By now, you’ve probably had your fill of 2010 prediction lists about cleantech and renewable energy, but no such list was worth its bytes if it didn’t mention energy storage. The absence of scalable energy storage solutions is the Achilles’ heel of renewable energy generated from intermittent sources, such as sun and wind. But when it said late last month that it hopes to start selling a lithium-ion storage cell for home use around fiscal 2011, electronics giant Panasonic signaled that it could be filling that energy storage void.
Details about the battery are sketchy, at best. Panasonic’s president Fumio Otsubo told the Japanese newspaper The Yomiuri Shimbun about the planned product but didn’t mention how large the energy storage system would be, or how much it would cost. He did say the device would be able to store a week’s worth of power for a single home—which sounds impressive but is a poor metric, since the amount of energy a single family home consumes in one week can vary drastically from block to block and from city to city. Still, storing a week’s worth of energy for even a small home with relatively low energy needs would be a major accomplishment.
The planned product is a nice and logical tie-in with Panasonic’s recent acquisition of Sanyo, an important solar panel producer.
If it turns out to be a viable solution, Panasonic’s energy storage system could not only make the investment in solar and wind power for a residence much more attractive, it could also mean that living off the grid wouldn’t be just for hippies anymore. That said, an effective home energy storage system would likely make more sense for homeowners who are on the grid and want to reduce dependence on non-renewable energy sources while also providing a means of storing any extra juice they drive home with in their electric vehicle—a vision that Southern California Edison laid out for 3P on a recent visit to its EV Tech Center in Pomona.
And since Panasonic wants to be a player in the hybrid vehicle battery game, there’s obvious overlap there.
Otsubo also said that Panasonic and Sanyo have already test-manufactured a storage battery for home use. Of course, these two companies are not the only ones working to develop a energy storage system for buildings, they’re among a large group of old-school battery makers and startups that are looking for ways to clear the technical hurdles (size) and financial ones (high cost) associated with producing large-scale Li-ion batteries.