Managing our Energy Resources Wisely

Reprinted, with permission, from Precision Magazine, Journal of the Minnesota Precision Manufacturing Association

One of our countries’ greatest needs is the development of alternative sources of energy.  And a St. Paul company is at the forefront in developing solar/electric energy technology.

Founded in 2007 in St. Paul, Energy Harvest Group (with its “sister” company, iCel Systems Inc, in Van Nuys, CA) is pursuing their vision, which is that “…energy storage, management, and communication will be an integrated component of everything that is electric.”

Solar energy (generated through photo voltaic) and wind energy have long been identified as viable, available, renewable energy sources, but one of the problems has been to cost effectively store and manage that energy.

The mission of Energy Harvest Group is 1) to save energy, and 2) to wisely distribute energy (distribution of energy includes collecting, storing and applying energy to specific functions) (which they call providing “despatchable energy”)

They will soon be manufacturing, here in St. Paul, an Integrated Cell of Electrified Lithium, which they call an “iCel™.”  The primary model manufactured will be an iCel 714, which is capable of storing up to 1 killowatt hour of electricity.  [And just as a frame of reference, a typical U.S. household uses approx. 18 – 30 killowatt hours per day of electricity.]  This iCel, made up of 98 individual ten (10) watt cells, stores and manages electricity captured from solar energy, wind generated energy, and even electricity off of the electric “grid” (during off-peak hours).  We here in the Midwest are not used to considering “Peak” and “Non-Peak” usages of electricity, as most Residential use is not subject to a differentiation between Peak and Non-Peak usage.  Commercial/Industrial users of electricity are, but not Residential users.  Where the cost savings would come into play in some States for Residential or Commercial users, is that the iCels could be charged for the day during the Off-Peak (usually nighttime) hours.  The electricity then consumed would be at the lower rate.  We here in the Midwest enjoy very low electricity rates  (approx. $.07 to $.08 per kilowatt hour) versus other areas of the country (such as Hawaii, where the rates are approx. $.80 per kilowatt hour).  Being able to download less costly electricity, store it, and then use it during the day could provide a large cost savings, and provide extra capacity to the entire electric grid.

These model 714 iCels can be configured in a racking system (in a “plug & play” configuration) to provide almost any size/capacity energy storage system.  While in operation, if a failure should occur, an individual model 714 can merely be unplugged and a new unit readily installed.  iCels also have the dual capability of being charged, and still discharging/managing energy simultaneously, unlike most other battery systems. 

When in full operation, Energy Harvest Group hopes to be manufacturing between 2000 – 4000 of these model 714 units, along with some other iCel units of various sizes/capacities.

The iCel actually describes a complete system, including the energy storage capability, but also includes a complete system of energy management circuits and controls including communication, maintaining a system operating history, safety devices, and connectivity to the Internet.  This system stores power for the system owner, monitors system operation, and can communication information regarding the system status and its operation back to the owner.

Safety is a big key with this design.  The iCel runs cool – at approx. room temperature – unlike sodium batteries which run at temperatures as high as 600 degree F.  A battery at this temperature can be extremely flammable, and is also a hazard if touched during operation.  iCels components will also be fully recyclable or fully re-useable.

Energy Harvest Group is currently in a very exciting developmental time in their company because, as they like to say, they are “inventing markets” as they go.  Many different Manufacturers, Electric Cooperatives, Medical Device Manufacturers, etc. all have expressed interest in this iCel technology.  One of the possible applications, that they have just begun to explore, is making a unit appropriately sized to provide energy to Hospital Operating Theater Personnel – to their Headlamps that they wear during operations.  Of particular interest is the fact that this iCel is “smart” – monitoring its own function, providing status information, operational information, etc. so as to provide enhanced reliability.

As a Minnesotan, born and raised, I am very proud of the technology advances that so often come from companies here in Minnesota, and in the upper Midwest.  Energy Harvest Group is making a great contribution to our nation’s future technology and energy needs.

Bill Remes, Vice President, Sales & Marketing, AmeriStar Manufacturing (www.ameristarmfg.com)

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