Less than a year after Tesla unveiled its Powerwall battery for storing electricity at home, a startup has designed a much cheaper alternative that you can plug in yourself, without an electrician.
The modular batteries, called Orison, can be hung on the wall or set on the ground to double as an LED lamp. If you want more power, you just add the units together.
"Think of Orison like Legos," says co-founder and CEO Eric Clifton. "The 2.2 kilowatt-hour unit is really just one piece, so you can actually add as many as you need." The 2.2 kilowatt-hour version is as large as the company could make one unit and keep it under 40 pounds, so it could be easily shipped and moved.
With one unit, if your power went out in a storm, you could keep an energy-efficient refrigerator running for about two days. If you want to back up everything in your house, you'd connect a long series of batteries together.
For someone with solar panels on the roof, the batteries can store power to use at night. Right now, most people can sell extra solar power back to the grid when they're not using it, but many state laws are about to change so people will make less money. Batteries can help solar homeowners save money by making use of the power they've generated.
The battery can store any type of electricity, including from the grid. In cities where people pay more for electricity at times of peak demand, the batteries can suck up power when it's cheap, and then let someone use it to run appliances when the cost goes up.
Like other new battery technology, it's part of what's needed to make renewable energy truly ubiquitous—since the old-fashioned grid wasn't designed to handle sun and wind and other renewables that are only available some of the time, there has to be a way to easily store it.
"If you have these massive capacity times because the wind's blowing and the sun is shining, you can call all of this distributed storage to pull that power off of the grid and then have it available to customers whenever they need it," says Clifton.
By shrinking down inverters, the devices that convert solar power so it can be used by electronics, Orison made their whole design compact. "Typical inverters are about two feet wide, three feet tall, and they weigh 40 pounds—and that's just the inverter," he says. "We're using military-grade hardware in ours, and we've been able to create a very efficient, very new generation of inverter technology that is about an inch thick by about six inches wide and nine inches tall. So it's a very thin footprint and it weighs about two pounds."
They want to shrink everything even more. "We see a future where storage becomes integrated into just about everything, so if you buy a new appliance it has storage capacity in it," Clifton says. "And what that ends up doing is it allows everything to be very resilient whether they're getting power from the grid or not. The reason why that's important is we don't have to build our grid larger—we just have to make sure at certain times we can get power to those customers."
Orison is crowdfunding on Kickstarter, where an early-bird pledge of $1,200 gets one panel. For comparison, the Tesla Powerwall costs $3,500 for a 7.3 kilowatt-hour battery, plus $2,000 for an inverter, plus the cost of permits and an electrician—for a total that ranges from around $7,000 to as much as $10,000. The equivalent number of Orison panels (four, for 8 kilowatt-hours), costs $4,900.