Battery operated…..houses?

The innovative car company, Tesla, is now offering to run your house on a battery.  The new  power wall has two sizes:  in 10kWh and 7 kWh daily cycle models, which could run 4 to 3 homes on the road system, respectively.  What is very nice about these batteries is the ability to tie additional ones together so that you can have an aggregate source of  90 kWh (for 10 kWh batteries) and 63 kWh (for 7 kWh batteries).  With plants being built for this scale of lithium-ion battery technology,  this is an answer to on demand electricity when outages occur, or if you are off grid. Take a sneak peak:
Now, if you add solar to the equation, these Tesla cells open up a whole new world for those who are not hooked to the grid.  (Tesla is now working with  SolarCity, and has attracted enough customers to equate to a sixth of Alaska’s population so that this partnership takes up almost half of the household battery storage market).  For some time in solar has been readily available from the view point of converting radiant heat into electrons, but often it has not been cost feasible due to 1) the cost of the silicon PV panels and 2) storage of the electrons.  With PV panels down to almost a dollar a watt (where at the beginning of the century they generally were over ten dollars a watt) the conversion is cheaper than ever and with the lithium ion batteries the storage is now reasonable for many residences.
 Yet even with charging the batteries off the grid, the ability  to store excess energy during the middle of the night when there is low demand and then burn up the KW during peak hours (generally a higher cost rate for KW) has helped some people to save money due to taking advantage of daily rate differentials.  One  project is using 10-killowatt-hour batteries to gather 2 days of power and have it on hand.  This is a great advantage when planning for emergency/disaster power outages.  Suppose wind and ice storms that have become more frequent in the fall the last several years take down your toyo stove and refrigerator….This may not be a big deal if it is just for a couple of hours, but depending what time of year it is you could have a real problem on your hands if you are talking two days.  Broken pipes, food going bad, cost of a motel, etc…  And though you can use a $500 generator for a couple hours of outage, does everyone in your home know how to pull start it or push button start it in cold weather?  Though more expensive, possibly a super cell battery would be of better use…


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Recently there has been concern that a tsunami similar to the magnitude of the Fukushima Japanese event in 2011 could hit Alaska’s coast (triggered by an earthquake).  With the strength of over 100 feet high, as many as a quarter of a million people perished from the Tsunami in Indonesia just over a half decade ago.  The subduction zone which Alaska is off of has similar characteristics as these deadly Pacific events as the geology has structures that are similar to the Shumagin  gap off the Alaska Peninsula on into SE Alaska.  The stressors tend to erupt every half a century (or slightly more).  An event to happen there would probably not hit Anchorage but there are over a hundred communities on the shore which could be overwhelmed.

If a tsunami hits, there is the home damage of flooding, immediate loss of electricity, and often smashed out windows and force exacted against load bearing walls.  How can you prepare so that when you evacuate there is less damage to deal with when you come home? If you have time after a warning or an actual earthquake that can trigger a tsunami, quickly empty the fridge and freezer into large containers you can hug off to avoid rotting.  Put plywood up on the windows facing the coast.  Take items off your deck that could roll or be pushed into windows.  Take what fuel containers you can from lawnmowers, snowblowers, snow machines, etc… for generation of power at relocation quarters and to keep it from washing up into the home through a sprung door or broken window.

Always remember that you want to throw your main breaker off and try to relocate cars behind the home with windows cracked.  All of this depends on how much time it takes you to relocate to higher ground or have to drive away.  And remember to always take a crank, solar or battery powered weather radio with you.  Be prepared, and evacuate smartly.




Ag Appreciation Day

Tomorrow will be the annual noon-5pm Ag Day at the farm in Palmer.  There are a variety of items see and things to do  For Energy, we’ll show some  biomass related test/research equipment. Several faculty will talk about their work/funding after supper at the Mess Hall.

Several facultly will be there who are working on  biochar; one working on heat, one on water reclamation, one on water filtration, and one on soil amendment properties.  We’ve been prepping items up over there today, items such as:

  • All Powers lab downdraft gasifier
  • Pyrolysis unit for creating biochar (will be making it on the spot)
  • Grinders for feedstock dust
  • Gasification Experimental Kit Power Pallet (30kw)
  • Explosion proof and vented lab
  • Heavy water unit for heat extraction from liquid biomass
Come on over and you will see some simple yet workable research as well as full animal activities.   Appreciated,  Art Nash

Earth heat



Geothermal energy is getting heat (thermal) from the ground (geo).  Many people are familiar from heat being harvested from surface hot springs (Chena Hot Springs outside of Fairbanks uses direct hot water pools for tourism/baths- but also utilizing a system with various chemical fluids to create electricity). Yet heat from the ground can also be harvested sub surface.  Hot reservoirs of pooled water along faults can be tapped and the water used directly, or the water can be drawn to turbines.  Areas under the ground where there are hot dry rocks can be utilized.   Even volcanic areas can yield heated fluids.

