A crash course in changing the world.
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.
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%.
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.
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.