Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Guest Post: Tesla’s Powerwall – Fueling a Cleaner Future?

[Periodically we publish guest posts that we believe are of general interest.  The item below is from Beth Kelly]:

Affordable solar power has been a dream of the environmental movement for years. The digital revolution—which has seen computing become remarkably smaller, faster, and cheaper with each passing year—had, until now, outpaced all other industries in terms of dramatic breakthroughs. But with solar technology progressing at the rate it is today, some believe that the clean tech industry is less than 20 years away from meeting all of the world’s energy needs.

Of course, the world’s energy needs will keep increasing, so these estimates are something of a moving target. But several factors are spurring a wider accessibility of solar power, coming together to deliver cost-effective solar energy solutions to ordinary, everyday people. Elon Musk, the bold multi-hyphenate entrepreneur who has already made his mark in the e-payment and space exploration industries, is also devoting a large percentage of attention to the business of “renewables” and clean power. His grand visions of a new world of energy have brought a new battery storage unit out of the shadows of developmental research and into the wider consumer landscape.

On April 30th, Tesla Motors, Musk’s automotive arm, announced the arrival of the Tesla Energy division. Musk and Tesla Energy’s home battery products—the “Powerwall” and “Powerpack”—have been heralded as “transformative” technology with the capability to incite an “energy revolution.” Batteries are an indispensable technology for electric cars, so it’s logical for Tesla to leverage its experience, manufacturing capacity and ability to source components cheaply to expand its product lineup to home batteries. However, their ability to live up to hype remains yet to be seen.
The most obvious benefit of the Powerwall is its capacity for solar storage. Using the battery module, homeowners can store up electricity generated by their solar panels and then use it later on when it's dark or cloudy outside. Another of Musk's firms, SolarCity, offers solar leases, which allow regular homeowners to get solar panels set up at their homes without any upfront equipment or installation fees. The combination of inexpensive solar power generated through systems leased from SolarCity and the time-shifting capabilities of Powerwall means that more individuals will now be able to distance themselves from the faulty, outdated, and dirty American power grid.

As of today, the batteries cannot stand alone, and homeowners must continue their oftentimes strained relationship with utility companies. The Powerwall battery still lacks the clout to kill the grid completely, but it holds the power to transform it into a “service provider” in which grid systems act as something of an electricity traffic controller. This is an example of a distributed grid.

The Powerwall comes in two models: a $3,500 10kWh and a $3,000 7kWh unit. They generate enough energy to power typical household appliances for several hours although they would quickly run out of charge during a multi-day blackout or a long string of cloudy weather. By allowing consumers to source their energy from the battery during the night while charging it up from daytime sunlight, they won't have to rely as much on their local utility firms when their solar panels aren't producing electricity.

Of course, the majority of our energy is still obtained from dirty fossil fuels like coal and oil. In an effort to change with the times, traditional power providers such as Columbia Gas of Ohio and CNG Ltd are touting natural gas’ significantly lower carbon footprint than its traditional counterparts. Some, like Xcel Energy from St. Paul, Minnesota are combining natural gas’ power with solar power to create a more efficient and environmentally-friendly means of generating energy. By instituting their own method of renewable energy production at home while cutting their dependence on energy suppliers, customers are essentially replacing unclean forms of power production with a greener alternative. As solar continues to grow in popularity and affordability, conventional energy firms will have to come up with some modus vivendi within the new order or risk being relegated to irrelevance and bankruptcy.

While solar power technology has languished in obscurity for decades, it's now springing to life not just in the United States but all around the world. As technology advances, costs come down and new synergies emerge, we can expect this growth to continue and even accelerate. With the help of solar energy, we may could have the potential to achieve a lasting transition to sustainability.

 [Beth Kelly is a Midwestern blogger from Lansing, Michigan. A graduate of DePaul University, she’s passionate about covering updates in the clean technology space and other innovations driving the renewable energy movement forward. She is a strong advocate of the “maker movement” and self-sufficient, green living. You can find her on Twitter @bkelly_88 ]


Peter said...

Very interesting article. Its exciting to see solar electric energy gain traction. Where I live in New York it's common to see farms with large areas covered in solar panels as well as many homes with solar panels themselves. It will be very interesting to watch as the world shifts from fossil fuels to electric power. As electric vehicles become more common I believe that we are heading into the right direction, but I believe people still need to be educated on alternative energy. I am looking forward to seeing where Tesla takes technologies such as the power wall and their cars, and if we will be able to build the necessary infrastructure to make these products practical. Only time will tell.

Anonymous said...

An update: http://www.greentechmedia.com/articles/read/Tesla-Discontinues-10kWh-Powerwall-Home-Battery