These types of extractions are fairly capital intensive and may be operated by state/nationally owned enterprises, or possibly private corporations (such as in the SW U.S. where major oil companies had divisions to extract heat).  But for the local home owner or resident who does not have a surface spring of water bubbling up on their property, there are a couple ways to access heat from the ground.

Ground source heat pumps can be operated at a single home dwelling, or large industrial/commercial buildings.  And there are a couple of ways.   One is to dig a very large, wide trench to drop horizontal and flexible tubing and then bury it.  Or to drop a well casing down and put a pump in.  In these systems, hot water is not drawn up, but rather a fluid is circulated IN the piping….The key then- the next post’s subject- is how to transfer the heat from the ground!

Changes in European energy alliances


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Hungary has been occasionally in the news the last couple years with its protectionist immigration policies as refugees from the Middle East disperse across Europe.   Historically, Hungary is probably most remembered for its short lived fight as one of Eastern Europe’s first Soviet Block countries to rebel against the Soviet Union/Russia (1956).

Russia has caused fright the last decade with its actions against Georgia and the Ukraine, which involved cutting of citizens from it’s piped in oil.  Poland for one, has watched such actions with a weary eye (and NATO has been seen as a protection from other Russian incursions).  Yet Hungary has recently voiced full solidarity with Poland, while aligning itself with Russia- for its energy.  Russia has been assisting Hungary with its only nuclear power plant in constructing reactors.   Trying to stay independent from the major powers in and out of the EU, Hungary has been grappling with a future shrinking national labor force (as the number  of children born has been dropping).

As geopolitics shift, energy suppliers (and demand) will be an interesting factor in the mix of considerations that countries make when addressing each other.

Copper River energy


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I had a chance to talk with Copper River Electric about their electrical production.  There was a copy Ruralite sitting on the desk as we chatted.  They apparently have a well informed webpage ( and have been making various efforts to communicate with their customers.  School outreach, fairs, as well as a demonstration turbine that had been put up in their parking lot at one time to attract discussion.

In general, there has been an uptick in solar with a customer service net metering program in place.  (There is a community scale solar array up in Glen.)In the summer, hydro takes the day, and thus rates are not much more than Anchorage’s during those months.  In winter, co-gen kicks in with diesel generators as the water is not as available.

One advantage is that they share with Petro Star refinery and thus their customers get a type of financial payback from savings on that collaboration.  Up river, the Copper River economic authority is talking with them on helping to get at some of the extended challenges of distribution which takes place all the way from Prince William Sound up beyond the Tok Cut Off!

Great work with the community has occurred, and the utility looks forward with more discussions and work as they let folks know of the benefits from the Allison Creek Hydro project completion.

Investing in clean technology


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“Cleantech” is the term given to renewable energy innovations such as wind, solar, hydro, etc.. With viable, electric cars that hit the mainstream auto market just prior the housing financial crash, tax credits were put into place to spur investors into putting money down on cleantech ventures. In the recovery after the crash, the U.S. Administration saw that almost $15 Billion was invested as a part of stimulating economic recovery (in areas that could possibly reduce carbon emissions).  Many people have heard of the solar subsidies, but it also extended to other energy area types.

As fuel oil prices stayed high the next couple of years, you could see the drop in pricing of capital/supplies, but it wasn’t driven so much from the now well endowed American companies offering lower prices as much as it was from Chinese product dropping the prices. And thus Chinese solar panels that were up toward $7 a watt in cost a decade ago are now almost  $1 a watt. Time will tell what the life of the panels ends up being and how much quality reduction lead to possibly part of the price drop.  Wind turbine prices have dropped also, yet they are in a different category in that you cannot buy inexpensive parts like panels, and over time ‘build up’ a considerable system.  You choose turbines under much more constrained economic considerations which influences who and how much investment needs to be sought out.  And hydro dams are even worse, with bonds often having to be utilized for purchasing a ‘unit’.

The question right now is with oil being forecasted at a drop to bring it back down to $20/barrell, what will that do to purchases- and  investment for even ‘cleaner’ tech?

