Panasonic details plans for Firefox OS TVs

Panasonic shared a few more details on its Firefox-OS powered TVs this week, announcing that Firefox OS will be used for six different models in its 2015 line of TV sets. The company still didn’t say when exactly these TVs are going to be available, or how much they will cost, but it did share a few more tidbits on features available on the platform.

Panasonic’s Firefox OS TVs will feature a relatively simple UI, dubbed My Homescreen 2.0, that will allow users to pin their favorite apps and content sources and quickly access them from the launch screen. TV channels can also be sorted by favorites, and there will be some universal search functionality for apps and local content. Panasonic will also add some kind of multiscreen functionality to send content from “a Firefox browser or other compatible application,” but it’s unclear what other apps would be compatible, and what kind of underlying multiscreen technology the TVs are going to use.

Panasonic isn’t the only one using Firefox OS for the TV screen. Matchstick has been working on a Firefox OS-powered dongle that directly competes with Google’s Chromecast. The startup initially wanted to ship its streaming stick to Kickstarter backers this month, but is now aiming for an August release date.

Panasonic first showed off its Firefox OS-powered TV at CES this year. Check the video below for a first demo:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=midsZK1Q0RU]

Is the solar panel & battery combo ready to change energy markets?

The big idea right now for solar and batteries is this: put solar panels on your roof, a battery in the backyard (or basement), and become utterly independent from the power grid, using free electricity from the sun. Batteries have long been looked to as a way to store energy solar energy during the day to be used at night, but they have long been too expensive to be used widely. But many companies are looking at 2015 as a very important year for the solar and battery partnership and I’ve heard the word “tipping point” being used repeatedly about this intersection recently.

Why all the excitement and why now? First off, traditional lithium-ion batteries — the kind being widely used in cell phones and laptops — are becoming cheaper than ever before. Electric car company Tesla and Japanese battery giant Panasonic have been working closely on lowering costs of their lithium-ion batteries significantly, and with Tesla’s “gigafactory” the companies expect to be able to reduce the lithium-ion battery cost by another third.

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Navigant Research estimates that Tesla pays about $200 per kWh for its Panasonic battery cells today, and that price could drop as low as $130 per kWh by 2020 when Tesla’s massive factory — which is expected to more than double the world’s lithium-ion battery production — is fully up and running in Nevada. Several years ago, lithium-ion batteries cost closer to $1,000 per kWh. Tesla plans to sell some of the batteries from its factory into the power grid market, and SolarCity (the installer company chaired by Tesla CEO Elon Musk) already uses Tesla batteries for a solar panel energy storage system.

Lithium ion batteries are becoming such a clear low cost platform for energy storage that other startups beyond Tesla are adopting this idea, too. At CES last week, a startup called Gogoro launched an electric scooter and battery swapping infrastructure based around modular lithium ion batteries designed also in conjunction with Panasonic. Owners of the Gogoro scooter will some day be able to swap out their two depleted batteries at a nearby battery swap station, and they will likely pay a subscription for access to the batteries.

Gogoro's electric scooter and battery station

Gogoro’s electric scooter and battery station

But it’s not just the economics of lithium ion batteries that are driving the pairing of solar and batteries. Other startups have been developing newer, low-cost battery chemistries that are optimized for the power grid, like Aquion Energy and Ambri. Aquion Energy last week announced that one of its largest battery installations to date (2 MWh) is going into a solar system on the Kona coast of Hawaii.

The surge in solar panel installations is one of the main drivers behind this grid battery trend. There’s a lot bigger market these days for solar: More than a third of all new electricity installed in the U.S. in the first three quarters of 2014 came from solar panels, both utility-scale solar and solar panels on residential rooftops. That’s second only to new natural gas plants.

Battery stacks and modules in Aquion Energy's factory. Image courtesy of Katie Fehrenbacher, Gigaom.

Battery stacks and modules in Aquion Energy’s factory. Image courtesy of Katie Fehrenbacher, Gigaom.

Solar companies, like SunPower, SolarCity, Sunrun and others, are doing deals with battery makers, looking to offer new services. Startup Stem, which uses distributed battery packs to work like virtual power plants, is working with Kyocera Solar.

Then there’s the grid battery market that’s being opened up by the state of California’s aggressive mandates for energy storage. California utilities are being asked to buy 1,325 megawatts of energy storage services by 2020, and utility Southern California Edison has already said it will buy 250 MW of energy storage systems. Part of SCE’s plans will be made up by a huge 100 MW battery plant from AES Energy Storage and a 85 MW contract from Stem.

Tesla's image of its clean powered factory. Courtesy of Tesla.

Tesla’s image of its clean powered factory. Courtesy of Tesla.

So clearly, utilities aren’t worried about energy storage in general, because they will some day be major users of this technology. But in the short term, some are worried about so-called grid defections. If your solar panels and battery offer you all the electricity options you need, why do you need the utility?

However, according to a recent report from Moody’s, batteries and clean power are just still too expensive to be too threatening right now. Moody’s said that even with battery prices at $200 per kWh, and solar panels at $3.50 per watt, these technologies are “an order of magnitude too expensive to substitute for grid power.” Battery prices would have to be closer to $10 per kWh to $30 per kWh range to be cost competitive widely for the power grid, said Moody’s.

