August 10, 2006 4:00 AM PDT

Pumping power onto the grid from your basement

In a 21st century twist on Microsoft's original "PC in every home" vision, a young company has created a home energy-storage appliance that connects to the power grid--and the Internet.

Called GridPoint, the 3-year-old company has developed "intelligent energy management" systems, which it claims can help people lower their electricity bills.

It makes two products: a storage appliance that works in conjunction with a renewable power source, such as solar electric panels, and a back-up power supply unit. Both refrigerator-size boxes are equipped with Net-connected PCs that collect and analyze data on power usage.

Using the company's software, people can lower their energy consumption by having the system shut off appliances at certain times. Or people can power their homes from their batteries on a schedule that makes best use of changing electricity tariffs, according to GridPoint.

The Washington, D.C.-based company is part of a wave of start-ups entering the clean technology sector and seeking to create business opportunities from higher energy prices. A handful of these clean tech companies, including GridPoint, are focusing on technologies that lower power costs, in part by shifting electricity usage to different times of the day.

"Energy shifters change the timing of when energy is drawn off the system--they don't necessarily reduce the use of energy overall," said Rob Day, an investor at Expansion Capital Partners. "They are betting on time-of-use (pricing) working its way more and more into the regulatory environment. That's probably a valid assumption."

GridPoint appliance

In September, GridPoint plans to announce a partnership with a utility industry company to tap into the kilowatt-hours of storage sitting in people's basements, Chief Operating Officer Karl Lewis said.

The idea is that the utility will purchase and install the storage units in customers' homes in a certain region. To avoid potentially expensive spikes in demand, such as hot summer days that could cause blackouts, utilities will draw on the stored electricity in the GridPoint systems, Lewis said.

Having the storage units connected directly to the electricity grid allows the utility to pull the electricity from the disparate appliances, much like servers and PCs exchange data over the Internet.

"This supply-side technology can put elasticity into the electrical grid," said Lewis, adding that the deal involves a product designed specifically for utilities. "We can do that because we have a network operations center, so we can control a set of boxes in the field."

Peak shaving
Peak energy periods can be very costly to utilities, which may have to ramp up production by putting reserved power plants online or to expand capacity by building new power plants. With record heat in the U.S. this summer, for example, utilities in Northeastern states and California urged consumers to scale back use of air conditioning and other power-intensive activities.

Programs to lower energy consumption during the day have been around for some time by utilities interested in balancing energy demand, Lewis said. For example, people could agree to have their radio-equipped water heaters turned off or their air conditioner thermostats turned up during the day.

Lewis said these "negawatt" programs are aimed at smoothing out demand over the course of a day to avoid overtaxing the electrical grid. By contrast, GridPoint is trying to add more supply to the grid network. "It's discharging during periods of grid stress," he said.

The partnership calls for utilities to actually own the storage units and have a "service relationship" with the customer that includes the storage device, he added. But GridPoint also sells directly to consumers and is trying to develop partnerships with building companies that would pre-install storage devices.

The company sells its $10,500 back-up power unit, GridPoint Protect, as a cleaner alternative to diesel generators--which have become more common in places like Florida, as it has been hit with devastating hurricanes in the last few years. The devices, equipped with an Intel PC running Windows CE, can be monitored and serviced over the Internet.

CONTINUED: Ice-powered air…
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But what about long term...
disposal of the chemicals/metals in the batteries? Who will guarantee their recycling? And will a law protect the end-user and not the manufacturer?

I'm all for recycling/conserving/renewing energy. But I am skeptical of companies wanting to make a fast-buck and leave the problems to you.
Posted by Below Meigh (249 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Finger in the dike
The real problem is environmental extremism preventing the drilling for more oil and natural gas and the building of more nuclear power plants.

