226: Home Battery Experiences – Are They Worth It?


Matt and Sean talk about Matt’s new home battery, and viewers share their experiences. Why would you want one?

Watch the Undecided with Matt Ferrell episode, My New Net Zero Home Battery Surprised Me https://youtu.be/Q7piAXkqvOM?list=PLnTSM-ORSgi7FwYRnWkpCSkAeFOzrgh5h

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Hi everybody. On today’s episode of Still to be Determined, we’re going to talk about why Matt spends so much time in his garage, staring stupidly at the wall with a little smile on his face. As usual, I’m Sean Ferrell. I’m a writer. I write some sci fi, I write some stuff for kids, and I’m just generally curious about technology and luckily for me, my brother is that Matt from Undecided with Matt Ferrell, which takes a look at emerging tech and its impact on our lives.

And Matt, how are you, how are you possibly coping with this muggy, stuffy, hot, New Northeastern weekend. It is. Oh, wait a minute. I forgot. You’re in a hermetically sealed. Yes. Like,

it is unreal, Sean. I took the dog for a walk yesterday and it was like 5 30 at night. Take I open the door it felt like I was walking into a sponge.

I looked at the weather as I was walking out with the dog and it said, feels like 104 degrees Fahrenheit. I was like, Oh my God, what’s happening right now? And the other thing is right before the weekend, before all this horrible weather hit. I finally installed the solar panels on my shed. I did that project and I was trying to film it as I was doing it because I might make a video out of it.

And so I’m filming stuff, I have GoPro set up and I’m doing this stuff and I’m clomping around on the roof of the shed, looking like I’m about to fall off. And as I’m working, I think, The sky is getting grayer and grayer and grayer. And I was like, I’m drilling holes through the roof. And so now there’s like open holes on the roof.

And I’m like, it looks like it’s about to pour. And I opened my weather app and it said heavy downpour in 15 minutes. I was basically like, screw the recordings. I’m like, I like did not care about getting the shots anymore. It was just like, I got to get this stuff covered up as fast as I can. And just as I finished everything, got back in the house.

It’s just like, Poured everywhere. So it’s like I just in the nick of time finished getting everything installed.

That was our 4th of July where we spent the day doing some, doing some things around the neighborhood that were just kind of like casual hanging out as a family. And then we went to Coney Island and we were going to watch the fireworks that they have at Coney Island.

And Coney Island was a mad house. It was tens of thousands of people. I have been like this since I was a kid, where that kind of crowd, I kind of shut down emotionally and reach a point where I’m just like, somebody’s just released a robot into the world, and it’s name is Sean. And so I’m charging through crowds as we’re trying to do fun stuff, like the Wonder Wheel, which is an enormous Ferris wheel, and we’re trying to find a spot on the boardwalk to eat some dinner.

And It’s just so many people. And we finally get to the point where we get out to the beach and we set down some blankets and we sit down and the sun is going down and everybody’s listening to music and there’s some people setting off small fireworks. And I look out on the horizon. I’m like, wow, those are really dark clouds.

And then. Those clouds seem to be moving this direction. And then was that a raindrop? And I checked the same as you, I check the app on my phone and it’s like, the rain should stop in an hour. And I’m like, Oh God. And then it turns into tens of thousands of people trying to make their way to the subway to get away from the rain that’s coming in at the same time as tens of thousands, different people showing up.

to go see the fireworks. So it’s these, it was, if it had been filmed from above, it would have looked like a battle scene from Ben Hur. It was tens of thousands of people trying to make their way through each other as we’re like, I want to be where you are. And no, I want to be where you are. And so we ended up watching fireworks.

From the F train, which is an elevated train for part of Brooklyn. And so at every stop, the doors would open up and you would see fireworks going off on the horizon and in the neighborhoods as people are doing illegal fireworks right in the street. So there’d be fireworks at eye level from the elevated train.

And then the doors would close. We’d go to the next station to open up more fireworks. And then they would close. So it was this very weird kind of, um, interesting view of the fireworks in New York City as we realized like, Oh, you don’t have to go anywhere. You just have to get on the subway and you should be able to see what you want to see.

Only New York. Yeah. But the, the weather today, uh, Matt and I had a little chat before we started recording because I had a fan going, it created a little bit too much noise in the background. So I’ve turned it off. So by the end of this, Episode for anybody who’s watching on YouTube, you will see a lot of this as I push my glasses back up my sweaty nose and I’m not making any promises, but when things get bad, I get some drippage out of the beard at the bottom.

