Tesla Debuts Powerwall At-Home Storage

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April 30, 2015 | Tesla Motors

Last night, Elon Musk made a long-anticipated, yet unsurprising, announcement about Tesla’s plans to sell batteries for home energy storage. If you’ve already got solar panels on your house, for $3,000 to $3,500 (plus the cost of installation), you can essentially go off the grid with your own sleek, wall-mounted, flat screen TV-sized battery.

And the list of companies Tesla is already partnering with – like  Target, Wal-Mart Stores Inc., Amazon, and utilities like Southern California Edison and Vermont’s Green Mountain Power – is perhaps just as newsworthy as the Powerwall itself.

Here’s a round-up of Inside Energy’s favorite Tesla coverage:

  • For the Washington Post, Chris Mooney puts Tesla’s announcement in context, describing three ways storage will change the way we use energy.
  • Ucilia Wang, writing for Forbes, points out that Tesla is not the only player in the energy storage game. Yet Tesla – thanks to Elon Musk’s allure – can garner attention like none of its competitors can. At the event, Wang noted, the buzz wasn’t simply about the technology:

    “Building Tesla and SpaceX has made him a rock star in the tech world, and he’s built a seemingly accessible public persona that has made fans out of many. He got on stage to talk about the growing manmade greenhouse gas emissions and the need to get away from using fossil fuels, and the audience laughed and hollered and applauded like they were hearing some incredible, never-heard-before message (were they Tesla employees and investors?).”

  • Bloomberg Business’s coverage also called out Musk’s ambition: David Gura summed it up as a chicken in every pot, a Tesla in every garage, with solar panels on every roof, powering a Tesla battery.
  • The low-price point of Tesla’s at-home battery has been garnering attention: Greentech Media’s Eric Wesoff noted that, “the audience actually whooped when Musk revealed the price.” Wesoff’s colleague Jeff St. John digs deep into the, “potential revenue-generating opportunities – and potential pitfalls in realizing them – in what’s likely Tesla’s biggest market for energy storage: California.”
  • Unless utility pricing models change, NPR’s Steve Henn suggests that at-home storage just doesn’t make financial sense:

    “There’s no financial incentive to buy power when it’s cheap and store it. There’s no financial incentive to buy a battery. Last night, Elon Musk talked about how batteries can save the world and stop global warming. But before any of that can happen, consumers are going to need an economic reason to buy one.”

For some Inside Energy background, see Dan Boyce’s story on why, without energy storage, solar panels won’t work in a blackout. And for an ironic twist, while Tesla’s namesake, Nikola Tesla,  developed AC power for George Westinghouse, Elon Musk’s Tesla batteries store DC power. Boyce and Jordan Wirfs-Brock have a lively primer on the past and future of the AC/DC debate.

  • Don

    One of the things that stands out with the announcement is no mention yet of the lifetime of the batteries and what the efficiency is in years 1, 2, 3, 4, 5….. ? Cell phone batteries tend to average 3 years total and the last year requires more frequent recharging. Musk needs to address this issue and provide a replacement system where they take back the old batteries. Then the big question is, how much will this cost over a homes lifetime?

    • MindGame

      The Tesla site shows the company is offering a 10-year guarantee for the batteries, but the question about the ability to recycle them is still very important.

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  • Plainer

    Not mentioned is that Panasonic is the quiet partner in the mega-factory deal in Reno. Expanding the market beyond automotive opportunities to commercial and residential markets is in fact Panasonic’s idea. The two partners make sense where they avoid a single tier market.

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  • Rand0Mone

    The media needs to ask some serious questions instead of being cheerleaders. What is the life expectancy of these batteries? What are they made of, and how much will proper disposal cost? The planet certainly does not need billions of pounds of toxic chemicals being dumped into landfills, so disposal could be a considerable expense.

  • Tohmsa Hatrman

    I have forty-four solar panels at my home, and they supply all my electrical needs for about 7 months each year. When I generate excess power, BGE buys is. I do not see any value in buying several thousand dollars of batteries!

    • ridgepablo

      Here is why: THe challenge of solar power all along has been its intermittency, and the resulting need for storage. BGE and other utilities bought solar power in part to avoid new capacity investments, in part because laws required them to, and in part to help jump-start solar. But it is very expensive for them to buy distributed solar whenever it is being generated, and provide reliable backup whenever it is not. You may have read how utilities in both Germany and California are reaching the limit of their ability to accommodate solar and achieve this tricky load-balancing. Solar is cool, don’t misunderstand me. BUT Solar generators will have to take responsibility for providing their own storage, or plan on a much lower price for the power they sell, and a much higher price for backup power from the utility.

      • Tohmsa Hatrman

        I paid for infrastructure in my rate base for sixty years. When deregulation allowed utilities to divest, the equipment was sold off, the basis stepped up, and then depreciated again. I am paying twice for the same wires and towers. The utilities owe me the use of the power lines I should own! I do not have a lot of sympathy for their tired line about having to supply distribution for my solar power. They can take their executive bonuses and stuff them where my solar power does not shine!

        • ridgepablo

          Thank you for confirming that commenting on news sites is pointless, and thoughtful, civil discourse is nearly impossible. It is a time-saving lesson.

    • Uncle Bob

      The idea is that instead of selling it, you can use it yourself, but the problem is how will you transfer it? You will have to buy a transfer switch then manually turn it off when you want to switch off the gear…that is if you don’t plan on running anything like an AC, or oven.

  • Uncle Bob

    This may work if all you run are a few light bulbs and a tablet PC, but try running your AC in the south in the summer off batteries or your heat pump in the north off batteries and let me know how it goes.

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  • Jordan Wirfs-Brock

    This is Jordan Wirfs-Brock, the Inside Energy journalist who put together this round-up of media coverage on the Tesla announcement. Some great points have been raised in the comments here, so thank you to everyone for getting involved in the discussion. We are in the middle of reporting a series of stories on the future of the grid, and storage is a big part of that. The question about the life cycle of batteries is a great one. If you have other suggestions for topics you’d like us to investigate – related to energy storage, solar, or otherwise – we’d love to hear them. You can leave your suggestions here, or reach out to us on Twitter (@InsideEnergyNow).

    And in case you haven’t seen it yet, our coverage on distributed generation, rooftop solar and net metering is collected at our Solar Challenge series page (http://insideenergy.org/series/the-solar-challenge/). It includes articles on the state of solar in Wyoming, the distributed generation challenge, a look at net metering data, how utilities are pushing back against solar, and more.