Unless and until we can get the heel of that boot off our necks, we'll continue to slide further into third-world like conditions with rolling blackouts and needing to buy a generator just to have a reliable electrical supply.
Posted by b_baggins (772 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Finger in the dike indeed
How is that the "real problem?" You appear to know very little
about power and energy distribution architecture. As was
evident in the power crisis in California a few years back
(remember Enron?) much of the issue stems from unregulated
power companies making decisions in a free market which lead
to short term profits for investors and long term pain.
Specifically, they refused to invest in the construction of new
generation and distribution facilities, as this created an artificial
shortage of supply, driving up costs, and thus decreasing
profits. The free market is all well and good for some things, but
in a culture so entrenched in short term, juvenile thinking like
the US, the need for regulation of this market in some sectors,
including ALL areas of infrastructure, is clear.
Also, even where there is a true a supply issue, opening up new
areas for exploration will NOT result in anything other than a
VERY short term solution, the proverbial finger in the ****.
Even if EVERY known and postulated field were open to
exploration, this would at most provide energy for about 50
years. Ad that is at current usage levels. As levels have been
steadily increasing for decades, one can assume that this length
of time will actually be far less. In addition, if you allow free
market forces to operate, there will be nothing to prevent this
supply from being diverted to emerging markets, such as China
and Africa, that have huge populations and will soon have
voracious demand. This will start to drive prices back up AND
decrease the amount of time that this strategy will be beneficial.
And as renewable energy technologies are only in their infancy,
and the thinking such as yours that desires to ignore realities
and pretend there is some panacea solution under the ground in
Alaska, diverts our collective attention, this will most certainly
be time wasted from finding other means of providing for our
energy needs, and we will be in far worse shape than if we had
decided to actually wrestle with the REAL problems now. Just like
we are in worse shape now than if the energy policies of the
Carter administration had been left in effect rather than being
gutted by the mental midgets that followed him.

The real problem is not environmental extremism, it is
governments and individuals who refuse to address the real
issues, and fail to invest in technologies that can actually solve
the problems LONG TERM.

I do agree about nuclear though.
Posted by DeusExMachina (516 comments )
Link Flag
So short sighted ...
When you burn oil or natural gas it emits poisons into the atmosphere and water. We ***** foot around this by calling it pollution, but it's still poisonous and the poisons cause cancers and other diseases. Oh, and nuclear plants? Even more poisons in the form of radioactive stuff that will last for jillions of years.
Posted by davidherron444 (9 comments )
Link Flag
What off peak rates?
The majority of home users only have one rate the whole day. So storing power at night won't save them anything because it costs just as much. Infact it will be more expensive since power is lost when it is converted from AC to DC and back again.

The solar cells are a nice touch, but again, they aren't gonna charge at night, and during the day they won't really come close to generaing ehough power to make any real dent in what someone uses.

Not to mention I don't know may people who would pay as much as a car for this, not to mention the instalation costs. In order to control indivisual appliances like they want, you would almost have to replace your breaker pannel with this to switch your various lines, or worse, tie into your outlets, you are looking at almost doubling the cost of this thing just for the electical work.

This should be marketed to businesses and institutions that actually recieve off peak rates and have the resorces to purchas one of these.

Enev then, how much power would you have to store at off peak rates to justify the expence?
Posted by startiger (50 comments )
Reply Link Flag
It's called Time Of Use metering
Look it up
Posted by davidherron444 (9 comments )
Link Flag
Talk to you util
I know my utility offers different pricing plans and one of them is the off-peak hours plan. The off-peak pricing is like 6cents/kwh during off times and 14cents/kwh during peak times.
In this case then if during work my fridge and other appliance runs off the battery and they recharge during the night, then I save money.
Posted by Gasaraki (183 comments )
Link Flag
Get rid of all investor owned power co.
One way to cut costs for all of the country is to let the people who use the power own the power plant. This was the idea in the late 40s to get power in rural areas and it has been very sucessful and economical for consumers. With investor owned you get people like Ken Lay who loots the company and makes people loose their life savings. If he wasn't dead he should be stood against a wall and shot. When all of the customers share in the profits the costs are lower for all.
Posted by hsteffee (2 comments )
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California is defintely affected
In California, if you have a meter that says what time of day you draw power, it can make a huge difference. The cost of power between 8 am and 4 PM costs almost 50% more than power during the rest of the day. Depending on the location, the 4-7 PM block varies. I looked into Solar in Sacramento, and I would have gotten a check from the energy company each month potentially. If you gather 75 units of energy in the day and use 100 Units at night, the cost difference would be cash in your pocket based on last years rates during the summer.
Posted by hoffmkr (7 comments )
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Not for consumers
Cnet is misleading consumers. A family of 5 couldn't afford this.
Posted by paulsecic (298 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Does anyone bother to actually read?
As ready as I am to bash CNet for their constant crappy reporting, the story was quite clear that this device was not initially for marketing to end consumers, but rather to utilities. It also was clear that it was only relevent for markets with differential rates for daytime vs. night time use.
Posted by DeusExMachina (516 comments )
Link Flag
Um, it's not the heat that taxes the power grid
It's what people do because of the heat that taxes the power grid. So long as you believe it's the heat, and that the only solution is to crank up the air conditioner, you're stuck in a loop. There are alternatives beyond using an air conditioner such as better building practices that insulate more properly from the heat.