A little fun fact for everybody. And, uh, let me know in the comments if you notice any, any spray of sweat coming out of me as I talk to Matt. Before we talk about this week’s episode, which is about Matt’s most recent episode in which he talks about his new battery setup in his home, we always like to visit your comments from our previous episodes.

And so in this one, we’re going back to episode 224, which was an AMA with Matt in which we invited everybody to share their questions with him. So it was a broad range of topics and there were lots of comments as a result, covering a lot of different fields that we’ve discussed on the channel. Baba Rudra dropped in to say that he’s looking for more tech for removing microplastics from vague gesture, everything.

Have you and your team come across any technologies, any research about microplastics as far as ways to capture them? Or are we just at that edge of research, which is basically saying, uh oh, we’ve got microplastics and everything.

Uh, we’re kind of at that stage of, uh oh, we’ve got microplastics and everything.

There is research around, like, how to capture it, how to filter it out, um, what to do with it. Um, there’s enzymes and stuff like that, that are, have been studied for years about evolving them to try to eat this stuff. But of course, uh, that’s not, like, a real solution for today. It’s going to be a real solution potentially five years from now, 10 years from now.

So yeah, vague gesture. I’m looking to, um, but at the same time, this week’s episode that’s getting released on Unsighted is all about plastic alternatives. So it’s kind of like good timing for this. Um, it’s not about addressing microplastics, but it is about plastics that are Breakdown on their own.

They’re bioplastics. They’re, you can compost them at home or they’re, you can even eat some of them safely. So it’s like the solution may end up being stuff like that versus how do we get rid of it?

The identification of the problem is the first step and it sounds like we’re still at the first step. So, yeah, unfortunately, Babarudra.

You’re going to have to wait a little bit longer with your vague gestures, which we are also here at StillTBD with vague gestures. Vague gestures, which, uh, following up on a change of topic from Atros of Gear, who wrote what I want is a waste heat scavenging heat pump for the kitchen, bath, or laundry to provide a point of use water preheater.

I, am I making it up that you’ve talked about this kind of technology actually already existing, the pre heater that could be positioned in a specific room or am I misremembering something?

You’re misremembering, but we have talked about this. Um, there’s a lot of people that have commented on previous videos and stuff like that, that have caused us to talk about it.

But like there are people that are trying to do this on their own, like creating a system that captures the waste heat from the refrigerator that then they use to feed into their, their water heater is stuff like that. It’s like people are trying to do this kind of these systems on their own. Part of their problem with it.

is that it’s most likely going to be more trouble than it’s worth. It’s like, how much extra cost and complexity are you adding to these systems for what kind of gain is the big question? Um, because doing it on an individual basis is going to be Diminishing returns, where if you had some kind of system that was like a holistic system that tied everything together with like one, you know, heat pump and valve system that’s taking care of everything, maybe, but again, it’s diminishing returns.

It’s like there’s, there’s not going to be a huge amount of gain from doing that. But there are some simple things that you could do. Um, I, for me and my current house, I have a little server closet that has generates a surprising amount of heat shunt in that little closet. And I’ve been thinking about like, could I just basically drill a hole with a small duct and a tiny little fan that blows the hot air from that closet into my mechanical room?

which has my, has my heat pump water heater that needs heat in the room to create hot water. And if all I could, all I had to do was just get the hot air from this section over to that mechanical room and I could get a huge gain out of it. So things like that are probably the best approach where it’s like finding the simplest solution to get a little bit of gain.

But for these, um, kind of heat scavenging pumps that you can tie onto your different devices all around your house, I think that’s going to be a harder nut to crack.

Yeah. And there’s a certain point where you just have to accept entropy. I think there’s a point in your life where you just have to say, we will never get a hundred percent efficiency.

There’s no closed loop here, where all I have to do is light a candle and I’ve got enough energy in my home to last a week. It’s going to be, there’s going to be bleed. That is. The nature of physics. So I think there is a certain amount of acceptance in, well, I am doing the best I can with what’s available.

And I hope to set a higher standard for myself in the future. But if you’re doing as much as you can, and that is not only technology wise, but cost wise, you should be feeling some sense of comfort that you are at least pushing that direction, as opposed to just sitting back and waiting for other people to take care of the problem.

Yeah. There were also a lot of comments like this from pixel pusher who wrote in to say, you, in your video, Matt, talk about well before your battery setup could be turned on, you needed a sprinkler system, but you don’t need a sprinkler system for an EV in your garage. So how realistic would it be to use your EV as an electric battery in your home as opposed to primarily a vehicle.

I think that there’s a lot of reasons why you wouldn’t want to buy a car in order to store electricity for home use. But maybe you have more insight into the ins and outs of technologically why that might not be a good idea.

