Vol. 5.1
Fall 2015; p. 12-14


by Dylan Fagundes

There is a current global need for clean and renewable energy sources. Fossil fuels are nonrenewable and are dwindling because of the growing cost and environmentally damaging retrieval techniques. So, the need for cheap and obtainable resources is greatly needed. An efficient and more feasible alternative option is solar energy.

Many people probably wonder: if renewable energy is so beneficial, why don’t we consume more of it? The answer to the question is that many of the renewable energy sources are more expensive to retrieve because they don’t receive subsidies on the level of fossil fuels. Combine that with the problem of storing wind, solar, and water-generated energy and fossil fuels still provide the bulk of our energy production. 

Although there has been an increased effort to promote renewable energy, a 2015 study by the US Energy Information Administration shows that utility-scale solar power, for example, produced only 0.16 percent of the total electricity in the United States. 

In recent years individuals have also seen the benefits of getting solar panels by utilizing private companies to install them, and they do cut energy costs, but cannot alone make a house completely energy independent. 

Can home battery storage be a solution to issues faced by the intermittent output of home solar and wind technology? In the short term, it probably can, but as the penetration of renewables starts to grow in major economies, many think that battery storage at such scale will either simply be too expensive or not have enough capacity to solve some of the long-term issues. 

Kaitlyn Arruda and Jaci Ahmed are two engineering students in their sophomore year at MIT. The two best friends, with a little help from free MIT service technical blogs, have successfully adapted an entire 5 acre farm to be completely powered by renewable energy. 

Kaitlyn, an electrical engineer, has aspired to off-grid living since she was a young farm girl living in the agricultural district of Sacramento, CA. Her passion for sustainable living grew through her teen years when she stumbled upon the works of Jacque Fresco’s resource-based economy and Venus city through National Geographic. On her 15th birthday her parents got her tickets to hear Jacque Fresco speak in Stockholm about natural-resource management and cybernetic technology automation. 

Her freshman year, Kaitlyn took up electrical engineering with a conentration in agriculture engineering. She excelled in her first year and received high honors and a prestigious internship at the Tesla facility in Silicon Valley the summer going into her sophomore year. There, Kaitlyn worked alongside Robert Kilstein (one of Tesla’s co-founders and battery developers) to test newly created batteries considered four times more efficient, less costly, and smaller than lithium batteries used for industrial energy storage. Kaitlyn got the chance to live her dream of being at the hub of the near renewable future. She witnessed Tesla prototype electric sports cars, mag rail concept designs, and even breakthrough nano carbon computer processors that will allow major leaps in computation power without the need of conflict minerals. But as soon as Kaitlyn witnessed the Tesla batteries, that was all she could think about.

The very same day Kaitlyn took a tour through the facility, she asked Robert Kilstein if it was possible to store enough energy to power a house with a Tesla battery. Kilstein replied “no.” Kaitlyn was crushed and kept laughing out of embarrassment to even ask such a question to such a person. But then Kilstein followed up his answer, “Depending on the house and the renewable energy source, it will most likely take 3... Mine takes 4, but it’s very big.” Kaitlyn had just received the green light to turn her life long dream into reality. 

“Testing the battery’s capabilities kept initiating more and more confidence in the process of retrofitting a home to be completely renewable without immense cost or the lack of power stored in conventional batteries,” said Kaitlyn in an interview with the Boston Globe this year. “In this age it’s inexcusable to still rely on fossil fuels and coal...when technology has allowed us to gather significant amounts of energy off of the sun, wind, and water.” But Kaitlyn pointed out that these modes of energy had existed for nearly a hundred years (coal and fuel lobbying congressional ordinance aside). The issue now is how to make homes self sustaining through a cost effective and efficient way to store the energy, or to pool energy into a massive grid that an entire renewable energy powered neighborhood could share. 

Kaitlyn found out that retrofitting enough of the batteries together could allow a 3000 square-foot home to be taken off the grid and have enough excess energy to power more. Retrofitting enough Tesla batteries could store so much energy that it could be either applied to the grid to receive 2 times the amount of money in rebates while maintaining 100% of home energy necessities, or to allow enough surplus power to manage renewable tech to create a VENUS home modeled after her hero, Jacque Fresco. A Venus home is a small scaled design version of a VENUS city created by the famed engineer Jacque Fresco , personal hero to both Kaitlyn and Jaci, which produces its own energy and utilizes that energy for water filtration, irrigating and powering climate controlled greenhouses. A Venus home wouldn’t just eliminate the need of the electric grid, but could also decrease the need of public water mains with owner powered filtration systems and, to some extent, grocery stores with the ability have excess power to run climate controlled greenhouse. 

