Smart Grid

What can the solar industry learn from toys?

What can the solar industry learn from toys?

Believe it or not, I was a somewhat nerdy kid growing up.  I played with things like tinker toys and legos, and eventually graduated to radio control cars.  On my 7th birthday I got a Tamiya Blackfoot kit, which was a 1/10th scale monster truck.  It was beyond my capability to assemble most of it, with the oil filled shocks and differentials, and what not.  But I sure had fun driving it!  At that time, the cutting edge technology was Nickel-Cadmium battery packs (with six or seven cells wired in series to get the voltage up to 7.2 or 8.4v nominal.  1800 mAh packs could be had in the neighborhood of $25.  With this kind of combination you could run your car around the neighborhood for six to eight minutes.  This was basically just enough time to start having fun, then you had to go back inside and charge your car again.

I recently got back into the hobby after finding some of my old kits in the garage.  Well, times have changed in the hobby.  Radios are now operating on a 2.4ghz spectrum, and will automatically detect the proper operating frequency.  Speed controls now use the same pulse-width modulation as advanced electronics like solar inverters.  Battery packs are now using Lithium-Polymer technology.  In addition to making the battery packs much lighter, batteries can support much higher voltages (up to 14.8v) and longer run times.  Costs for these battery packs are now about $50; not that much more than decades ago when you factor in the cost of inflation.

Solar has experienced some similar effects over the past decade.  The cost of PV modules has decreased by multiple times over the past 9 years.  Additionally, manufacturers like Schneider Electric are producing inverters with ever-increasing efficiency.  Customers can now actively manage their energy with the monitoring and production guarantees that integrators can provide.  The cost of solar is now rivaling grid parity in many areas, thanks to the efficiency and cost reduction improvements that the industry has been able to sustain.

The moral of the story here is that give the ability and the incentive, markets will evolve to provide better technology to serve customers needs, be it supporting micro-grids, providing advanced grid functions, or just running a small vehicle around the neighborhood.


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