Well, this vehicle to home or vehicle to grid. It’s something that is crazy cool, needs to be everywhere, it’s just starting now.

There are EVs that you can buy today that support it. My EV does not. I have a Tesla. Tesla does not support this yet. Um, it’s an awesome solution. Like if you have a Ford Lightning pickup truck, that thing has, I can’t remember how many kilowatt hours of, it’s like 90 kilowatt hours of battery. That’s like four times the size of the battery installation I had installed in my house.

Imagine you had a power outage in your area. All you have to do is go out in your garage, plug in your truck, and then your house has enough power for the rest of the week. You know what I mean? It’s like, there’s a reason why it makes a lot of sense. As a permanent installation where it’s like, you just have your car plugged in every day as some kind of battery storage system.

I would not want to be doing that because it’s going to be hammering the battery in your car. Um, and you don’t necessarily want to do that on top of which, you want to make sure you have enough charge to drive places. So it’s like there’s, there’s reasons why you wouldn’t want to do that as your main energy storage system, but as an emergency backup, it’s incredible.

Um, so it’s, it’s definitely something that I wish every car supported and that every home’s charger that you put in your garage supported. Um, and if I can do it, I’m going to do it. It’s just a matter of not if, it’s when. So it’s not a good permanent solution. It’s a good as you need it

solution. There were also lots of comments jumping on the, uh, joke responses.

We talked, we shared a little bit of the backstory of Matt’s and my childhood where he would follow me around with various versions of why did the chicken cross the road? And And we got a bunch of interesting, uh, inserts into the lexicon. Like, why do the chicken coops have two doors? Because if it had four doors, it would be a chicken sedan.

I really, really liked that one. And of course, why did the cow cross the road? The cow needed to get to the other side. I also like that one. And finally, somebody took issue with me saying desalinization, pointing out desalination. Is their preferred word, but I will also point out desalinization is in fact a word.

So. Tomato, tomato. On now to our discussion about Matt’s new net zero home battery and the surprises he found and the expression he makes when he looks at his battery. There it is live on screen. Yes, that is the expression that Matt makes every time he walks into his garage. As somebody pointed out.

Green Shadow jumped in immediately. All of these battery puns have left me completely drained. What a great start to our conversation about Matt’s home battery setup. Which starts, the discussion starts off seriously with TJ Pavey, who jumps in to talk about standardization across the industry. We need a standard for interfacing all of this together.

So many of these systems are proprietary, and you are in a walled garden. Do you have any insight in the field? Standardization is such a tricky issue. And in a free market, it is very often, we know from, like, I can think of a number of examples off the top of my head, VHS, DVD, like these are technologies that won out in the market.

Not necessarily because they were the best option, but because they hit some kind of sweet spot, whether it was that they were the first to be released or they just managed to corner an aspect of the market. Is there movement within this industry which also plays into utilities? So government has more of a hand because of government’s involvement in utility and providing of energy

services to homes in order to allow people to do what TJ and other people are advocating for. The ability to mix and match various products, to achieve their goals in their home without being locked into one type of proprietary technology that if a company goes out of business, you’re stuck or if you have another product you want to link in, you can’t because the two things can’t talk to each other.

What is the industry doing in that regard?

Nothing. Hmm. It’s the, uh, I will say that you already can mix and match. So like I have an entire Enphase system. It’s not Enphase solar panels. It’s a, it’s their, uh, REC. Alpha solar panels, but it’s Enphase microinverters, Enphase controller, Enphase batteries. I didn’t have to do that.

I could have gone with the Enphase micro inverters into a controller, but then used any AC coupled battery. I could have gotten Powerwalls. I could have gotten any AC coupled battery. So I could have done that. Downside of doing that is then I have to use basically two separate systems to track things.

Like if there’s something I want to configure or track for specific, how is every panel working on my system, I have to go to the Enphase app to see how it’s doing. And then I have to hop over to the Tesla app to see how the battery control system is working and how it’s kind of coordinating all that kind of stuff.

So there’s, when you mix and match, it gets more complicated as an end user, but it’s totally doable. And there’s other products on the market, like Solark makes an inverter that’s, um, a string inverter where you can tie basically any solar panel you want into this Solark converter. And then you can use pretty much Almost any kind of battery you can think of with the Solark system, um, so you can really roll your own.

Um, but there’s complexity and downsides to doing that. It’s kind of like, I would kind of equate it to building your own PC versus just going to the store and buying, you know, an HP or buying a MacBook. Um, there’s, there’s a reason why, you know, you’re the kind of person that will want to build your own PC.

