A rendering of home batteries on the wall of a garage
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Big batteries are key

How Batteries Can Power Your Home and the Grid

Jen Johnson
/
December 21, 2023

For most Americans, electricity is a building block of our lives and habits. It’s how we turn on the lights when the sun’s gone down, how we power our kitchen appliances – heck, it’s even powering my laptop as I write this article and whatever device you’re using to read it.

And many of us take for granted that we can access energy - electricity - at our fingertips. Phone dead? Charge it. Need to use a blender? Flip a switch.

But if you’ve ever gone off the grid on a camping trip, you know that to see in the dark, you’ll need batteries to power your headlamp or lanterns.

While you may be used to AA and AAA varieties, larger batteries can be used to power cars, your home, and even the electric grid. Read on to learn more about how electricity works, why clean energy sources and batteries go together like PB&J, and what kind of batteries are powering our lives right now.

How Electricity is Generated

We currently generate electricity from three major sources: Fossil fuels (coal, gas, and petroleum), nuclear energy, and renewable sources like wind, solar, and geothermal.

Energy Information Administration

According to the US Energy Information Administration, most electricity is generated using steam turbines. As hot steam flows past the turbine's spinning blades, vapor expands and cools, giving off the energy it contains. The steam is created through heat – by burning biomass or fossil fuels, generating nuclear reactions, tapping heat from the Earth via geothermal energy, or concentrating sunlight.

Other less common technologies to generate energy include:

  • Gas turbines, which pressurize air and mixes it with gas - like a car or jet engine
  • Hydro turbines, which use falling water to spin a turbine and collect energy
  • Wind turbines, which use the force of wind to rotate blades and generate energy
  • Solar photovoltaics, which converts the sun’s energy into electricity

Why We Store Electricity

In the average home in the United States, electricity is readily available: just plug a device into your wall or flip a switch, and it’s on. But many of us are using energy at a different time than it’s being produced. And while a power plant may only be able to generate a certain amount of energy at a time, the demand for energy can shift based on the time of day or the weather, outpacing the amount of electricity that’s being created.

Storing energy becomes even more essential when it comes to renewable, clean energy sources. That’s because these sources come from mother nature, so we can’t control when they’ll be strongest or slow down.

Take solar energy, for example: Without energy storage, we’d lose power as soon as the sun sets or there’s a cloudy day. And we don’t expect to forego work or leave the lights off on days when it’s not sunny. So, if we want to move to a clean energy world, we need to use batteries to store sustainable energy. Here are some of the batteries you can use to make your lifestyle more sustainable.

Store Solar Energy with In-Home Batteries

If you have rooftop solar panels, they might create more energy than you can use. You may be able to sell the extra electricity to your utility (though we recommend learning about your local net metering policy to decide if this exchange rate is worth it for you). In-home batteries, on the other hand, offer a different option that allows you to save money.

With in-home batteries, the solar power you don’t use can go towards charging your battery. You can then use that battery for energy needs when energy is most expensive (for those in time-of-use rates). Beyond saving you money, you’ll be reducing your reliance on the grid, which isn’t powered exclusively by renewables. And when there’s a blackout or power failure on the grid, you can use your battery to power your home.

In-home batteries have taken off in the last few years, so you have a lot of options. If you’re interested, feel free to check out resources like CNET’s in-home battery buying guide that walks through different types of in-home batteries, and their list of top batteries.

Use Batteries to Fuel Electric Vehicles – and Power Your Home

If you have an electric vehicle, you’re using the power of batteries to get around and reduce your emissions.

Electric cars are powered by rechargeable lithium-ion batteries that are compact and have a high energy density. They’re charged primarily by an external electricity source, which can be as simple as a standard 120-volt outlet.

Electric vehicles can cost more up front than gas vehicles, but many states have incentives to help consumers buy an EV, and car owners save on maintenance and gas. According to the Office of Energy Efficiency & Renewable Energy, EVs cost 6 cents per mile to maintain, while a gas-powered car costs 10 cents per mile. And when it comes to gas, charging up is cheaper: In California, it costs roughly half the price of powering a standard gasoline car to drive the same distance.

In addition to powering your transportation, some electric vehicles can serve as backup power to your home. A growing number of EVs have what’s called bidirectional charging, which allows your car to serve as a backup battery for your house. Vehicles that currently use this feature include:

  • Ford F-150 Lightning (V2G)
  • Genesis GV60 (V2L)
  • Hyundai Ioniq 5 (V2L)
  • Hyundai Ioniq 6 (V2L)
  • Kia EV6 (V2L)
  • Kia Niro (V2L)
  • Mitsubishi Outlander PHEV (V2L)
  • Nissan Leaf (V2H, V2G)
  • VW ID.4 (V2H)

For now, that’s a limited list – but a bill was introduced this year in California that could require automakers to make this a standard feature in EVs as soon as 2030.

Powering the Grid with Renewable Energy

Right now, 20% of electricity from the grid comes from clean, renewable energy – and to increase that share, batteries will be key. “Grid-scale storage” is the term used to describe the technologies that store large amounts of energy for later use, and can flow into the electrical grid when times of demand are high.

Batteries used in grid-scale storage are the key to preventing grid failures which lead to blackouts. They can be installed anywhere, with a range of capacities, and make different locations ready for a more sustainable energy mix.

The Takeaway: Batteries Are Key to a Renewable Future

As you can see, big batteries come in a few different shapes and uses. But at their core, they’re the key to leaving behind polluting fuels and instead powering our homes and lives with safe, clean energy.

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