“The issue with existing batteries, is that they suck,” said Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, of the electric car fame, in the grand unveiling of Tesla’s new home battery system on the 30th of April. Called ‘Powerwall‘, the futuristic-looking units are intended to serve as a storage for renewable energy. Tesla’s pitch is that solar panels can be used to charge the batteries during the day, and be used at night. According to Musk, this means one could theoretically live without the electrical grid.
This development can serve to silence one of the biggest criticisms against renewable energy sources such as solar and wind – their irregularity. Instead of the most common policies used to encourage the use of renewable energy (which are yet to hit India), feed-in tariffs will allow you to sell the power you generate to the grid, and then buy it back at night. Solar panel users can now rely on their own power, deciding which to use at which point – Tesla batteries have a control system you can configure through the Internet.
The ‘Powerwall‘ is a wall-mounted energy storage device that comes in two configurations – with a capacity of 10 kilowatt hours (kWh) of energy (priced at $3,500), or 7 kWh ($3,000), the former for weekly cycles and the latter for daily. They can be installed together with up to nine batteries, with a total capacity of 90 kWh or 63 kWh respectively, and have a 10 year warranty. Their continuous electricity supply as announced at around 2kW, is not stellar though, it is just enough electricity to power two small AC units.
The large scale version offered for commercial needs, the ‘Powerpack‘, offers a minimum 500kWh capacity, and is designed to scale infinitely. Basically lithium-ion batteries at core, similar to the ones in your phone and your laptop, these batteries will help in the easy harness of solar power in addition to giving a more reliable backup system in case of power failure.
There is already discussion about how this will affect oil-based economies if solar power suddenly becomes a lot more viable. An easier and comparatively cheaper form of using renewable energy means lesser reliance on fossil fuels, greener generation of electricity, lesser carbon emissions, and reduced damage to the environment. It is also possible that this will be a roadblock for proponents of nuclear energy. While also a clean source of energy, the potential risks, and the dumping of waste are both still unsolved questions. Another aspect that will be affected by this is a higher number of investors and a resultant overall price drop for the renewable energy sector.
At an immediate level, the Tesla CEO himself talked about the potential of reaching remote locations. Setting up a solar panel-Powercell combination in less accessible places in developing nations will altogether alleviate the need for a connection to the electricity grid.
This by no means is the first such product to offer a way to store renewable energy; the key difference is the existing infrastructure, Tesla’s Gigafactory is already in place and testing has already been conducted on their electric car. Which should mean a more reliable, and a lot cheaper supply. An $18,300 version of the Tesla home battery has already been tested as part of a pilot program in 300 houses in California. “Our goal here is to fundamentally change the way the world uses energy,” said Musk during the Energy event, “at the extreme scale.” It seems like an encouraging start.
While the batteries aren’t suitable for regular domestic use just yet, the 10kWh version is meant to go through only around 50 charge cycles per year, according to the spokesperson of Musk’s sister-initiative SolarCity, a provider of energy services, the 7kWh version, “doesn’t make financial sense in the US” with the buy-back schemes. Current economic viability aside, this might be the ‘Next Big Thing’ in energy. Musk talks about the world eventually transitioning away from fossil fuels to a more sustainable-energy future. As of now, the Powerwall starts shipping in US this summer, and plans to deliver internationally are already in motion. There has been an announcement of approximately 38,000 pre-orders, which means Tesla is “basically sold out through the first half of next year.“