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Posted by davidherron444 (9 comments )
Reply Link Flag
In that case...
I guess everyone who lives in a house that wasn't built following "better builing practices" should build a new home? Considering that most people would probably fall into this category, I don't think that "better building practices" are enough. Not that they shouldn't be followed - obviously they should be - but that doesn't fix anything for now.

What is needed is a long term plan and, if need be, a stop gap between now and when the plan comes into place.
Posted by ddesy (4336 comments )
Link Flag
don't forget NET BILLING
"Net Billing" means that the grid pays you the same for power that you feed into the grid as you pay to them for power that you take from the grid.

Now, add time of day rates, and there is a profit to be made just from storing "dump rate" electricity at night, and selling it during "peak rate" hours.

this might be accomplished in many ways. Storage batteries are good for small volume storage. Enough to move a car 150 miles, for example. Or run your computer an hour. The old fashioned "telephone" systems run on nominal 48 Volts with batteries being charged whenever power is available. Hmmm.. maybe the phone companies could take advantage of dump rate electricity and run on batteries only during peak hours.

Larger storage systems pump water to a higher storage area, then using the falling water to generate electricity. I have fond notions of operating giant flywheels which would be spun up with cheap power, and then generated and sold power at peak rates. (imagine my surprise when i came upon a company at a trade show that used an 18-inch flywheel spun up from the grid, to provide 15 seconds of 20 KW, enough for the diesels to get up to speed, synchronize, and cut in.

But nightime energy storage does not change consumption, it merely smoothes capacity demand. The real answer is solar power. A solar powared clothes dryer can be purchased for under $10 (it's called a clothesline.) A $200 louvered black box connected to the air input of an electric dryer gives convenience and fluffing of tumble drying, without burning 15-30 cents per hour in electric heating.

Here in Nevada, the electric company is installing solarvoltiac all over. As the price of fossell fuels increases, our increasing ability to use the free fuel of solar fusion is the best, and possibly only, path into the 22nd century for human civilization.
Posted by disco-legend-zeke (448 comments )
Reply Link Flag
True solar power isn't just photovoltiac cells
There is so much focus on solar power as meaning photovoltaic cells. Converting solar power to electricity then storing it in batteries is relatively inefficient and should be used only for a portion of a home's power needs.

Most of the solar power should be used directly using any of the following technologies:

1) Solar assisted ventilation with a thrombe wall and other architectural design elements to drive ventilation throughout the home.

2) Adsorption cycle airconditioning and refrigeration. there are many choices today, some no larger than current room and split type airconditioners with the addition of a roof or wall mounted solar driven condensor, and there are also large whole building systems.

3) Natural lighting provided by architectural design elements.

4) 12V systems throughout the home. Many electronics and lighting run off 12V. Computers, LCD screens, inkjet printers, network hubs and routers run off 12V. Flourescent lamps and halogen lighting with electronic ballasts run off 12V. Having 12V systems mean more efficient use of the 12V output of solar cells and batteries, without the step-up and step down cycles.
Posted by Maccess (610 comments )
Link Flag
Cheap solar clothers dryer
Cheap clothes line. Sure the line is cheap, but I have looked for a long time for replacement for a well worn folding multi line that fits in a hole in the ground. Closest one was in Oz, otherwise called Australia. Seems that the electric or gas fueled dryer has limited the market. Maybe the new prices of either fuel will change thing.

I have replace the lines twice now, and it is on the third pole. Other small parts have been replaced with stainless lock screws.

I take care to pinch the pennies. They add up.

An additional advantage of the sun dried clothes is that the smell fresh!
Posted by bigduke (78 comments )
Link Flag
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Posted by luckypaul (1 comment )
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