Urgent Evoke

A crash course in changing the world.

The Place

Anywhere in the world where there is sufficient sunshine, targeted primarily to consumers in industrialized nations and subsidized projects in developing countries. Anyplace a user friendly solar solution is needed.

The Challenge

Kicking a ball around to generate power is a cute idea with an all too localized effect and getting energy from dirt microbes sounds incredible, but it is still too early in development. Furthermore, not everybody plays soccer or has dirt in their backyard.

Yes, I am fully aware of the fact we have easy access to energy in industrialized nations and places like Africa, Afghanistan and thousands of rural areas all over the globe don't have access to electricity. However, we don't need to reinvent the wheel or come up with new solutions. We need to improve upon the technology and designs we already have, lest we become too distracted and our focus diminishes. If we want to get from point A to point B, it is more efficient if we work on building a single road than if we work on building a myriad of trails.

At this point in time, it appears solar energy is the likeliest candidate to provide us with renewable energy, not only because it is a highly researched and fast developing technology, but also because (contrary to wind power) everyone can generate it at their home. The initial investment can be big, yes, but the returns are too good to ignore. Additionally, the more consumers support solar energy technology, the faster the costs will go down and the faster the technology will develop and evolve.

Now, if people can generate their own electricity, this leaves plenty of free resources for industrialized nations to aid other countries, such as Africa, more efficiently. And the savings people will eventually harvest from producing their own energy can potentially reduce their living costs by up to $1,400 USD a year. I don't know about you, but I could certainly use that swag.

Another advantage of solar power is that it does not require a change in the current grids or rebuilding a home, so it could be installed on any existing house anywhere in the world with minimal modifications required. Of course, the technology is still developing and it would be unwise to relay only on it 100%.

The Idea

Therefore, I submit to your consideration the following idea:

Now, allow me to explain this diagram in detail.

Firstly, we have both solar panels and the standard power line. This is because solar energy may not fulfill all of your home energy demands and you also need a backup system in case something goes wrong with your solar grid. My weapon of choice would in all likelihood be nanosolar power cells. While more than 1% less efficient than the new experimental black silicon, nanosolar cells appear to be much more affordable. (if their claims are true)

Solar power being in constant development and not yet a thoroughly tested home technology is precisely why the battery box also has a separate circuit breaker and a fuse box. You do not want to be unprotected if something goes wrong with your battery box, as it could easily fry your home grid in case of a short circuit or a battery failure. Specially if you don't properly insulate the box. Speaking of insulation, at this point my idea is to make it a wooden box with a chemical fire-proof varnish, which should make it much more affordable than the currently available aluminum battery boxes and much safer to handle. Of course, this unit should also house the necessary inverters and controllers to produce the desired current.

The fuse box in this unit should be connected directly to the solar panels first and then send the energy to the charge controller(s) that feeds the batteries - in order to protect the entire installation in case of a mishap - and it would also let the batteries run for however much charge they got left if a fuse blows. The current coming off from the batteries, after being routed through the solar main panel, should come back into the circuit breakers next to the fuse box for easy shut down if needed and as a secondary failsafe on the solar system.

Now, as you may have noticed, the battery box also has a power panel. There is no real product available for this yet (only similar ones), but the idea would be to have this panel connected to every battery inside the box to indicate charge status (off/charging/charged) and to be able to manually cut off a specific battery from the solar grid in case it goes bad. Batteries do degrade over time, and sometimes they can read as full when in fact they either do not have enough charge or are putting out the wrong voltage. Since this panel already monitors battery health and charge, it should also feed this information to the sub panel inside the home. Ideally, this should be done though a chip with the processing power of a calculator wrist watch and about the same energy requirements. Also, all charge indicators should be implemented with LED's to cut their energy consumption as much as possible. Lastly, but certainly not least, this box should also operate as an inverter to produce the desired current and should have one or two power outlets to test output before letting it connect to the main home grid.

When talking about batteries, a lot of people string together 6v car batteries to achieve the desired output, however, this not only takes up extra room but is also prone to other problems. Some issues that can happen are voltage variances, short circuits and fires. Right now, the best choice is a 12v car battery like the one depicted on the left. However, once either technology or funding catches up, the best candidate for these batteries would be either Nickel-Metal Hydride cells or (when technology does catch up to it), a mesoporous carbon composite cathode with silicon nanowire anodes, which theoretically could store more energy and charge faster than the best current lithium batteries and would be much safer to handle.

Now to the sub panel, which is where all the magic should actually happen. Again, there is no real product or parts on the market to achieve what I have in mind (that I am aware of), but this is what it should ideally happen. On the sub panel, both the standard power line and the battery box lines should meet inside a circuit switcher and interrupter. A feed from the solar power panel in the battery box should also be connected to the sub panel.

