Popular Science Magazine – Clever Little Boxes

We already know there’s no future in a landscape full of power stations belching smoke (even if that smoke is mostly just steam). The future is renewable! Or is it? We might not live with a sea of glittering photovoltaics on the roofs of the suburban sprawl. Instead, the future of our energy – at least at the level of the everyday home – could be a metallic, square box the size of a dishwasher.

Or even a number of those boxes, lined up neatly alongside houses across the country. Residents ignore them – they don’t make noise, they aren’t hot to touch, and they don’t have any sort of moving part that can be seen. You can catch a glimpse of these rather mundane-looking future visions already, at test homes in Newcastle and Scone in New South Wales, as well as parts of Queensland. Though you might have concluded they’re not much to look at, there’s clever tech inside those unassuming beige boxes – and they could dramatically cut our reliance on big power stations and peak baseload periods. Energy could become more distributed, more reliable, less expensive, and most importantly, cleaner.

Paul Jeffkins is in proud possession of two of these boxes – a BlueGen fuel cell generator and a RedFlow storage battery. Paul’s your everyday Australian bloke, living in suburban Newcastle with his wife and kids, and like many Australian families, he was looking for new ways to save energy. He thought he’d won the Lotto when Ausgrid selected his street for a trial of the BlueGen and RedFlow products.

“The beauty of the BlueGen is they’re producing the power right where you’re going to use it. If every house had gas on it, you’d be laughing – you wouldn’t need to build another power station.”

That’s one of the main ideas behind a generator like the BlueGen. By moving the production of energy closer to where it’s used, it becomes cheaper and reduces the need for “peak” power stations – those that are fired up only when there is immense demand on the grid, at extra expense to customers.

The BlueGen works by taking natural gas – the same natural gas supplied by energy providers that you might use for cooking or heating – and converting it to electricity at 60 per cent efficiency. A waste heat capture system recycles the by-product of the conversion into a water nvg,nmheater, bumping the system’s efficiency up to 85 per cent. How does that compare to a coal-fired power station?

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