Jerry Franklin is managing director of EnSmart Inc. (FILE)
WHEN ELON MUSK announced the Powerwall 2 and the solar roof, he clearly signalled his intent to revolutionise the production and storage of solar power. With this announcement, Musk put himself in front of innovators and set the playing field for the growth of distributed storage to take off.
However, in my research for new products and innovation in the industry, I came across a new ecosystem that in my opinion has put Musk in second place.
Christopher Estes and SunCulture Solar Inc. unveiled the Solpad.
It is a solar panel with storage and an intelligent inverter in one. It is a very well thought-out system that seems to have considered all that is necessary to take the industry into the future. This is the result of four years of secret research and development by the company.
You can install several Solpads on your roof, wire it into your electrical circuit panel and you have power for your home. No battery room or inverters on the wall; just install the Solpad on the roof and you are done.
Well, not quite. After all, I did say it was an ecosystem. The system also has intelligent plug modules and circuit breakers that are integrated into the Solpad management software, allowing it to control what and when appliances can draw power.
This integrated energy management system will increase the efficiency of your home. It also has another box that determines if the system should be connected to the grid to sell excess energy, take extra energy from the grid or be isolated from the grid.
I have been working on such an integrated approach for two years because I believe it’s the only way we can grow to 100 per cent renewable energy (RE) in the future.
So, naturally, I am very impressed to see this integrated package.
But the innovation doesn’t end there. Every aspect of this product is innovative. The battery is lithium-ion, but not any typical lithium-ion. It’s a solid-state lithium-ion battery with no liquid electrolytes. The company claims that this battery can operate in up to 200 OC and you can literally drive a nail through without it bursting into flames. This is truly incredible.
The power wall has a complex liquid cooling system to keep the temperature of the lithium-ion cell down to safe levels. The lithium-ion’s biggest weakness is thermal runaway, and this company claims to have solved the problem.
When you are installing the Solpad, just one cable connects the system to the house. They developed a system called Solconnect that joins the pads to each other at the side. One connection from the last pad in the string connects to the house’s circuit panel. Each Solpad carries 330 watts with the option of 500 watts per hour storage or a one kilowatt hour (Kwh) storage.
Therefore, if you install 12 panels, you would have 12Kwh of storage, 3 960 watts of solar energy, with an intelligent bi-directional inverter called the Flexgrid that can auto-sense the power requirements. That is, 50 Hertz (Hz) or 60 Hz, 120 volts (V) or 240 V. And in spite of all the innovations, this system is supposed to be priced at half the cost of existing grid-tied systems with added storage solution.
But they didn’t stop there. They also made a portable version that has a one kilowatts (Kw) intelligent inverter with a two Kw peak handling ability.
It can be linked to increase the capacity and can now take solar power wherever and whenever you want it.
This sounds almost too good to be true. The big unknown, however, is price.
Will it be affordable? And I am not talking about the price for the mass market. I am talking about the segment that is considering independence and wants a battery-based system.
It will eliminate the challenges of looking for space for the batteries, which was partially addressed by Tesla with a wall-mounted battery. So potentially, this will open the doors for people who wanted a battery solution but did have the room.
I am very excited about this ecosystem. It will force the whole industry to rethink their products – including Tesla – who just announced the Powerwall 2. When these products are available, I believe it will change everything.
Jerry Franklin is managing director of EnSmart Inc. Franklin is an engineer, energy auditor, equipment tester, and energy solutions provider. He is also vice-president of the Barbados Renewable Energy Association. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org