With Tesla’s historic acquisition of SolarCity now pending, Elon Musk has announced two new solar products, including one that could disrupt the roofing industry.
Tesla and SolarCity could change the roofing industry Credit: SolarCity Twitter
As Electrek reported, during a conference call with investors Tuesday, Musk and SolarCity CEO Lyndon Rive said they were working on creating a roof made entirely of solar panels—solar shingles, if you will. Instead of tacking on solar panels onto an existing roof, the whole roof itself will be integrated with photovoltaic material.
“I think this is really a fundamental part of achieving differentiated product strategy, where you have a beautiful roof,” Musk said. “It’s not a thing on the roof. It is the roof.”
Rive confirmed the project. According to Electrek, “Rive added that there are 5 million new roofs installed every year in the U.S. and if your roof is about to need to be replaced, you don’t want to invest in solar panels to install on it since you are about to take it down, but if the solar panels are the roof and you need to redo it anyway, there’s no reason not to go with a power-generating roof.”
Roofs certainly don’t last forever. As U.S. News explained, depending on the material, roofs can last more than 50 years but homeowners with roofs made of fiber cement shingles or asphalt shingle/composition roofs can expect a lifespan of 20-25 years. Inclement weather—snow, hail and hurricanes—can cut a roof’s lifespan even shorter.
Asphalt roofs—which are by far the most common in the U.S.—also happen to create about 11 million tons of waste each year. Though inexpensive, asphalt shingles are also a petroleum-basedproduct which carries major environmental impacts. So if a homeowner needed to re-shingle the roof anyway, why not go with shingles that could double as an electricity generator instead and might be better for the environment?
Musk, who is the chairman and largest shareholder of Tesla and SolarCity, said there’s a “huge” market for roofs at the end of their lifespan.
He also said, according to Bloomberg, “If you need to replace your roof in the next five years, you’re not going to get solar. What if your roof looks better and last longer?”
Musk and Rive did not provide exact details on the solar roof, but they are not inventing something brand new if they are proposing to produce solar shingles. Dow’s Powerhouse was the biggest name to forge this path around 2009, but the technology was possibly too expensive and perhaps impractical to take off. The company decided to stop selling this product just this past June.
Electrek deduced that the other new Tesla/SolarCity solar product will be for existing roofs. The two products are expected be unveiled by the end of this year.
Meanwhile, Tesla’s $2.6 billion stock offer for SolarCity awaits shareholder approval. In announcing its decision to combine with SolarCity, Tesla said it has a vision of “creating the world’s only vertically integrated sustainable energy company.”
This article was written by: Lorraine Chow and first appeared on: ecowatch.com
Tesla’s Powerwall is a rechargeable lithium-ion battery made to store energy at the residential level. Photo Credit: Tesla Energy
“We’ve dramatically increased the power capability of the Powerwall,” Musk said at Tesla’sannual stockholders’ meeting in Mountain View, California this week. “It basically more than doubled the power output of the power pack, and the price is going to stay the same.”
According to Computer World, prices for the products will stay at $3,000 for the seven kilowatt-hour (kWh) daily cycle version and $3,500 for the 10 kWh backup UPS (Uninterruptible Power Supply) version. The batteries will go from having a two kilowatt (kW) steady power output and a 3.3 kW peak output to a 5 kW steady output and 7 kW peak output.
“The daily cycler is sort of more about economics or getting off the grid completely, whereas the backup UPS is just there to ensure your house has power if there’s ever a power outage,” Musk explained.
Solar panel owners and future solar panel owners will receive “priority” treatment for delivery of the new Powerwall batteries, Computer World reported. “It doesn’t have to be SolarCity,” Musk said of his sister company, of which he’s a chairman. “SolarCity is, of course, preferred, if you like the best.” As we previously reported, the solar installer is the first in line to incorporate Tesla’s new batteries.
The reason behind the upgrade came after the products received some criticism when they were first released. According to Edie.net, potential buyers alleged that the 2 kWh output wouldn’t be enough to power a standard house. Additionally, Forbes staff writer Christopher Helman also crunched the numbers and found that the 15 cents per kWh of solar power (generated by SolarCity’s panels) plus the 15 cents to cycle a kWh from the Powerwall add up to 30 cents per kWh of electricity, a “bonkers” amount considering that the national average for utility-provided electricity is 12.5 cents per kWh, Helman pointed out.
However, as Musk said at the shareholders’ meeting, “We actually took some of the negative feedback to heart, and I’m happy to announce we’ve dramatically increased the power capability of the Powerwall.” The added power capacity should power an entire house, provided the occupants aren’t running energy-hungry air condition units, Musk said.
Watch Musk (who starts speaking at 13:30) at the Tesla shareholders’ meeting in the video below:
Is it possible for the U.S. to ditch fossil fuels? The answer is yes, according to researchers and engineers from Stanford University and U.C. Berkeley, who have developed a state-by-state plan to convert the country to 100 percent renewable energy in less than 40 years.
The study, published in the Energy and Environmental Sciences, showcases how each state can replace fossil fuels by tapping into renewable resources available in each state, such as wind, solar, geothermal, hydroelectric, and even small amounts of tidal and wave power.
The report, led by Stanford civil and environmental engineering professor Mark Z. Jacobson and U.C. Berkeley researcher Mark Delucchi, argues that converting the current energy infrastructure into renewable energy will help fight climate change, save lives by eliminating air pollution, create jobs and also stabilize energy prices.
You can check out an interactive map summarizing the plans for each state at The Solutions Project, an organization of scientists, business leaders and other forward-thinking minds with a mission of accelerating the world’s transition to 100 percent clean, renewable energy.
The project’s concept has attracted high-profile funders including the Elon Musk Foundation and Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation, according to The Plaid Zebra.
The Elon Musk Foundation and Leonardo DiCaprio Foundation are helping to fund this project.
Board members of The Solutions Project include notable environmental advocates including filmmaker and founder of the the International WOW Company Josh Fox, co-founder and president of Mosaic Billy Parish, and actor and noted environmentalist Mark Ruffalo.
Undoubtedly, the plan involves a lot of difficult and expensive changes, but the authors believe that the complete transition to renewables is economically and technically viable.
“The main barriers are social, political and getting industries to change. One way to overcome the barriers is to inform people about what is possible,” Jacobson said. “By showing that it’s technologically and economically possible, this study could reduce the barriers to a large scale transformation.”
According to a news release, the study’s authors examined each state’s current energy usage in four sectors: residential, commercial, industrial and transportation. For each sector, they then analyzed the current amount and source of the fuel consumed—coal, oil, gas, nuclear and renewables—and calculated what the fuel demands would be if replaced with electricity. (This includes all the cars on the road becoming electric, as well as homes and businesses fully converting to electric heating and cooling systems). They then calculated how this new electric grid could be powered using only renewable energy resources available in each state.
“When we did this across all 50 states, we saw a 39 percent reduction in total end-use power demand by the year 2050,” Jacobson said. “About 6 percentage points of that is gained through efficiency improvements to infrastructure, but the bulk is the result of replacing current sources and uses of combustion energy with electricity.”
Check out South Carolina, for instance (you can see the infographics for the other 49 stateshere):
Not only is a fossil fuel-free South Carolina possible, doing so would create nearly 100,000 clean-energy jobs. Photo Credit: The Solutions Project
The good news is that several states are already on their way. For example, Washington state already meets 70 percent of its current electricity needs from existing hydroelectric sources.
Yes, the upfront cost of the massive conversion would be expensive, however the study’s authors argue it would even out over time and the environmental benefits are clear.
“When you account for the health and climate costs—as well as the rising price of fossil fuels—wind, water and solar are half the cost of conventional systems,” Jacobson said. “A conversion of this scale would also create jobs, stabilize fuel prices, reduce pollution-related health problems and eliminate emissions from the United States. There is very little downside to a conversion, at least based on this science.”
Engineers at Oregon State University have made a breakthrough in the performance of microbial fuel cells that can produce electricity directly from wastewater, opening the door to a future in which waste treatment plants not only will power themselves, but will sell excess electricity.
The new technology developed at OSU uses new concepts — reduced anode-cathode spacing, evolved microbes and new separator materials — and can produce more than two kilowatts per cubic meter of liquid reactor volume — 10 to 50 more times the electrical per unit volume than most other approaches using microbial fuel cells, and 100 times more electricity than some.
This technology cleans sewage by a very different approach than the aerobic bacteria used in the past. Bacteria oxidize the organic matter and, in the process, produce electrons that run from the anode to the cathode within the fuel cell, creating an electrical current.
Almost any type of organic waste material can be used to produce electricity — not only wastewater, but also grass straw, animal waste, and byproducts from such operations as the wine, beer or dairy industries.
The researchers say this could eventually change the way that wastewater is treated all over the world, replacing the widely used “activated sludge” process that has been in use for almost a century. The new approach would produce significant amounts of electricity while effectively cleaning the wastewater, they suggest.
“If this technology works on a commercial scale, the way we believe it will, the treatment of wastewater could be a huge energy producer, not a huge energy cost,” said Hong Liu, an associate professor in the OSU Department of Biological and Ecological Engineering. “This could have an impact around the world, save a great deal of money, provide better water treatment and promote energy sustainability.”
Experts estimate that about 3 percent of the electrical energy consumed in the United States and other developed countries is used to treat wastewater, and a majority of that electricity is produced by fossil fuels.
The system also works better than an alternative approach to creating electricity from wastewater that is based on anaerobic digestion that produces methane. It treats the wastewater more effectively, and doesn’t have any of the environmental drawbacks of that technology, such as production of unwanted hydrogen sulfide or possible release of methane, a potent greenhouse gas, the researchers believe.
The OSU system has now been proven at a substantial scale in the laboratory, Liu said, and the next step would be a pilot study. A good candidate, she said, might initially be a food processing plant, which is a contained system that produces a steady supply of certain types of wastewater that would provide significant amounts of electricity.
Once advances are made to reduce high initial costs, researchers estimate that the capital construction costs of this new technology should be comparable to that of the activated sludge systems now in widespread use today — and even less expensive when future sales of excess electricity are factored in.
The approach may also have special value in developing nations, where access to electricity is limited and sewage treatment at remote sites is difficult or impossible as a result.
The ability of microbes to produce electricity has been known for decades, but only recently have technological advances made their production of electricity high enough to be of commercial use. OSU researchers reported several years ago on the promise of this technology, but at that time the systems in use produced far less electrical power. Continued research should also find even more optimal use of necessary microbes, reduced material costs and improved function of the technology at commercial scales, OSU scientists said.