(Readers: Please note the blog about the 5th revolution in the US is constructed as a story. While not all chapters are linked, I think the story will be more meaningful by starting at the beginning.)

Want a PDF version for Entries #1-10, #11-20, #21-30 formatted for tablets and e-books?  Click links for download.  America’s 5th Revolution Volume I (Entries 1-10) America’s 5th Revolution Volume II (Entries 11-20) America’s 5th Revolution Volume III (Entries 21-30)

Scene: Jordan’s Office.  Jordan and Technology Man have refilled coffee.  Conversation about US solar energy efforts continues. 

Jordan: “I’m not forgetting about that venture. I learned just enough about batteries to be dangerous.”

TechManTechMan: “Even more dangerous than normal?”

Jordan: “I’ll ignore that comment. A lot of articles lately about breakthroughs in battery technology. But I remember two sayings from our battery days. ‘Technology will be ready in just five more years…”

TM: “…And, ‘Liars, damn liars and battery manufacturers.'”

Jordan: “It’s hard to tell what’s real progress and what’s hype. Based on what you know, what newer-technology, higher-energy density batteries are in production, affordable…and safe?”

Flow Battery cell_stack_illustrat_700TM: “Our old friend the flow battery is making a rebound. Flow batteries are ideal for storing electricity from solar…and wind.”

Jordan: “How would you link batteries to the electric grid? Right now, don’t all surplus electrons go back on the grid?”

TM: “If the truth be known, most of the electrons from solar and wind are likely wasted.”

Jordan: “You’re kidding? How?”

TM: “The current system makes it difficult for the utilities to integrate electricity from solar and wind.”

Jordan: “But it seems so simple.”

TM: “Like you said, Jordan, you know enough to be dangerous. Think about it the situation. A utility cannot count on a predictable flow of electrons from solar or wind. So what do they do?”

Jordan: “Why can’t they store the electrons?”

TM: “Hold on. We’ll get there. While the utilities will likely never admit it…at least publically…my guess is they keep the power plant operating as if there were no solar panels or wind…just to make sure there is enough electricity.”

Jordan: “From a planning standpoint I can’t blame them. If that’s true, then the only beneficiary of solar is the home owner who realizes a lower bill.”

TM:    “And whatever cost the homeowner saves is probably passed on to everyone else who does not have solar.”

Jordan: “So, at the end of the day, unless we can figure out how to store electrons. The power plant still operates the same way and…”

TM: “…Everyone else’s electric bill is slightly higher. But not high enough so that anyone can track it.”

Jordan: “What about storing electrons in electric vehicle batteries.”

TM: “Another brain freeze, Jordan? Have you forgotten everything you ever learned? Washington must really screw up the brain.”

Jordan: “Yeah, I know it was a stupid question. The minute I said it I wanted to retract it.”

TM: “OK, so you answered your own question.”

2014-chevrolet-volt-5Jordan: “Owners of 100% electric vehicles owners have a concern about range. Hybrid owners – Chevrolet Volt or Toyota Prius for example – don’t care because they can operate using the gas engine.”

TM: “Can you imagine a Nissan Leaf or Tesla owner jumping in their car after work in say a really hot day in July? Ready to leave and oops, not 2014-Nissan-Leaf-goenough juice left to run the AC or even make the trip home. Not a happy camper.”

Jordan: “Using electric vehicle battery packs to balance the peak load is only an option if someone is home or has access to another car.”

TM: “Like I said, the idea must have been concocted by someone who has never lived in the real world. You know, Washington.”

Jordan: “OK, so we should start putting solar on all rooftops and storing those electrons using a battery, maybe a flow battery.”

TM: “Yes. Localizing the generation…the rooftop…eliminates the losses in transmission. Electrons go from the roof to the battery to the appliance.”

Jordan: “How do we make this work?”

TM: “First, you cannot put the utilities out of business. Utilities need to be part of the solution. Next, we need to start establishing localized grids. Some people call them micro-grids.”

Jordan: “You are saying that utilities, even though part of the problem, are also part of the solution.”

TM: “Think about your automotive days. The government and the auto companies finally started working together to reduce tailpipe emissions and reduce fuel consumption. They’ve made good progress.”

Jordan: “How can the utilities be part of the solution? Their business model is built around large grids, not micro-grids.”

TM: “Let’s start with the revenue stream so Wall Street won’t have apoplexy. Utilities can help fund the purchase and installation of the solar panels.”

Jordan: “Are you suggesting utilities buy the panels and then let the utilities charge customers for the panels with electricity bills, something like a mortgage?”

TM: “Yes. The model is already working in some locations. For the user, the electricity bill would be lower but the utility would also be paid back for buying and installing the panels.”

Jordan: “Utilities keep a revenue stream and reallocate capital to solar panels rather than building a new power plant.”

TM: “A big hurdle is convincing the coal lobby this makes sense? Coal lobby is well entrenched in Washington.”

Jordan: “Coal needs to realize the world is changing. Unless the coal companies can figure out how to make clean energy from coal, they will go the way of buggy-whip manufacturers.”

TM: “What about all the people employed in the coal mining industry?”

Jordan: “What about all the people that used to be employed in the auto industry, especially in Michigan? You know as well as anyone that technology can be a disruptive force. Businesses need to change to stay in business. Issues facing coal are not new.”

TM: “Some people are going to claim you are anti-union, especially against the mine workers.”

Jordan: “Look, times change and the groups involved need to quit pointing fingers and start solving problems.”

TM: “Unlike your former employer.”

Jordan: “They finally came around but it took Chapter 11 as a wake-up call. As far as solar, based on what you said we should be able to create a cost-effective micro-grid arm-wrestling-695086using existing solar and battery technology…and working with utilities.”

TM: “Yes, some arm wrestling required but the goal is achievable.”

Jordan: “Technology Man, you have got yourself a job.”

TM: “Why did I agree to have coffee with you? OK, I’ll do it.”

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