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Henk Rogers of Tetris Wants Clean Energy Storage For All

Tina Casey headshotWords by Tina Casey
Data & Technology
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Tetris fans know Henk Rogers as the man who took a risky trip into Soviet Russia 30 years ago. He sought to bring the iconic video game from behind the Iron Curtain to delight millions of people all over the world. Now, Rogers aims to break down another barrier. His company, Blue Planet Energy, just introduced Blue Ion -- an energy-storage solution that aims to enable homeowners to live the dream of an off-grid, clean-powered life.

From video games to energy storage


Given the rough-and-tumble world of today's distributed energy storage market, Blue Ion faces a tough row to hoe.

Rogers, though, is prepared to take on the heavy hitters, including Tesla's much-publicized Powerwall. He graciously took some time from a busy schedule last week to do a Skype interview with TriplePundit, and he explained how the hot competition for the rights to Tetris prepared him for the competition.

After all, this is the man who secured the rights to Tetris for Nintendo at the expense of Atari.

Here's his take on the adventure, which involved a flight deep into Soviet Russia and a meet-up with the game's inventor, Alexey Pajitnov:

"Nothing is going to stop me. I walked through a door that I was absolutely not allowed to walk through, and I did it anyway.

"The experts tell you why things can't be done. In my naivety, I'm going to do it anyway."

Energy storage for everyone


Rogers is a huge fan of Elon Musk and his Tesla electric vehicles, and claims to have owned every model Tesla has introduced so far.

However, that doesn't stop him from comparing the benefits of Blue Ion to Tesla's Powerwall.

One key item is Blue Planet's relationship with the design firm IDEO. Rather than simply marketing an energy-storage product based on efficiency, capacity and other numerical markers, Rogers wanted to leverage his own experiences with energy storage to create a product that is appealing on a more holistic basis to a wide range of homeowners.

For Blue Ion, IDEO worked with focus groups to come up with a sleek, narrow energy-storage unit that includes the inverter unit. (Powerwall requires a separate inverter installation, Rogers points out.)

With the inverter positioned side-by-side with the battery units, Blue Ion has a low-key, horizontal aspect that contrasts with Powerwall's vertical alignment. (The Blue Ion units can also be stacked vertically if desired.)

Blue Ion's low-key footprint dovetails with IDEO's research, which revealed that many prospective energy-storage buyers prefer equipment that is more or less invisible, like any other household appliance.

On the other hand, if the buyer prefers to showcase their home energy-storage technology, Blue Ion's clean lines and deep color provide a striking focus point.

The unit's sleek design leads to another key advantage, which is the potential for keeping the installed cost of the unit down.

Rogers points out that Powerwall is designed to be literally hung on a wall. At 254 pounds per unit, that's a complicated operation. Between that requirement and the separate inverter, labor and installation costs mount up.

Blue Ion, on the other hand, is designed to put its weight on a floor, using an adjacent wall only for stability and support. That provides customers with more options for placement.

It also makes for a simple installation ,which Rogers estimates at a matter of minutes rather than hours. According to IDEO, that simplicity makes a huge difference to consumers, because it compares favorably with the kind of appliance installation with which they are already familiar.

Like the Powerwall, Blue Ion must be installed by certified professionals. But Rogers is already looking forward to developing a plug-and-play system.

How about a BatteryShot?


If this is beginning to sound like the energy-storage version of President Barack Obama's SunShot Initiative, that's what Rogers has in mind.

SunShot is an Energy Department program that looks at the cost of solar power from every angle, including obtaining permits, installing solar panels, making financing arrangements and other "soft" costs. The aim is to bring the total installed cost of solar power down to a level that meets -- or beats -- the cost of conventional fuels.

Blue Ion is the energy storage version of that theme. Rogers realized the need for a holistic product several years ago, when he experimented with a cutting-edge flow battery system at his own residence. He was not thrilled with the results. The lifespan proved to be far too short, and there was no lifecycle plan for dealing with the spent batteries and their toxic components.

Flow battery technology is improving rapidly, but Rogers needed a more reliable battery that is ready for today's mass consumer market.

He settled on a Sony lithium-ion battery based on the mineral olivine, with ferrous phosphate cathodes -- an interesting choice, considering that back in 2011 the Energy Department released the results of a comparative study that identified ferrous phosphate as the "cathode of choice" for electric vehicle batteries.

The agency cited several factors, including a high degree of stability, non-toxic characteristics, lower cost and better safety performance.

In our conversation, Rogers pointed out those same factors make the Sony battery ideal for home use.

Sony launched the first version of the battery in 2009 with this description:

The Olivine-type lithium iron phosphate used in this new battery is extremely suited for use as a cathode material due to its robust crystal structure and stable performance, even at high temperatures. By combining this new cathode material with Sony's proprietary particle design technology that minimizes electrical resistance to deliver high power output, and also leveraging the cell structure design technology Sony accrued developing its current "Fortelion series" lithium ion secondary battery line-up, Sony has realized a high power density of 1,800 watts per kilogram and extended life span of approximately 2,000 charge-discharge cycles.

Sony originally introduced the battery for use in power tools and other movable devices. In 2011 the company introduced it for stationary energy storage with a 10-year lifespan. The version used in Blue Ion has a 20-year lifespan with 8,000 charge-discharge cycles.

Rogers himself is living the dream. His home and ranch, both located in Hawaii, are fully off-grid using Sony batteries and solar power.

Image (screenshot): via Blue Planet.

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Tina Casey headshotTina Casey

Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.

Read more stories by Tina Casey