BY: DANIEL KORN
The amount of people using solar energy to power their households independently has been steadily rising in the US over the past decade or so. Data from the US Department of Energy shows that the number of households with rooftop solar energy has increased from 30,000 homes in 2006 to 400,000 in 2013. By 2020, they predict that the number will increase to a million—and if solar energy prices continue to decline as they have been in the past decade, that number could increase to as much as four million.
But there are issues with solar power, mainly to do with storing excess energy for future use. The reliance on the sun means that energy is less available when it’s needed most—chiefly during big storms and night-time. At the same time, there’s often a surplus of energy when it’s not needed, such as during the day when individuals are away at work and don’t need the power in their homes. This wouldn’t be a problem if there were efficient ways to store the energy, which is why many people have been able to sell energy from their household solar panels to utility companies for use on the grid, but even those companies have issues with finding locations for the excess.
Tesla’s industrial grade solar power storage system as installed with SolarCity panels on homes in Davis-Monthan Air Force Base near Tucson, Arizona.
This could all change with the Tesla lithium-ion home battery, announced by CEO Elon Musk in an investor call in early February. According to Musk, the company will start taking orders this year, and select customers have already become the first owners.
The Tesla battery is important because it makes off-grid living more possible than ever before, with the battery actually able to store energy captured by solar panels and utilize it whenever necessary. Currently, this allows homes and businesses to go off the grid during peak hours.
Tesla batteries are already being installed on commercial buildings powered by the solar panels of another Musk-chaired company, SolarCity; according to an analyst at GTM Research, these companies have paid 20-30 percent less in energy costs as a result. So releasing the technology for the use of average homeowners is a big deal financially, as well as environmentally in the long term.
SolarCity has already installed hundreds of prototypes of Tesla battery systems in homes, like the one shown here.
Until now, the elephant in the room has been the cost of the battery, and whether it would be affordable enough for said average homeowner. There are 2 types of batteries that are available.
The Powerwall is a residential battery system that Musk says will create smart micro grids that will create greater stability in electrical infrastructure through sustainable energy.
The 10 kWh model goes for $3,500 and the 7 kWh model goes for $3,000 and both come with a 10-year warranty. They are 3 feet across, 6 inches deep, 4 ft tall and can also connect to the Internet.
The second option is The Powerpack, an industrial sized model strong enough to power large businesses and even public utility companies. The Powerpack is customizable based on an individual buyer’s needs and can scale from 500 kWh to 10 Mwh or more. The pricing for the Powerpack hasn’t been released yet.
Tesla and Panasonic’s $5 billion“Gigafactory,” currently under construction in Nevada, could make the technology even more widely available and affordable. Musk states that 160 million Powerpacks could power the United States.
Living off-grid was a prospect only imaginable for a few particularly fortunate individuals, but Musk believes that Tesla Energy’s zero carbon batteries are the first step at creating a society thats not reliant on the often environmentally-apathetic companies that own the utility lines. So could we be heading to a world where all persons are able to make the choice to live sustainably? Elon Musk thinks so and to prove his point, the whole presentation announcing that Tesla batteries will be hitting the market was itself powered entirely by stored solar energy.