You know that that’s for you. For 95% of the people out there, it’s not the right choice. So these hermetically sealed ecosystems, like I, I knowingly stepped into the ace Enphase system myself. Mm-Hmm. . Even though my previous house had a hodgepodge of stuff, I stepped into kind of a homogenous, homogenous kind of system.

Um, because there are one, I want to experience it firsthand, and two, there’s a level of simplicity to it that I found appealing. And after living with a kind of a hodgepodge system, I was kind of interested in seeing one stop, one app, one thing to control everything in my house. Um, that was very appealing.

But again, like the commenter T. J. Pavey brought up, There’s a lot of downsides to that, though. Yeah. Like, what if they go out of business? Does, does, to use the app, does it require a cloud connection? So if the server shut down, suddenly you’re out of luck for ever making updates to your system ever again, because you can’t adjust it.

Um, a lot of these systems have ways around that, but not all of them. So that’s one again, you need to know what you’re doing in order to

get around them. So.

Correct. Yeah. Um, so. It’s kind of a, I don’t know. I’m not, I’m definitely not in one camp or the other. I’m kind of in the middle of, I don’t see walled gardens as a bad thing.

Um, and I don’t see completely do it yourself, put anything you want together as a, a bad or a good thing. It’s just different choices on a spectrum and you have to figure out which one is right for you. Um, and what you’re trying to get out of the system. Um, so I, there’s a lot of people that on one side or the other and they look at the other as kind of like the pure evil choice.

I definitely don’t fall in that Camp.

That kind of fits in with the next two comments, which I wanted to share. There was this one from David Kendall who had a lengthy comment. I’ll kind of skim it to get to the gist of what I’m getting to. We installed two Tesla Powerwalls in 2018 for $15,000 to complement our existing 2012 install, and over time he’s seen the production of 474% power use and they have an electric heat pump.

Heat pump water heater, and I’ve done lots of other things to increase energy efficiency. David’s home was certified as net zero in 2016, and they have experienced several power outages in their area, which they have gone through easily because of the system they have in place. Balancing that out was a comment from John Francis who says simply in the UK, it’s possible to charge up the batteries during the night with very cheap electricity and use the electricity during the day when electricity costs more.

It seems to me like this is really kind of the wide spectrum that you’re talking about, when it’s like at one end, you have somebody who’s effectively getting to as close to net zero or even net zero as possible. There were lots of commenters saying, like, why aren’t you trying to get off grid? And then at the other end, you have somebody like John Francis, who’s simply saying a battery allows you, even without, it doesn’t mention solar panels or any sustainable energy production whatsoever, just pulling from the grid at a cheaper time and using that power at a more expensive time is a way of lowering your energy costs.

So it feels to me like these are the two ends of this spectrum. And I was wondering for you, Matt, where do you see your personal goal on that spectrum? Trying to get to net zero, trying to get to off grid. And if you were trying to get there, what more would you have to do to your home in order to get there?

And the follow up question would be, why aren’t you doing that if that’s not in your interest?

Uh, I want to get to net zero. I have no desire to go off grid. No desire. Um, part of the reason for that is to get truly off grid. I would have to double or triple the amount of battery storage I have. So right now I have 20 kilowatt hours.

I need probably 40 to get myself a comfortable cushion, maybe even closer to 60. So that’s a lot more batteries. That’s a lot more cost. And at that point for me in my current situation, that’s diminishing returns. Why am I going to do that? But I am trying to get to net zero, which means. In theory, I would have no electric bill ever.

Like for me, I’m not off grid, but I would have no electric bill. Like right now, Sean, I have $250 or so in credits. I’m negative. My bill, my electric bill is negative right now. I’m producing so much energy and supplying so much energy to the grid that I have a negative electric bill. So even though I’ll be pulling electricity in the middle of winter off the grid, it’ll just be chewing through

that balance I’m carrying on my account. So at the end of the, you know, year timeframe in theory, if things work out, I have no bill, even though, and this is the other thing that’s funny is I I pay every month, whether I use electricity or not. So like there’s a 10 charge just for being a customer, being grid connected.

There’s fees they charge me for having solar. They charge me additional taxes and fees and stuff like that. So even if I’m not pulling electricity from the grid, they’re still getting money from me for maintenance and system upkeep. But because of the amount of solar I’m producing, It’s still covering my personal out of pocket cost of those fees, so the utility is still profiting off of me to a certain extent, um, but, uh, I will have no bill.

So that’s my goal. If and when time of use rates become available in my area, like John Francis talks about, that’s gonna be the killer app for using batteries. It’s like, charge it overnight, use it during the day, because You’d be paying 7 cents a kilowatt hour versus 22 cents a kilowatt hour in the middle of the day.

