Without a way to store their power, no number of solar panels will free a home from the electrical grid. The Daily Herald reports that researchers at Utah-based Ceramatec have developed a new battery that can be scaled up to store 20 kilowatt-hours — enough to power an average home for most of a day. An easy sell for solar users, but it could also allow the grid-bound to stockpile energy during less expensive off-peak hours when “smart metering” (i.e., time/peak-based metering) is introduced as expected over the next decade.

Ceramic membrane panels work like a battery in recharge mode. (Credit: Daily Herald)

The Ceramatec battery separates the sulfur and sodium from each other with a thin ceramic membrane which allows electricity to be stored while operating at a much lower temperature. Ceramatec envisions a refrigerator-sized unit that would remain below 98° C, the melting point of sodium. Keeping the sodium solid makes for a much safer battery.

The battery could store 20 kWh worth of energy, either from local, sustainable sources such as wind or solar, or from off-peak recharging from the grid, much like a plug-in hybrid car recharges when the grid demand is low. Ceramatec says its new generation of battery would deliver a continuous flow of 5 kilowatts of electricity over four hours, with 3,650 discharge/recharge cycles over 10 years.

With the batteries expected to sell in the neighborhood of $2,000, that translates to less than 3 cents per kilowatt hour over the battery’s life. Conventional power from the grid typically costs in the neighborhood of 8 cents per kilowatt hour, but a smart-metered system could create a several-cents-per-kilowatt differential between the cost of electricity during peak demand versus off-peak demand.

This kind of distributed storage of electricity could potentially make it easier to incorporate sustainably-based generation into the grid. Methods to tell home storage units when to recharge could readily be based on existing utility systems that can turn off power for air conditioning during peak demand periods.

Interestingly, in the world of smart meters, the inverse would equally apply: Your utility would likely have to pay a consumer premium prices if consumer also fed power back into the grid at the right time. Thus, with the right battery and data systems in place, one can even imagine a kind of arbitrage system forming – where consumers can also become some of the players – if the differential is large enough.

This way, intermittent sources and local sources can more easily be incorporated into the grid, and a locally produced electricity (along with increased efficiency from reduced transmission losses) can only be helped by this technology taking off.