Swarm power for Germany

HAMBURG, Germany, Sept. 11 (UPI) -- How about a power station in your basement?

In a bid to create a decentralized electricity grid, German carmaker Volkswagen is launching thousands of mini power plants that could be installed in the basements of any residential home.


Together with clean energy provider Lichtblick, Volkswagen plans to install up to 100,000 small power plants -- able to generate heat and electricity -- in people's homes to generate enough energy to offset two nuclear power plants. Taken together, all mini plants would have a capacity of 2 GW.

The project could lure many Germans away from traditional utilities toward decentralized energy generation, which experts say will be the buzzword of tomorrow's energy mix.

The so-called at-home plants will be run by a natural gas engine based on the one that's powering the VW Golf car, marketed in North America as Rabbit.

"A lot of parts necessary for building mini power plants are already available in most modern cars," Rudolf Krebs, Volkswagen's engine developer, said in a statement.

Besides producing heat and power for their homes, the plants would feed excessive electricity into the regular grid. They would be connected electronically to create a giant intelligent power plant that can offset fluctuating energy demand and stabilize the grid, the companies involved say.


"You have to imagine the at-home plants like a swarm of fish: Many small units form a large, powerful community that creates swarm power," Lichtblick Chief Executive Officer Christian Friege said in a statement.

According to German news magazine Der Spiegel, the mini power plants have an efficiency of 94 percent, while most atomic power plants have a 30 percent to 40 percent efficiency.

For Volkswagen, the plant project is an alternative business model in times of slumping car sales. The Wolfsburg-based car giant, fresh from a merger with Porsche, said that the mini power plant project would likely secure manufacturing jobs. The carmaker plans to build around 10,000 mini plant engines per year in its factory in Salzgitter.

The at-home plant is already on sale in Hamburg (it costs $7,300 and is best suited for installation in an apartment building, where it should amortize rather quickly) and will be rolled out in all of Germany in 2010.

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