of use through photovoltaics and lithium batteries provides an UNBOUNDED benefit to dozens of problems simultaneously. The benefits are just incalculable. Almost beyond human comprehension. Vast and enormous arrays of filth and nast and disease causing noxious vapors are simply ERADICATED if large numbers of humanoids see a clear and present advantage to adopting this FOR THEMSELVES. Mandating nonsense is neither persuasive or effective. But enabling and empowering people worldwide to cut the cord and harness the power of the sun for local energy needs (and personal transportation) can truly and radically change the world for the better. Not by a little bit that is theoretically cummulative. But massively and DISRUPTIVELY. And those disrupted can lead, follow or get the hell out of the way.
Cynically having perhaps lived too long already, I can predict how they will react too accurately. But you never know. Hope springs eternal.