Since there are no currently active contests, we have switched Climate CoLab to read-only mode.
Learn more at
Skip navigation
Proposal image

Smart Battery Standard by Smart Battery Team

Share via:


Let’s ease off the grid—and the gas pump—using textbook-sized lithium battery packs with smart sensing, IOT and collaboration capabilities.



Handheld batteries now exist that can produce as much power as a household wall outlet. They can be used to power household appliances instead of "grid" power, and they can easily be recharged in a day by a quilt-sized solar panel. They can easily be carried from room-to-room to power various devices as needed, and then to the garage to power an electric bike ride across town. They are capable of powering devices as small as a smart phone and as power-intensive as an arc welder. The basic technology is proven: these textbook-sized lithium battery packs have been in use for over a decade to power radio control models and electric bikes. The next step is to make these small-but-powerful batteries smart:

  • able to sense their surroundings
  • able to communicate with each other, with the appliances they are powering, with their charging sources, and with the humans who rely on them
  • able to change their behavior based on these communications


By making these batteries smart, we increase their usefulness. But more importantly, we increase how people perceive energy. We give people feedback that helps them use energy sparingly and wisely. People who ride electric bikes already have this awareness; they constantly do quick calculations to determine if they have enough energy to run one more errand before they go home. Smart batteries have the potential to similarly make us all mindful of all of our electrical use. With data collected from our smart batteries, we can share our energy-use experiences quantitatively and work together more intelligently to cut down our use. And humans working as an intelligent group is our best hope for coping with climate change.

Category of the action

Reducing emissions from electric power sector.

What actions do you propose?

Just as phones have evolved into “smart phones” by incorporating computer technology, batteries are poised for a similar transformation. Current ebike batteries have some “smarts”; they use a circuit board within the battery pack to control power output and charging. An electric bike may even have additional smarts to measure power, energy, motor temperature, and speed. It can then shut down the battery if it is putting out too much current, or if the bike is going too fast, or if the motor or battery is overheating. If we are to use these same batteries for powering multiple appliances, we can build-in additional smarts such as:

  • multiple voltage outputs to power different types of appliances; we are already seeing ebike batteries that have USB ports for charging mobile phones
  • flexible charging inputs so that the smart battery can be charged from many different sources such as from a car battery (as many RC chargers do), a solar panel, or the grid
  • communications capabilities so that the battery can inform its user if it is running low, overheating or other info; for example the FlyKly Smart Wheel is an ebike wheel/battery combination that communicates speed and energy use with a smart phone using a bluetooth connection
  • sensors that can give the batteries smartphone-like capabilities such as turning lights off during the day, responding to voice commands, or shutting down if it senses that it’s been stolen


And just as the DIY community has standardized around the Arduino microprocessor, we will need a similar software and electronics standard for smart batteries. We will also need a standard for basic battery hardware: connectors, mounting hardware, and enclosure sizes. Establishing these standards will be a group effort, requiring the establishment of collaborative organizations. These new organizations can build off of the successes of established organizations such as the maker movement, the ebike DIY community, and environmentalists going off the grid.

[some good ideas go here]

We propose to create handheld battery prototypes, test them in real-life scenarios, and create an open-source battery standard. Publish results. Eagle files. 3D printer files. 

Voltage sensing and adjustment. Could be as simple as DC/DC converters for low voltages, cells in series for higher voltages. 

Why go through the trouble of making a battery smart? Such a battery would open up worlds of possibilities, illustrated by the following two scenarios. The first scenario describes how someone intentionally going off the grid next year might use smart batteries. The second scenario describes how someone unintentionally off the grid in 2050 might benefit from them as well. We follow each scenario with a discussion of the actions that would be necessary to make that scenario a reality. 


Scenario 1: The Millenial

Vermont in 2015. Mindy is on a budget. She has just graduated from college and has some hefty loans to pay back. She lives in a small apartment downtown. She realizes that almost all of her appliances can be powered by the same smart battery she uses for her ebike. She decides to go off the grid--and continue to stay off the gas pump--using an ebike, smart batteries and a mini-solar panel. First Mindy does the math. 

She concedes that smart batteries are not good at powering energy-intensive appliances that are in continuous use, such as heating and cooling systems, refrigerators and hot water heaters. Her landlord takes care of all of these needs except the refrigerator. So for food preservation she decides to store only canned goods and preserves in her apartment. 

That leaves small-to-medium power intermittently used appliances. On a typical day she uses:

—a 600 watt microwave for 10 minutes to heat up breakfast, lunch and dinner: 100Wh

—a 1,000 watt kettle to heat water for 6 minutes for tea: 100Wh

—a 10 watt LED bulb for 4 hours every evening, carrying it around the house as people used to carry candles in the 18th century; also she adjusts her sleep schedule to coincide with daylight hours, which was a tip she got from an online efficiency club: 40Wh

—a 40 watt laptop for 4 hours: 160Wh

—20Wh/mile ebike trips to work and the farmer's market for 10 miles: 200Wh

This is a total of about 600Wh per day. (She notes that, contrastingly, the average American household uses 3,000Wh/day for cooking, lighting, and small appliances.) A 48v13ah  (624Wh) smart battery can handle her needs.