At the end of the summer internship, Kaitlyn arrived back to her 3000 square foot rural colonial farmhouse with 2 climate controlled greenhouses, 2 acres of farmland, 3 water wells, and a chicken coop. Her plan was to retrofit her farm to store enough power to be fully off the grid and have the house work for her family. The home already had solar panels and balloon windmills that Kaitlyn’s family received for free by utilizing federal subsidies and paying the solar installers in partial rebates. But it only cut their home energy bill by 50%, and that’s if the sporadic New England weather was somehow consistent that month. Plus since they didn’t have batteries, they couldn’t store energy for nighttime use nor could they save enough energy to run their irrigation, climate controlled greenhouses and chicken coop . This was all about to change.

Once Kaitlyn returned home she immediately purchased 4 tesla batteries by utilizing farmland grant money and some money from her savings. “When they arrived in the mail, it felt so amazing. I had learned everything there is to know about them in California and from Kilstein...and now I was going to take all these hypotheticals, tests, and calculation and make them a reality” said Kaitlyn. Her entire home , food production, and farmland was going to be cut off from the municipal grid. But she needed help to properly connect all of these things to a centralized retrofitted capacitor that connected the batteries to the solar panels and windmills safely. That’s when she called upon the talents from her fellow MIT classmate, best friend, and mechanical engineering student, Jaci Ahmed. 

Jaci’s family came from a long line of farmers in India up until his parents cut that line and became agricultural engineers to help the country solve its failing farming production and become greener and more efficient. “Doing something like this is in my blood... It is in my blood to help Kaitlyn do this,” said Jaci with a huge smile while slapping a large humming stack of Tesla batteries mounted to a concrete panel that he built. “I hope to one day make this better and even easier for every home to be able to do this... I want to help the world and people.” Jaci’s aspirations to make the world greener and more efficient started with another project to retrofit Tesla batteries to supplement his best friend’s home so it could finally become completely and efficiently powered off of green energy. Within 3 weeks of building, wiring, and testing, Kaitlyn’s house, farm, and entire way of living was supplemented by free renewable energy. 

Kaitlyn’s family received fruits and vegetables from their climate-controlled greenhouse, chicken eggs from their climate-controlled silo, while all of their lights and heating and cooling needs were met without a single wattage siphoned from the grid. All of the irrigation and drinking water came from their wells, while over 60 percent of their food came from their farmland. Katlyn’s family was no longer beholden to American energy production, agriculture production, or municipal water supplies. All because of two college sophomores with an obsession of efficient and complete green living.For the rest of us how might feel like this is beyond our reach, there is some good news. There are thousands of youtube videos by professional engineers and how-to blogs created by prominent engineering schools that supply directions on everything from how to instal batteries and solar panels to hooking up to the electrical grid. There are videos and MIT blogs that also have directions on how to retrofit batteries of all types and models to create a viable storage cells. 

As for the cost, the Tesla solar batteries are expensive–about $3500 per battery–since they are still a fairly new technology. Even with Kaitlyn exhausting grant money given by renewable and farming government subsidies, she still ended up paying about $1500 out of pocket for the batteries to power her home. But the technology, like anything, will become more efficient and more available over time. 

In terms of cost-effective renewable energy to power the house without energy storage, depending on what company installs solar panels or balloon wind turbines, and what a state’s policy is for subsidizing renewable energy and rebate payment deferrals, it is possible a person won’t need to spend a dime for solar panels and turbine installations. Even without batteries of any kind, those energy supplement will cut your daytime energy consumption significantly. 

But the issue still stands with the more effective technology available in society today, “partial” cuts in energy consumption is unavailing. With Tesla batteries,and even better energy production and storage technologies in the future that tesla plans to build up in the future as the demand is high, the word “partial” in renewable energy subsidiary will be ,and in many cases already is, obsolete. It would be advantageous for everyone if all the world powers would combine their efforts to get the ball of complete renewable energy rolling quicker to save the environment, end resource wars, and prepare for the imminent end of cheap oil. Or at least for major world powers to provide the means and support to get more youngster to be inspired like Kaitlyn and Jaci about helping the world wean itself off of its crude energy usage and maintain its living standards without any carbon karma that used to come with it. There is hope yet, and two sophomores from MIT utilizing their own funds and an open source engineering blog and a love for Jacque Fresco are living proof.