What’s a window?


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When it comes to recommendations for energy efficiency actions after someone has had a weatherization team perform an audit on their home, replacing windows and tuning up the furnace or boiler are often on the top of the list.  From an energy point of view, often you may hear, “a window is a big hole in your wall”.  This is usually in the context of most Interior homes having exterior  walls rated for at least 20R; yet windows of medium grade an average cost (with multiple panes and filled with gas) are around 4R.

Thus there are different gasses that can be used, different styles of glass, various films that can be added to reduce infra-red ray and a handful of materials to build the frames out of.  Yet aside from the building materials and technologies of film application, a window’s insulative  performance will be influenced greatly by the installation.  It is very important to have the window opening prepared for moisture control.  Using backer rod to fill space well and applying a caulking that won’t break up from being exposed at -40 degrees (F) in the winter and possibly in the 90’s during the summer are important aspects to a good installation.  Also, the sealing and then integration of siding over the vertical wall sheeting is very important.

Though today’s windows are being made better out of recent advantages from research in the last couple decades, we still at best can get ~7 or 8R out of a window under the best of insulation methods.  Most people cannot afford to pay a couple thousand dollars for one of these cutting edge picture windows, yet they can control how well or poorly the installation job is for their own home windows.  How are your windows?

Energy down south…


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While eyes in the U.S. Adminstration are looking up North on the slope and off shore when it comes to future energy production, some eyes are looking south.  Mexico used to be known as a strong oil producer.  But down further past the equator Venezuela pretty much took up the stage with OPEC production- even Alaskan’s remote villages know well of Venezuela from oil checks they had received about a decade ago from Citgo Corp.  With oil prices dropping and Venezuela in a social/economic tailspin, it may seem to the average American that South American is pretty much a third world continent with sporatic production and power distribution.

Yet there are a number of movements toward incorporating renewable elements. Obviously with the northern part of South America have the consistency of even days and nights through the year in terms of  solar exposure, figuring out how to put that radiation to use is a priority.  With much of the continent having coastal line, tidal is another obvious energy source- yet harnessing it and storage area a site specific often.

Starting with the largest of nations, Brazil, there are political problems that stymie optimal production, and with the size of their rural landscape it is a challenge in distributing the energy they area able to generate. Looking over to the west coast, Columbia seems to have a somewhat political stable situation (in comparison of years past).  With the ability to install renewable panels and turbines without worrying about vandalism from rebels and pockets of druglords, this country is known as the ‘sleeping giant’ of renewables.  Needless to say, with more order there are bound to be more financiers willing to even look at project potentials….

Chile has a good growth factor in solar, and their focus on storage and transmission will be no doubt a community development lens  for the next generation. With the mountainous area on the west side of the continent, the countries there are investing in figuring out distribution of energy generated.  This would include Peru, Ecuador and Bolivia.  Certainly in the southern part of the continent political stability has been more helpful toward rural energy being supplied through several climes.  Keep an eye in the future on the ‘other side’ of the equator.

Petroleum dropping this summer….will refined gas prices follow?


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You may have seen the price of gas approaching two and a half bucks a gallon now that crude oil is $42/gal.  A few years ago it was over $4.25 in Fairbanks when crude hit $110  a drum.  The question for many is this: will a reduction in crude oil on the commodity market drop gas at the pump by the same proportion.  It doesn’t seem to.  Gas is a refined product of commodity crude.   It really is its own product though, with a different seasonal demand than other petrol derivatives such as fuel oil.  (Fuel oil demand tends to be strong in the winter when heating usage increases; gas demand tends to be strong in the summer when people have vacation time and choose to travel).

There are associated costs with gas such as transportation costs to and from refineries (as crude on the commodities exchange is virtual in a sense and not subject to weight, movement, and other cost difficulties).  In addition, oil petroleum reserves can create differences in costs per gas.   Nonetheless, with gas being at almost a decade low, retail markets try to figure out where there may be an increase of revenues due to lower gas prices applying less pressure on households’ discretionary budgets.  Certainly restaurants and lodging vendors expect and increase of revenues for auto vacationers.  I haven’t heard how airline vendors calculate cash flow differences.

The trend of lower commodity crude spot prices effects more than American drivers though.  It can apply pressure to geo-political relationships.  Venezuela has been driven down into a trench of debt.  Russia has potential political problems with their national revenue revolving to a large part on oil. And of course Mideast tranquility will be effected.  Keep an eye on those pump prices- and the nightly news!