Tesla CEO Elon Musk opened a new chapter in home-based clean energy storage this week with the public launch of a new consumer-focused lithium ion battery branded the “Powerwall”. A spin-off from the technology that powers Tesla’s electric cars, the Powerwall is a 7-inch thick unit designed to fit on a garage wall and power a single family home for a few hours. The battery comes in 7 kWh and 10 kWh units, as well as a larger 100kWh format for businesses. Powerwall connects to the local grid, feeding back electricity during peak periods when electricity is most expensive, and re-charging when electricity demand is low and utility rates are cheapest. Delivery of the system will begin in the United States this summer, with international rollout coming next year. The units will cost USD $3,000 for the 7kWh unit and USD $3,500 for the 10kWh version.
Musk’s ultimate goal is to replace traditional electricity grids powered by fossil fuels with a home-based energy systems powered by Tesla’s batteries working in conjunction with solar panels on every roof. The vision is that, over time, thousands of energy producers and storage devices will be connected by a smart grid, helping balance the supply and demand of electricity, and decreasing dependence on centralized utilities.
“We’re talking about trying to change the fundamental energy infrastructure of the world,” Musk told the launch crowd. And many media outlets are taking him at his word, describing Powerwall as the product that will “kill fossil fuels and nuclear”.
However, some analysts have suggested the length of time the battery can power an average household isn’t sufficient to deal with a few days of cloudy weather, and that while the cost is comparatively low, it remains quite out of reach for many households. Last month, a paper in the journal Energy Policy concluded that for average-income households, the small-scale panel-and-battery combos they will be able to afford––even with significant falls in price–will never produce sufficient energy, so they will have to stay connected to the grid in order to ‘top up’ what they produce themselves.
“Like many new devices, the hype is infinite relative to the number of deployed operating hours on which to judge value,” Andrew Rowe, an energy systems engineer at the University of Victoria, told the Scan. Rowe is leading PICS’ major project on electricity grid integration. “The grid is an incredible thing. The ability to scale and aggregate that comes with a grid is key to high reliability at low cost. For all of us to get the same service by installing our own distributed generation and storage would cost far more.”
In Canada, the units will be distributed by NRStor, while Electrovaya, a company based in Mississauga, Ontario that produces awide range of battery products, said that they hope a focus on the next generation of home batteries will boost its own sales.
The Climate Examiner speaks to BC-based Carbon Engineering about the technology, the business and the policies that could make direct air capture, synfuels and carbon sequestration work.