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Connected Homes October 2018 Viewpoints

Technology Analyst: Michael Gold

Grid- and Cloud-Connected Batteries in Homes

Why is this topic significant?

More than a dozen companies are supplying large batteries for homes. Demand could grow as electric-power utilities reduce credits for generating electricity from sunlight and as households with and without photovoltaic rooftops seek to avoid outages caused by extreme weather events.

Description

Tesla and its subsidiary SolarCity may be the most well-known suppliers of batteries for whole-house power. Such batteries are mainly for interconnection with solar-powered rooftops, which produce power intermittently. A large battery can charge during midday and provide energy during evening hours. But batteries are also helpful for emergencies. Tesla advertises its 13.5-kilowatt-hour (kWh) battery as providing "Seamless backup power. With or without solar."

However, the most successful supplier may be Germany's Sonnen, which has installed more than 10,000 systems. General Electric, Shell, and others have invested about $180 million in the company. In 2016, after Sonnen had about two years of experience in selling in North America, a company official told journalists that 90% of its customers on that continent were not solar equipped.

Tesla and Sonnen are merely two of more than a dozen suppliers of behind-the-meter batteries that can power an entire home for a day or more. Large-company suppliers include LG Chem and Panasonic, as well as BMW, Nissan, and Mercedes, which are repurposing used electric-vehicle batteries. Additional small- and start-up-company suppliers include ElectrIQ, Enphase, Goal Zero, Humless, Inergy, Pika Energy, Poweroak, Powervault, SimpliPhi, and Sunverge. Costs of hardware and installation range from about $10,000 to $20,000. Commonly, network connections allow users to monitor charge levels.

Implications

Although behind-the-meter residential batteries are mainly for homes with solar power, concerns about severe weather events and about inadequate infrastructure could drive additional demand for behind-the-meter batteries from households, homeowner associations, and owners of multiunit properties. And although diesel generators cost less than batteries, such backup-power units are noisy and are unsuited for many neighborhoods.

Impacts/Disruptions

Electric-power utilities are investing in storing energy within grids. In theory, the storage or the investments can be in distributed locations, not necessarily in centralized facilities. A grid-connected battery can benefit all the customers in a community, not only the structure it attaches to. Using such reasoning, scientists from Lawrence Berkeley Laboratories recently reported on expected economic advantages of bidirectional vehicle-to-grid interconnections. Behind-the-meter batteries in households seem likely to deliver similar advantages.

In another recent report, researchers affiliated with National Renewable Energy Laboratories had a similar conclusion about the economic utility of vehicles with two-way grid connections, but cautioned about potential for accelerated battery degradation. Nevertheless, work by University of Warwick and University of Hawaii researchers points toward smart power-management systems that have potential to increase, not decrease, long-term reliability of batteries with two-way connections to grids. The systems use knowledge of battery chemistry to implement intelligent charging and discharging algorithms. Chargers must have broadband connections to smart-grid infrastructure, and users must provide information about electricity consumption. Information about a user's next-day intentions will also be important, whether the user has a concrete plan that involves energy consumption or whether a machine-learning algorithm make a prediction (some people are more predictable than others). If smart and connected battery-management systems can extend the life cycles of electric vehicles, as they promise to do, then the same technologies seem likely to extend the lives of big batteries in homes.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: High

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 10 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Home builders, battery manufacturers, electrical and smart-grid system manufacturers, carmakers, cloud-computing services, electric-power utilities, energy-market makers, arbitrageurs, public-utility regulators, machine-learning researchers

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas:

Lighthouses for Digital Terrestrial Broadcasting

Why is this topic significant?

New digital-television standards for the United States and elsewhere are likely to change broadcast practices and TV designs sooner or later. Some prominent broadcasters are wagering on relatively rapid changes.

Description

The first high-power broadcasts in the United States that use the updated version of the Advanced Television Systems Committee standard ATSC 3.0 began during September 2018 in Chicago, Illinois. (No ATSC 2.0 standard exists; some previous development efforts ceased.) Converter boxes and dual-mode TV sets could be available in 2019 or 2020. Several over-the-air broadcasters in South Korea and the United States are beginning to experiment with the new standard, which supports ultra-high-definition video with improved color (high dynamic range), advanced three-dimensional audio, increased bit rates, and other benefits.

ATSC 3.0 technology is not backward compatible; today's TV sets will need a converter box to receive the new signals. Unlike the initial transition to digital TV, compliance with ATSC 3.0 is optional for US broadcasters and TV-set manufacturers. But broadcasters that opt to make the transition face a regulatory requirement to simulcast in both ATSC 1.0 and ATSC 3.0 video formats for five years.

Sinclair Broadcast Group—with nearly 200 stations, the largest over-the-air broadcaster in the United States—has invested in basic technologies for ATSC 3.0 and will receive patent royalties for use of the standards. The company is developing a set-top box that makes mashups of broadcast and broadband content, systems for delivering custom advertising, and mobile-phone chips that receive ATSC 3.0 signals. The company is also collaborating with competing broadcasters in the Dallas, Texas, area to make more efficient use of spectrum, using a method that is already common in Europe (single-frequency networks, which also have abilities to improve coverage).

Implications

The simulcasting requirement poses challenges. A TV channel must be ATSC 1.0 or ATSC 3.0; these technologies do not allow for splitting a channel. The only practical means of simulcasting is for broadcasters who make the switch to collaborate with those who do not or who defer adoption. For example, one broadcaster—a "lighthouse"—may maintain existing ATSC 1.0 service and also simulcast programs for two other broadcasters who make the transition. Ten broadcasters in Phoenix, Arizona, are participating in Pearl TV, a "model market...to keep legacy digital TV available for all viewers while new ATSC 3.0 services are being scaled."

Impacts/Disruptions

Broadcasters have reason to question whether it will be worthwhile to transition to ATSC 3.0 technology and to implement a complex business model necessary for simulcasting. At a 2017 conference of investors, Sinclair Broadcasting Group's executive chairman, David Smith, revealed a key motivation for making the effort. TV stations might attract increased advertising revenues by doing what Facebook and Google do: matching ads to fine-grained information about individual customers and households, as reported by Sinclair's set-top boxes and other platforms.

The Dallas-area network I mention above is run by a consortium whose CEO, John Hane, sees ATSC 3.0 as a way for broadcasters to hold onto spectrum. Hane warns that mobile services and other companies that want to use broadcast channels for their own purposes "are going to try to take it away...and that is one of the main reasons why we need to move quickly" to deliver the benefits that ATSC 3.0 promises. Broadcasters have relinquished some spectrum in recent years, and they could indeed relinquish more if they continue to lose market power.

Scale of Impact

  • Low
  • Medium
  • High
The scale of impact for this topic is: Medium

Time of Impact

  • Now
  • 5 Years
  • 10 Years
  • 15 Years
The time of impact for this topic is: 5 Years

Opportunities in the following industry areas:

Over-the-air broadcasters, multichannel pay-TV services, streaming services, mobile communications services, fixed broadband services, audiovisual electronics brands, video-network equipment, compression equipment, high-power analog electronics, tower services, signal processing, algorithm development, advanced research

Relevant to the following Explorer Technology Areas: