Producing and storing electricity for one’s own use – dream or reality?

They may not exactly be mainstream but there are already some solutions on the market for generating one's own electricity at home. — AFP Relaxnews

In 2023, the technology for us to manage our own electricity, whether by producing it, storing it or both at the same time, will be within reach – at least in theory. Currently, the technology exists not only for individual households to produce their own electricity, but also to store it and be able to use it when needed.

Faced with rising energy prices and the risk of shortages, more and more households are taking the plunge and creating their own electricity reserves, even if these solutions are still far from enabling total energy self-sufficiency. We take a look at the latest developments – and the challenges – of the phenomenon in France in our After Calendar, our trend book for 2023.

Generating electricity with solar panels

While they may exist, local energy production systems remain limited in number for now. For the moment, only the use of solar panels can provide enough energy to get a household out of a jam and help save money on electricity bills.

Vincent Schachter, a researcher specialising in energy supply technologies and CEO of the startup Pelikan Mobility, warns: “You can’t produce enough electricity locally with solar panels, especially since it is fed back into the grid. People might think that by producing a little electricity, at home without disturbing anyone, they can provide for their family. But in fact, this isn’t true. If you produce electricity with solar panels in a moderately sunny country like France, it won’t be enough.”

Indeed, even in optimal conditions of orientation and sunshine, in France, nearly 30 square meters of high efficiency solar panels are necessary to produce the equivalent of 5000 kWh in a year, while a house of 100 square meters consumes on average around 15000 kWh per year, according to data published by Engie.

The challenge at hand, therefore, is not so much to produce one’s own energy as to store it, in order to make up for a shortage of electricity or to be able to meet requirements in special circumstances.

An electric battery in the home

The best solution for storing energy at home is to invest in a battery system installed in the heart of the home. Among the best-known solutions is Tesla’s Powerwall, which can even be charged using clean energy when combined with solar panels. Since the energy is stored locally, it means that it can be used when required – practical for having some self-sufficiency in case of a power outage.

That said, in France, this type of installation has not yet really broken through among households, where it can take time to change mindsets, as Schachter explains: “These are solutions that are not very developed here, but which already work well in countries that have a culture of self-sufficiency in large spaces like the United States, Canada and Australia. More so in any case than in large metropolitan areas where the majority of people live in apartments.”

One’s car battery as source of energy

On the other hand, another storage method could prove to be a quick solution, potentially coming to the aid of both individuals and professionals. Indeed, with the increasing popularity of electric cars, it is already technically possible to use the energy stored in batteries to supply electricity to a nearby house or simply to provide support to the local energy distribution network.

This is the idea of bidirectional vehicle to grid (V2G) charging. For now, this technology is still in the testing phase. In fact, few models are yet compatible and infrastructures remain scarce.

And Schachter points out that this solution is not yet ready to be be rolled out on a large scale: “From a technological point of view, we know how to make bidirectional charging stations, but for everything to work, you need a network manager and an electrical system that know how to properly manage the reinjection of electricity into the network. In France, that's something that's being played out between the Energy Regulation Commission and the grid operators Enedis.”

On the plus side, the charging station socket standard (CCS) now supports bidirectional, which could significantly speed up its expansion. “V2G is going to be in place eventually because it's actually not that complicated to implement, but you're going to have to get a lot of people to agree on putting together a business model that makes sense. It's a sexy idea, but it's not exactly going to revolutionize the world.”

"It’s not in the imminent future that we'll be able to charge up our homes using this technology," explains Schachter. "On the other hand, in certain professional domains, it may happen more quickly, especially in cases where you have vehicles with a totally predictable route, which will then park at the depot with V2G charging stations and large batteries, with buses for example. This is already starting to happen, particularly in the United States." In the US, various experiments are indeed allowing electric buses or even school buses to feed energy stored in their batteries back into the local grid.

Apps for monitoring one’s consumption

At the end of the day, the solution that already exists and that can easily allow us to manage our electricity consumption is demand management. This refers to optimizing the operation of a piece of equipment that consumes a lot of energy by shifting its use over time.

A great deal of equipment allows for optimization of power consumption through the use of software’s intelligence, via a dedicated application. "I think demand management is going to become more mainstream and there will be a lot of competition between different solution providers to come up with solutions that will hold up," says Schachter.

Even if solutions exist, "clearly everyone won’t be producing their own electricity in the immediate future, even if it’s a fun idea,” concludes Schachter. "Culturally, the French are not used to thinking about energy as something they have to manage personally."

At the moment, the system is slowly but surely becoming more decentralized, because there are now more energy resources, with electric cars, electric panels, etc, but it is still far too early to say that everyone will be generating their own electricity in the near future.

This interview has been translated from French. – AFP Relaxnews

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