Here a few things should happen. Firstly, besides having an extra set of circuit breakers for safety, it should also allow the user to manually switch from standard power line to solar power (to override auto switching, see below). Secondly, the feed that comes from the battery box should also indicate the charge status of each battery, again, with LED's for low energy consumption. Thirdly, and more importantly, if you recall, I mentioned the power panel also monitoring charge levels in the batteries, but I did not mention that being on the battery box panel itself. But I did mention it feeding the info to the sub panel.

This sub panel inside the home should have a display with the more detailed battery information and it should be here for two main reason: 1) if the solar batteries run out of charge or surfers a malfunction, the main power line would still power the display and 2) to automatically control solar vs. main line usage.

This sub panel should have a slightly more complex chipset than the battery box because it needs to achieve a few things. It should display the battery information of course, including charge levels, and should it detect the average charge going under 10%, it should automatically switch to the main power grid and switch back to solar power when the charge is above 90%. Also, it should be able to analyze the battery data. As mentioned before, all types of rechargeable batteries can go bad and display incorrect information, such as being charged when they no longer are able to store a charge properly or they can also send the wrong energy output. If the sub panel detects any such activity from the solar batteries, it should cut off the power from it immediately and display a warning on the display so the user can go to the battery box and either replace the defective battery or manually cut it off from the solar power panel.

Lastly, switching between power sources could generate unwanted surges or split-second-long power outages, so as a fail safe, all important electronics and appliances should be protected by a No Break power supply. For the environmentally conscious, a No Break power supply would also be a good way to keep using your TV, game console or computer while letting the solar batteries recharge.

This system is designed for ease of maintenance and user friendliness, and it assumes zero subsidies or handouts. It assumes instead that users would be able to either partially or completely emancipate their energy needs by generating their own.

While units of this kind could go for as high as 2,500 USD initially, the main goal of this project would be to eventually bring them to the market for as low as 1,500 USD.

Black Silicon Cells

Nanostructured Silicon Battery

Nanosolar Cells

The Money

What would I do with the first $1,000 USD? Probably attempt to craft a mock up of what the solar main panel and sub panel boxes should look like and a maquette of how the final product should look like once installed in a home. Whatever little leftovers remain would go to commutes in oder to present the project to people who may be willing to invest in it.

I estimate that before this can go live, it may take up to a maximum of 100,000 USD on R&D for the development and testing of the main components, since the technological possibility is already there - they just need to be created and tested. This R&D could actually be done with 50,000 USD, but the reason I would ask twice that is because my plan would be to conduct two separate ones, one led by me in North America and another one led by agent Rahul Dewanjee in South Asia. The R&D period could be projected to last about 4 months.

Once this is completed, large amounts of funding would be required at both locations for manufacture of the main components. I estimate about 2,000,000 a year for only the solar main panel and subpanel, and if black silicon cells are not being manufactured or nanosolar cells prove to be not as affordable as adverised ($0.99 a watt), this cost could be much greater in the first year due to installation building. The boxes themselves can be easily subcontracted to a local carpenter.

One of the main problems is that this would need a healthy amount of advertisement, so the best choice would be to start in a smaller but affluent community on the U.S. and a community in need that can achieve a subsidy in India. This would be to harvest data and metrics on how the project acts at both ends of the spectrum.

This technology needs to be implemented in poor communities with high energy requirements and it also needs to reduce energy requirements on the countries that use it the most. And U.S.A. definitely #1.

After factoring advertisement, manufacturing, distribution and installation costs (while ignoring the possible costs of production facilities, which are unknown at this time), the operation could be using up to 300,000 USD at each location for a production, sale and installation of 200 units each, and with the correct advertisement and demand, it could be able to break even after 5 quarters. Again, this without keeping into account the possibility of production facilities, as these are currently an unknown variable, both in cost and necessity.

If someone that can create the custom panel components and put the boxes together on a per-quantity basis, the initial cost requirements for the operation could greatly decrease, but the end product price would be greater.

Views: 144

Comment by Rahul Dewanjee on April 9, 2010 at 11:50am
Thank you for suggesting design improvements in your endeavor to make solar powered homes feasible for adoption. +1 for inspiring us with a solar vision

Most low wage earning countries like India, Afghanistan and major parts of Africa are well endowed with abundant sunlight and if you can truly embed "cost leadership" into your solar project, everyone will get behind you.

There is a considerable interest in India to know how can we bring the costs of putting the entire infrastructure of solar below 2000 US dollars to power a middle class home where there are two air-conditioners (at least 3 star energy ratings) simultaneously running plus four LED lights (of 10 watts each) plus computer/laptop plus refrigerator plus television.

Is it possible for you at this stage to put in a spreadsheet the economics of calculating the cost structure of putting 100 million such units at 2000 US$ each without government subsidy (assume zero import duty for completely knocked down units plus costs of installations to be extra and maybe managed by customers themselves on an "ikea" model)?
Comment by Julio Cesar Corona Ortega on April 9, 2010 at 4:33pm
Well, all of this does assume zero government subsidies. I don't think I can come up with very accurate numbers because some of the parts, like the sub panel, do not exist yet. So manufacturing costs cannot be taken into consideration.

