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The 21st Century's Electron Emporium!

25 Nov 16:00 by Source: https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/21st-centurys-electron-emporium-roger-atkins/?trk=v-feed

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It's all too easy to get your fingers burned!

Not so much from a shattering lightbulb moment I guess, but from investing in something that's likely to be superseded by a superior solution?...well that's much more likely!

What am I talking about?...well, are you sitting comfortably?

Then I'll begin.

Electricity: Production - Distribution - Utilisation - Storage

They are all linked of course - and therefore as one changes - inevitably so do the others.

Time to re-draw much of what's come before then?

The Production of electricity is extraordinarily variable around the world, shaped as it is by both politics, chance, and circumstance. The latter is part of natures's wondrous bounty, providing some with easily accessible, relatively cheap, sustainable energy such as geothermal and hydro. Some countries just got lucky - they were blessed.

There is also a rich bounty of unsustainable energy for some such as oil, coal, and gas, and whilst one source has mostly been benign to our way of life - the other has been manifestly malignant it seems.

However, the 'democratisation of energy' is now increasingly in play across the planet - especially with solar - and it looks like a new world order will emerge out of it all. All change please!

Mr Nikola Tesla demonstrated that electricity could be delivered over a long distance and with high-power in his advocacy for AC - Alternating Current. Back in the day there were big doubters that this could be achieved, but he was right - and his proposition (supported by Westinghouse and others of course!) became the foundation for much of the 20th centuries' progress. An electricity grid is now tapped into 24/7/365 by large swathes of humanity on the planet...although vitally important to note! - not all can just flip the switch on a whim!

Distribution from remote wind and solar farms is in stark contrast to the established model of 'local' power stations of course - so there is some important work underway with this dynamic too. All change there then!

Electricity is how you're able to read these words - it is the fuel of choice for our gadget rich world, and just think of the many millions that have been liberated over the years from darkness by the genius of Thomas Edison's invention - the electric light bulb. Take a look around our wonderful world of affordable power-on-demand that helps us cook the dinner, wash the dishes, and watch TV...or crank up an electric guitar to 'entertain' the neighbours as I sometimes do!

And yet, the biggest electrical gadget thus far - the car - is only now arriving on the scene...and the ramifications of that are profound. The 'Electric-city' will be at the heart of all that.

But hang on! - just as that's happening, we contemplate turning the automotive business model upside down by switching from owning to using - so exactly who, where, and how will we be utilising the power for that particular asset? All change again!

And then, there's the battery...

The electrons parking place of choice whilst it waits for release (other energy storage devices are available) Storage is essential for the accelerated adoption of renewable energy - and how that morphs and matches up with increased electrification of mobility is an extraordinary arena right now. Batteries are very big business - business that can, that will, that must only get bigger. However, it would be better all round of course if the batteries themselves got smaller!

Hmmm...

Batteries are still work-in-progress, and both the physical make up of the cells and the pack, and the chemistry, as well as 'the brain of the thing', the BMS (Battery Management System), are exercising some of the smartest minds on the planet right now. A few more twists and turns on that journey too!

Amidst it all though here's a thought:- EV Maestro Mr Musk is always keen to consider 1st principles. It's how he's wired, it's his big thang - and that must work quite well as it's helped him land rockets back on the ground, turn roof tiles into energy harvesters, and propel large lumps of metal ludicrously fast.

So here's my attempt at the 1st principle approach...well a ham fisted one I suspect.

The EV motor is fed on electrons - the battery is simply a storage device...

The Internal Combustion Engine is fed on hydrocarbons - energy dense 'ancient solar' so to speak. It must be stored en masse and onboard...hence the hefty fuel tank that hangs like a swollen satchel of liquid refreshment under that horseless carriage somewhere.

There's certainly a hefty item under every EV. A bloody big battery!...but hang on a minute!

What if?

What if we accelerate the R&D of an already well known, but much maligned capability...and the frustrated ambition of Mr Tesla back in the day.

Passing electricity through the air. Wireless energy transfer. High power stuff!

"Many people think that wireless charging is years away, and inherently inefficient. In fact, wireless charging is available today, and it can be more efficient than comparable conductive chargers.”
Andrew Daga - Momentum Dynamics
As we shift towards 'specifically purposed vehicles'...that to my mind means potential liberation from much of the compromised-one-size-fits-all-owned-vehicle-model, so perhaps we can also re-think the fuelling paradigm?

Who said that?

I just did!

What if those roaming robo-cabs, cocooned as they may well be within the urban environs, get fed on-the-fly from below - as and when they either slow down or come to a halt? Such a charging infrastructure could obviate the need for ever better ever cheaper ever bigger giga factories feeding the electric revolution.

Some say that EV progress could well be stymied by battery availability over the coming decade or two - so I'd like to see a model that matches urban miles travelled within a given time and location, the number and type of vehicles doing so, and how that onboard energy might be migrated to an off-board proposition. To the best of my knowledge electricity has the unique capability for this particular paradigm shift.

To date, wirelessly charged electric vehicles have only been sporadically appearing with the capability - as an optional extra - but to my mind it needs to be shifted into a fundamental part of the proposition.

Incidentally, I'm not saying dispense with a battery altogether, but I am suggesting we can drastically downsize it where appropriate. Initially, as I've suggested on these pages before, the taxi, bus, and delivery van fleet would be the best match for this approach. A nascent network that charged those vehicles could then be expanded out to encompass more and more vehicles as the business model allowed - progressively delivering an electric avenue we can all "rock down to" Perhaps ahead of all that we'll see ports and airports switch to such a 'model' - I can envisage that much sooner than later!

It's all pie in the sky Mr Atkins I can hear someone saying right now! - well, it's up and running and out on the road I say!...here's a recent release on a BYD Bus over in the USA - click here - and a 50 kW system incidentally. Mr Daga made that bold claim a few paragraphs up from my pie if you recall.

And finally.

If there's one thing that truly surprises me about Elon Musk and the Tesla story thus far - it's the absence of a wireless charging chapter. As it happens, I personally asked the man himself about it a couple of years ago, and amongst a few other things - including battery swap, he said this to me....

"It's quite difficult to send a lot of power inductively"
Pop over to Howard County Maryland Elon!

This is the 1st of a few articles around those things...and I've got some extraordinary people lined up soon to share a few credible and close quarter 'what if's' - WATCH THIS SPACE!