She already has one smart battery for her ebike. She buys an additional 48v13ah smart battery for $500 (so she can charge one while she is using the other one) and one 250w mini-solar panel for $300. (Her solar set up is inexpensive because she doesn’t need an inverter.) She sets up her 5-foot-by-3-foot mini-solar panel on the deck of her apartment building. Because of the stellar work done by the Smart Battery Standards Team, everything is plug-and-play; she is set up and charging her battery within minutes. So her total initial cost to go off the grid is $800. Since her apartment's electricity bills are about $50/month, her battery-powered system will pay for itself in 16 months. And she is already saving hundreds of dollars a month by riding an ebike instead of driving a car.

Every evening she swaps the used smart batteries with the fresh ones on the solar charger. She finds it handy that she can take her smart battery with her when she is using her computer on business trips and camping. She tracks her energy use on a smartphone app and adjusts her lifestyle to fit the amount of power she has--saving energy becomes an enjoyable game rather than a chore. Her smart batteries automatically publish their energy use to her environmentalist club’s website; she becomes the talk of the forum. She is pleased to find that within a few years other apartment dwellers have also set up solar panels; south-facing apartments around town become popular. And appliance companies begin to offer low-energy appliances for battery-powered lifestyles like hers. Lastly, when she gets a job in another town, she can take her mini-solar panel and smart batteries with her to her new home.


Implementing Scenario 1

[some good ideas go here]


Scenario 2: The Climate Change Refugee

North of Miami in 2050. Karl is a climate change refugee. He is off-the-grid too but not by choice. He lives in a refugee town north of the area where Miami once stood. When he comes home from middle school on his bike he brings his ebike’s smart battery inside with him to help power the family’s appliances. When he wants to do his homework he plugs his computer into his smart battery. Towards evening when it gets dark, he also plugs the room light into the battery. The battery tells him that it will last another 20 hours with this load. He asks the battery if it has enough power to cook dinner too; the battery updates its estimate and replies yes.

Seven years ago a storm took out the refugee town’s power grid again. The town council felt it couldn’t afford to keep rebuilding. They felt that instead of centralized power, residents could manage their own power needs using smart batteries. The government distributed smart batteries and charged them for free for a time. Eventually most residents saved up enough money to buy solar panels to recharge their batteries themselves. As a result of using smart batteries, residents are more aware than most Americans how much energy they use, and they take pains to use very little. For example everyone in town switched over to LED lights very quickly when they found that incandescent lights drained their smart batteries five time faster. Just as in the past someone might know the mpg of a car, residents became conversant in how much energy various appliances use, and out of necessity they made choices to use less. Over time these many small choices added up. Last year the town won an award for the most efficient town in America. Residents were proud that their refugee town went from being an object of pity to a place of great respect.

The smart battery standard ensures that their smart batteries work with each other and with the appliances they power. They never need to worry about damaging an appliance by plugging it in at the wrong voltage. The smart battery’s smarts have other benefits too. For example, people in the town begin to use energy as a sort of currency. They trade watt-hours for products and services. And they even begin cheating. It becomes necessary to ensure smart batteries’ energy reading can’t be tampered with. Smart battery code is open source, so Karl writes a smart battery app that uses PGP encryption to ensure the legitimacy of batteries’ watt-hour readings.  

Karl’s mom works for the power company tearing out old power transmission lines in order to salvage the metal. She too rides an ebike—most of the towns roads were not replaced after the storms, but bikes can still get around on single-track paths. Karl texts his mom to remind her to pick up his spare battery from the government charging center on her way home. The family’s batteries broadcast their charge state to Karl’s family website; Karl can see that this battery is done charging. He will need it to power his ebike to get to school tomorrow. 

After dinner Karl and his mom go downtown for a special treat: a showing of Key Largo, the 20th-century Humphrey Bogart movie. In order to power the antique 5,000 watt movie projector, everyone brings their smart batteries, connects them together, and shares the load.

Implementing Scenario 2

[some good ideas go here]



What conclusions can we draw from these scenarios? First of all, they illustrate a convergence of many technologies:

— lithium batteries

— solar energy

— LED lighting

— ebikes

— wearable electronics (Mindy’s heated vest)

— Internet of Things (batteries that broadcast their charge state to a website)

— open source architecture (Karl’s security app)

And they demonstrate smart batteries can achieve important social goals:

—making people aware of their energy use

—providing an inexpensive way for households to ease off the grid by supporting an intermediate jump between no solar power and full solar power

—encouraging manufactures to create low-power products

—helping a community be resilient in the face of extreme weather

Smart batteries are a good idea. However, there is a danger that multiple manufacturers will create many different kinds of batteries that don’t work together, seriously eroding smart batteries’ effectiveness. We need a definitive standard to ensure that smart batteries live up to their potential.

Who will take these actions?

We plan to form a consortium of Cornell University professors, web developers, makerspaces, ebike hobbyists and entrepreneurial organizations in Ithaca NY. 

Where will these actions be taken?

Ithaca NY

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

[lots. need to calculate this]

What are other key benefits?

[lots. need to think more about this]

What are the proposal’s costs?

[not so much. volunteer labor]

Time line

Scenario 1 within a year; scenario 2 within 20 years.

Related proposals

[I plan to add a proposal for ultra lightweight vehicles.]


[none yet]