Opinion: Pulling the Plug on Battery-Powered Appliances

An idea whose time has yet to come

By Alan Wolf, YSN

Back in April, YSN reported on the debut of battery-powered kitchen appliances — the big ones, like ranges.

In fact, the article cited two manufacturers, Channing Street Copper and Impulse Labs, that are rolling out high-powered induction cooktops this year, both fueled by next-generation lithium iron phosphate battery packs.

The takeaway, said author Andy Kriege, is that major appliances equipped with battery storage have the potential to become a key part of our everyday energy ecosystem.

Not So Fast

But Bill Schweber, an electrical engineer and former executive editor at Electrical Design News (EDN), begs to differ. In a recent column for sister publication Electronic Engineering Times (EE/Times), he acknowledges that while the concept of battery-operated appliances is intriguing, it comes with significant implications.

The biggest in-home hurdle, he wrote, is that batteries of such capacities require careful management through a sophisticated battery management system (BMS), which must be integrated into a smart-home controller, the home network and smartphones. Larger battery setups also demand physical accommodations like strong floors and code-approved cabling, along with maintenance, repair and spare parts considerations, he said.

Looking at the bigger picture, while battery-powered appliances are fine for off-grid living with local charging sources, relying on utilities for charging could cause more problems than battery-packs solve, Schweber said. The way he sees it, batteries are only temporary power sources needing constant recharging or replacement, and the charging system may need synchronization with lower pricing periods, adding complexity and extra concerns “when all you really want to do is cook a nice dinner.”

The Car Connection

Further complicating matters would be the addition of a vehicle-to-grid (V2G) element, which could easily make system management “messy, time-consuming and frustrating,” he said.

Looking at the even bigger picture, Schweber cited concerns about the availability of rare earth elements and other materials necessary for batteries, and the environmental impact of mining and processing these metals.

And finally, while battery prices are decreasing, there is no guarantee they will continue to fall due to increasing demand from various sectors, including autos and off-road equipment, he added.

Schweber’s advice? Let’s wait until the category is completely charged before we get too amped up over it.

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