So it’s like you can really save a huge amount of money just by shifting when you’re pulling electricity from the grid. That’s, that’s a huge benefit. Um, but we don’t have that where I am yet. I keep hearing rumblings that Massachusetts, um, Eversource is going to at some point, roll that out here. And if, if, and when they do, I will be signing up for that heartbeat and I will configure my battery to do exactly what John Francis is doing because that will save me more money.

So for my goal, it’s net zero. And on top of that, my, my batteries have been officially enrolled in the connected solutions program in Massachusetts, which means my battery is part of a virtual power plant. And I’ve already gone through several events where they’ve used my battery between three and 6 PM for the grid.

And it’s been like three or four events and I’ve already earned like $50 for their use. And it says in the app, I don’t know what this number means. It says estimated amount of money is $4, 000. I don’t know if that’s $4, 000 a year or if that’s $4, 000 for the life of the program, because when you enroll in it, it’s a five year program.

Right. I’m assuming it’s the five years. So if it is $4, 000 something dollars in five years, That’s a nice chunk of change that’s taken off the top of what I paid for my batteries. Yeah. So for me, it’s trying to get as much system backup for the winter in case there’s outages and then just trying to get to that 0 electric bill as possible.

That’s my personal goal.

And isn’t it to the power company’s advantage to move to the system? You mentioned the pulling from the cheaper time to use and the more expensive time. Isn’t it to their advantage to have users doing that so that it lessens the draw on their overall system? Like right now, we’ve been warned here in New York City today, turn your ACs off at 3 p. m. Because the power company, ConEd, is concerned about blackouts. So they’re like, 3 p. m. please turn off your, your, uh, ACs so that we don’t experience blackouts. Um, if every apartment in New York City had one Powerwall unit and was pulling from a cheaper time of the day and using that in the afternoons, That’s what the power company would prefer.

Am I right? Yes. Maintaining the proper voltage on the grid is very difficult. Um, and these battery systems aren’t meant for long term storage. It’s just meant to help maintain proper voltages. It’s meant to, take care of those spikes that happen, like, especially between 3 and 6pm, those kind of things.

So, like, in Australia, they built one of the first Tesla MegaPaks they built in Australia. It’s saving that utility down there millions of dollars every year. It’s not long term storage. It’s literally just what you’re talking about. They charge up the system when you know, the rates are super cheap and then they use the battery to, uh, run through like, it’s just, it’s energy arbitrage.

It’s just using it to kind of nickel and dime themselves so that they can really maximize their profits and make sure that the grid is super stable. My battery system is helping to help with the stability of my local grid and they’re paying me for its use. And then the utility is saving gobs of money by using systems like this.

So utilities are incentivized. To find ways to try to stabilize the grid in a super energy efficient and monetary rationale, like to make money, um, and systems like this can really help them do it. So it’s like you’re seeing more and more utilities kind of catch onto this and start to rule systems like this out.

I imagine there’s also a PR aspect. Wouldn’t a power company like to know that its customer base wasn’t complaining about unreliability? So that is a part of it.

Here’s the thing, Sean. This is a thing that I don’t get. In Vermont, there’s actually a system where the utility installs a battery in your house.

Like, you don’t buy the battery. You didn’t pay for the battery. The utility comes to you and says, can we install this battery in your house, like in your basement, and we’ll be able to use it for systems just like this. And then you can also partake of it on your own. Like, but basically they’re leasing it to you.

Right. And it’s an extremely successful program. And there’s a reason why the utility is doing that. Yeah. Because they save millions of dollars every year by those systems. So the batteries literally will pay for themselves for the utility and the homeowner gets a little side benefit. It’s like, I don’t know why we’re not seeing more systems like that.

For me, my system, I pay for my battery and then I’m basically leasing it to the utility. Where you can flip it around and have the utility kind of own everything.

Interesting. It’ll be interesting to see if we see more of that in the future. And my question to our viewers and listeners, jump in the comments.

Do you have personal experience with the kind of program that Matt just described in Vermont? Have you had a power company come to you and say, Listen, we want to do this. It’ll be good for the grid. And if you have taken part in a program like that, we’d love to hear about your experience. Don’t forget, if you’d like to support the show, leaving a comment, subscribing, and suggesting it to your friends.

Those are three easy ways for you to support the program. And if you’d like to more directly support us, you can click the join button on YouTube or you can go to stilltbd. fm, click on the supporter button there. Both of those ways allow you to throw coins at our heads. We appreciate the welts. And then we get down to the hard, hard business of recording a podcast while it’s 90, 000 degrees outside.

Thank you so much, everybody, for taking the time to watch or listen. We’ll talk to you next time.

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