Tech Talk #216–Nov 11, 2023

Renewable energy isn’t always available; think no wind or at night. And sometimes renewable energy sources produce more electricity than there is a demand for. The solution is storing energy until it’s needed.

Batteries are an energy storage system that stores energy until it’s needed. Whether it’s for a cell phone, to start your car, or to power a house or a neighborhood, batteries are how we store energy until we need it. Well, except for neighborhoods. Many companies will sell you a large battery to store power from the solar panels on your house. However, chemical battery technology is difficult and costly to implement at a scale necessary to provide power to an entire neighborhood.

However, companies are working on alternate ways of storing energy generated by renewables—like gravity batteries.

The most common gravity battery uses water pumped by renewable energy to a reservoir, like a water tower, lake, or pond at elevation. When power demand is high, or there is no wind or sunlight, released water passes through a turbine to generate electricity for the grid.

While these systems work well, building water batteries on top of existing infrastructure is not workable, and they don’t scale down very well. Say, to a system appropriate for a house or a neighborhood.

Another type of gravity battery uses power to winch weights in a cage. When power demand increases and the renewable energy plant can’t meet it, this gravity battery releases weights and powers a generator. These systems can scale to provide kilowatts to megawatts and are more cost-effective than chemical batteries.

Energy sources during a blackout
Power outages can occur unexpectedly because of maintenance, storms, or public safety power service shutoffs.

What can you do to charge your phone or laptop when the power is off? You can use your vehicle.

Newer cars and trucks have built-in USB ports that can charge a phone and some laptops. If you have a vehicle without USB ports, you can get an adapter that plugs into a 12-volt outlet with USB ports.

If your laptop doesn’t charge from a USB port (many don’t), check your car for a 110V outlet wired to your car’s inverter. If your car doesn’t have one, you can get a 12-volt inverter for your car to plug your laptop into. An inverter converts DC (Direct Current, like in your car) power to AC (Alternating Current, like in your house) power. An inverter allows you to run devices that usually plug into the outlets in your home.

Check the Love’s or Pilot/Flying J truck stops for USB adapters and 12V inverters meant for vehicles.

Now that you’ve got your USB adapter(s) or an inverter, you can use your vehicle to charge up power banks to power your devices when away from your vehicle. Power banks come in sizes from handheld to big ones that need wheels.

You can use USB adapters or inverters while your car isn’t running, but it’s best to have it running. Maybe go for a drive and charge up your stuff? Just don’t sit in the garage with your car running.

Overheard at a meeting
“Has anyone got a charger?”
“Yeah, I’ve got a wall charger.”
“No, I meant for my phone.”

Do you have a computer or technology question? Email Greg at

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