Those costs might be difficult for (most) residential customers to justify, but it could be a different story for commercial building owners. GTM Research says the market for solar panels paired with batteries will surpass $1 billion in annual revenue by 2018 (up from just $42 million last year), with collectively 318 MW of solar and storage capacity installed in the U.S. by that time. One in ten new commercial solar customers will opt for an energy storage addition by 2018, predicts GTM Research.

First look: This is Panasonic’s Firefox OS-powered TV

Panasonic is getting ready to ship a smart TV based on Firefox OS this spring, and the company is previewing the device at CES in Las Vegas, with an emphasis on preview: At the Panasonic booth, I only got to see a TV set running a Flash demo of the TV’s user interface, and a spokesperson told me that the final version isn’t ready yet.

Here’s what the company showed in Vegas:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=midsZK1Q0RU]

Interesting about Panasonic’s approach is that the company isn’t emphasizing the geeky side of Firefox OS, and instead appealing to simplicity, with app pinning apparently being one main feature.

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Also noteworthy are integrated notifications, which will first come from apps, but eventually also connected appliances. And finally, there is a kind of universal search that includes web content, which can be accessed through the integrated Firefox browser.

Panasonic's Firefox OS TV features integrated app notification support.

Panasonic’s Firefox OS TV features integrated app notification support.

I was told that apps from all major content providers are going to run on the platform, and the demo showed apps from Netflix, Hulu, YouTube, Vudu and others as well as the Firefox browser. Also noteworthy is that there was a dedicated icon for Miracast; Mozilla has been cooperating with Matchstick on an open protocol for screen mirroring and casting, but Panasonic hasn’t announced plans to support the protocol yet. However, a spokesperson told me that there are definitely plans for multiscreen interaction with apps on mobile devices.

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Mozilla and Panasonic first announced a Firefox OS-powered TV at last year’s CES, but that device never materialized. The new model is now supposed to ship in spring, and feature 4K with a 64 inch screen size. Panasonic hasn’t announced any plans for additional models or screen sizes yet, and a spokesperson tamed expectations by calling Firefox OS on TVs a “special project” for the company.

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Battery startup Eos Energy is raising another $30M

Startup Eos Energy, which has been building a low-cost grid battery using air and zinc, is ending out the year by going back into fundraising mode. According to a filing, the company is starting to raise another $30 million round, and has closed on $2.5 million of that.

Eos Energy, founded in 2008 using a tech breakthrough from founder and inventor Steven Amendola, has just started to get its pilot batteries into the hands of some utility customers. The company sent its first grid battery system to New York utility Con Edison, it’s testing products with DNV GL, and it says it has secured European energy giant GDF SUEZ as a customer. In conjunction with Con Edison, the partners are using a state grant to install batteries on the New York grid.

Eos Energy Aurora grid battery

Eos Energy Aurora grid battery

Scientists have been working on using air as the cathode for batteries for half a century. A battery is made up of an anode on one side, a cathode on the other and an electrolyte in between. Air is a desired cathode for a battery because it is abundant, lightweight, doesn’t require a heavy casing to contain it inside a battery cell, and theoretically can achieve a high energy density, or amount of energy that it can store.

Eos Energy has developed a bi-directional air cathode that it says can last for 10,000 cycles (around three decades), with initial costs of $160 per kWh, and can be made up of everyday benign materials. Eventually the company is shooting for its batteries to cost closer to $100 per kWh.

Labs of Eos Energy

Labs of Eos Energy

The funds will presumably help the startup scale up its battery tech and get it into the hands of more potential customers. While Eos Energy is currently shipping some smaller pilot batteries (kW scale), in early 2015 the company is expected to announce MW-scale batteries that will be available commercially in 2016.

Earlier this year Eos Energy announced it had closed $15 million in funding, in a round led by AltEnergy and including NRG Energy. That was the “first closing” of its Series C round.

Eos Energy is one of a handful of battery companies looking to build the next generation of batteries for the power grid. Others include startups like Aquion Energy and Ambri, flow battery makers like Primus Power and Imergy, large battery giants like AES Energy Storage and Panasonic, and even electric car maker Tesla.

It’s official: The Tesla, Panasonic massive battery factory deal is done

Tesla factor floor, image courtesy of Tesla.

Tesla factor floor, image courtesy of Tesla.


In advance of Tesla’s earnings this afternoon, the electric car maker announced this morning that its deal with Japanese battery giant Panasonic is officially a go. Panasonic will invest in the battery-making equipment and occupy about half of the space, while Tesla will fund and manage the land, building and utilities and, along with other vendors, will occupy the other half of the building. Nikkei reported the news earlier this week, as well as more details on the financing. Tune in for Tesla’s earnings later this afternoon, and check out what I’m looking for from them.

Panasonic calls it quits on smartphones

Panasonic has confirmed plans to stop development of consumer-level smartphones, though it will still offer feature phones in its home market of Japan.