That is a LOT of power with three air conditioners however. At a peak of 16.8% efficiency on the latest experimental solar cells, it would be very difficult to make an Indian home rely only on solar energy. However, a design like this would greatly help reduce the costs.

If we apply new black silicone cells (which make the technology really cheap), then the panels themselves would be actually quite affordable, and the greatest expense would be by far the battery box. If we keep this in mind, then we need to figure out the price of the box.

If you keep in mind that some of the cheapest 12v car batteries go for around 130 USD and my project would require an average of 6, then we can assume a rough cost of 750-800 USD for the batteries. Let's go with 800 for the calculation. Now, commercial battery boxes themselves can sell for about 400 USD, but I am quite certain that it can be produced for under 200 USD by using wood instead of aluminum (a much better choice of material by far, anyway). The circuit breakers and fuse box + encasing can go for an average of about 40 USD. Counting the fuses and a few extra connectors and cables, that part could cost up to 60 USD, so let's go with that. Now, for the solar power panel and data feed, well... it doesn't exist as such, but very similar units can sell for a maximum price of 250, so if we keep in mind the cheapest similar units go for 100 USD, we can go with 240 for that component.

So, thus far, the battery box itself is 1,300 USD.

Now the sub panel, another element that does not exist. However, from the electronics involved plus additional circuit breakers, after a little research on the components I can arguably guesstimate a high-end cost of about 400 USD.

Now we have a guesstimate of 1,700 USD.

The panels themselves, if using new prototype black silicone technology, could theoretically cost about 500 USD for a 30"x100" (0.8m x 2.5m) module of 224 Watts and 16.8% efficiency. May even cost less.

So, we are left at a price tag of 2,200 USD.

Close to the target, but, creating 100 million units could greatly decrease the costs. I am not an economist, so I cannot provide the spreadsheets and calculations you are asking for, but after some quick research on the matter, with a 100 million unit production, a conservative forecast would be a 20% reduction in cost, for a total of 1,760 USD. If we keep in mind wiring costs have not been added and this installation could be done with 10 Gauge electrical wire (which will be variable depending on the needs of the home), we could add another 100 USD maximum for wiring.

Now our total has gone down to 1,860 USD.

From here, installation costs could be added, or alternatively and like I mentioned on my post, anyone with moderate electrical experience should be able to install the system, specially if diagrams are provided.

Again, I apologize for not being able to provide the more detailed economical information you requested, and I do acknowledge some of the costs, by the very nature of the components, are guesstimation on my part. At this time, I lack all the skill sets required to accurately forecast the costs, but I can only tell you my dream would be to make this available not for under 2,000 USD, but 1,500 USD.
Comment by Nathaniel Fruchter on April 12, 2010 at 4:21am
This is an amazing venture that holds some definite promise, and I feel it's not getting enough attention. I might not be able to help you as much with the electrical side, but I can help you with the attention side.
Comment by Julio Cesar Corona Ortega on April 12, 2010 at 4:26am
Thank you kindly, sir. :)
Comment by Ursula Kochanowsky on April 13, 2010 at 4:36pm
I don't know how useful this will be to you but my dad does electrical, hardware and software design. He can give you a heads up on how much it would cost to design and build the boxes you're talking about.
His rates aren't cheap but you will not find a more flexible hardworking knowledgeable person. He is very good at what he does.
Consultations are free.
Comment by Ursula Kochanowsky on April 13, 2010 at 6:12pm
Not to spam you..but have you also looked at earthship design? http://earthship.org/electricity Don't know how useful they are because earthships are built to be completely self contained but its something to look into.
Comment by Julio Cesar Corona Ortega on April 13, 2010 at 6:19pm
Thanks a lot Ursula. I will be sure to check them out.

And if you could comment this project with your dad and share his thoughts/unit cost guesstimates with us, that would be great. I'd love to mail him through his company website, but I think it would be more beneficial if his thoughts would be here on EVOKE for all of us to have the opinion of an expert. :)
Comment by Ursula Kochanowsky on April 13, 2010 at 7:12pm
See, where applicable I like stepping out because I can't communicate as effectively as you might about this project which is your passion. Send him an email, its okay, just mention that you're from this site, I sent you and that you might grab whatever he says for publication to your project here. You should probably send him a link to this post because its relevant so he can read before he responds.
He will understand and it wont stop him from giving you his straight answer because he'd like to prevent any misconceptions up front and wants everyone he consults with to succeed even if he can't help them. I get my bluntness from him.
Comment by Julio Cesar Corona Ortega on April 13, 2010 at 7:14pm
Okay, fair enough and thank you, Ursula. :)

I will send him a mail later on.
Comment by Ursula Kochanowsky on April 13, 2010 at 7:27pm
Oh yeah..and when you email him..keep the email to just what you need consultation on, the creation of the box. Otherwise he'll give you a side dose of his opinion on your project..and it can be brutal.


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