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Hybrid Residential Solar and Thermoelectric Power Generation

Posted by Earth Stove on June 16, 2017 with No Commentsas , , , , ,
by Ken Adler, Senior Technical Advisor at the Alliance for Green Heat
Some of you may be wondering about thermoelectric wood stoves and why we decided to include them in the 2018 Wood Stove DesignChallenge, which will be held in November 2018 on the Washington Mall.  Our goal of this competition is to support development and commercialization of a revolutionary thermoelectric wood stove that produces electricity equal to 50 percent or more of the winter time output of a residential solar photovoltaic system. By combining a thermoelectric wood stove and a residential solar PV system and home battery, like the TESLA Powerwall, we can support residential and grid-based distributive power goals, and incentivize greater investment in solar power. 
Specifically, thermoelectric wood stoves can help solve the problem of low winter time solar PV output in northern climates, where useful solar radiation is limited to 2 – 4 hours per day.
While a thermoelectric wood stove may sound revolutionary, the technology behind the stove has been used since the 1980s in oil and gas field operations, where methane gas provides a low-cost source of heat to power the thermoelectric generator. Wood stoves, like waste methane gas, can provide a free source of heat for the thermoelectric generator.
Alphabet Energy Thermoelectric Generator
Thermoelectric generators are like solar panels, however, instead of turning light into electricity they turn heat into electricity. To generate electricity, one side of a thermoelectric module is heated by the wood stove while the other side is cooled with either an air or water-cooled heat sink. For applications above 100-watts, water-cooled heat sinks are the most common approach because of their ability to extract greater amounts of heat from the thermoelectric module.
60-Watt Water Cooled Thermoelectric Generator
In northern climates like New England, Canada and northern Europe, low winter time solar radiation increases the cost and reduces the efficiency of solar PV systems, and the cost-effectiveness of battery storage systems like the Tesla Powerwall.  According to NREL, solar radiation in northern areas like Vermont peaks at 6.0kWh/m2 in June and declines to 1.7kWh/m2 in December. This means that an average 4,000-watt residential solar system will go from producing 571kWh in June to 191kWh in December–a 66% reduction is solar power output.  This project will demonstrate how a thermoelectric wood stove can cost-effectively supplement a solar PV system.
Building on our experience from 3 previous Design Challenges, we will work with wood stove manufacturers, universities and others to build and test 100 to 200-watt thermoelectric wood stoves that could effectively increase by 50% the winter time output of a 4,000-watt residential solar PV system.   

Thermoelectric generators are currently sold as accessories for wood stoves; however, these accessories are limited in size and efficiency. By integrating a thermoelectric generator into a wood stove we can achieve far greater power output, efficiency, and lower cost. For example, a wood stove with a 150 to 200-watt thermoelectric generator operating 20 hours per day could generate 93 to 124kWh of electricity per month, which compares favorably with the December solar PV output of 191kWh in Vermont.

Russian Thermoelectric Wood Stove 
(not certified for sale in the U.S.)
There are several reasons why now is the time to consider thermoelectric wood stoves. First, the price of the thermoelectric modules, which are a component of the TEG, has dropped substantially because they are now being mass produced in China.[1] Second, the EPA’s recent wood stove NSPS regulation is helping to make new wood stoves cleaner and more efficient and, coupled with cordwood testing and automated features, a new generation of cleaner stoves could also generate electricity. Third, thermoelectric wood stoves can produce electricity up to 24 hours per day eliminating load management concerns common with solar and wind power. Lastly, the stoves are powered by local wood supplies, making their fuel low carbon and locally sourced.
The 2018 competition on the Mall will demonstrate the role thermoelectric wood stoves can play in promoting solar power, energy storage systems and biomass energy, while also reducing energy costs, supporting climate change goals, and increasing distributive power.   

[1]The cost of a thermoelectric module has fallen below $ 2 per watt (uninstalled), compared with $ 3.50 per watt for solar panels (installed).

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