A company in Salt Lake City has announced a new battery that can store enough energy to run your house, and is cheap enough (projected cost $2,000) and has a long enough life (10 years) to make it practical and profitable.
The new battery would make it economical for homes to generate and store their own energy. Even homes that do not generate their own energy from alternative sources such as solar cells (which are rapidly declining in price) or small windmills could charge the batteries using cheap, off-peak power from the grid.
This has stunning implications for our nation’s energy situation. It would solve the huge problem of our aging electrical grid by creating a distributed energy network that doesn’t require moving so much power around on expensive and unsightly power lines. A distributed system would be much harder for terrorists to sabotage than our current centralized system. And much of our current power generation capacity is only used for short periods of peak demand, and sits idle the rest of the time. With batteries smoothing out the demand for power, we could use our current facilities more efficiently, avoiding the need to build new power plants and power lines. All of this means cheaper power and less pollution. And less dependence on foreign oil.
So what is this news doing in a political blog? First of all, the company that is creating this stunning new technology is CoorsTek, founded by Adolph Coors, the same guy who started the well-known beer company. Through the years, the Coors empire has been major funders of right-wing organizations, including the John Birch society, the Heritage Foundation, and an assortment of pro-religion, anti-science organizations.
But today, the great-grandson of Adolph Coors, Grover Coors, is working on the new battery technology. He has a Ph.D. and specializes in solid-state ionics and advanced materials. Grover’s brother, John K. Coors, is the CEO of CoorsTek, and their nephew, Doug Coors, oversees R&D.
Second, one of the main advisors to CoorsTek is Chris Cannon, the former congressman from Utah County (arguably the most conservative district in America). Cannon is not just there for political advice, he has a strong background in energy and manufacturing. And he now calls himself a “post-partisan Republican”, saying:
If you look at the president, he inherited some really difficult things. But he hired a guy to be the secretary of energy who is a scientist. And we are on the verge of so many scientific breakthroughs that no matter what the president’s ideology is, if we do the right thing scientifically, America is going to do well. Many of the innovations that are coming out of Utah that I’m involved with are likely to be really important, regardless of the leadership.
So while current Republicans in Congress criticized Obama’s energy proposals as “economic back-breakers”, Cannon is taking advantage of those proposals to create a new, more vibrant economy.
The technology could mean a lot of things, but it certainly means that we change the way we invest. It also means that we shift our expenditures on terrorism, because our infrastructure for power transmission is probably the weakest link in America today. If you have local batteries with local control, that gives terrorists a more difficult target. And local control systems are much simpler than a vast national transmission grid.
And finally, the new battery is based on sodium, a toxic material that is a byproduct in the production of nuclear weapons. The US government just happens to have enormous quantities of sodium at the Hanford nuclear reservation in Washington, which it needs to clean up safely. So in a way, the batteries are made from materials recycled from nuclear bomb production!