On Thursday night, Tesla CEO and Chairman of SolarCity Elon Musk revealed a device that he hopes will “fundamentally change the way the world uses energy”: The Tesla Powerwall.
It is a solar battery. About three feet across, four feet tall and six inches deep, the smooth little monolith comes in several colors and can be mounted inside or outside and linked to multiple units for more power. Tesla is currently offering two versions: A seven kilowatt hour model priced at $3,000 and a 10 kWh model for $3,500. Both come with a 10 year warranty and an optional 10 year extension.
Is this a big deal? It certainly is. Countries around the world have been making major investments in clean energy sources like wind and solar, but both renewables share a common problem: Intermittency. Storing the electricity is difficult to do and prohibitively expensive, but it is a necessary next step in the technology because wind doesn’t always blow and the sun doesn’t always shine.
“The issue with existing batteries is that they suck,” Musk told his audience last night. “They’re really horrible.”
With a convenient home battery like the Tesla Powerwall installed, a family can use the solar energy they stored throughout the day during the evening hours. The Powerwall can also be used as a generator in the event of grid failure.
But is the Powerwall a major breakthrough in renewable technology? According to Gizmodo, it’s a great deal compared to what’s currently offered on the market, but well short of a revolution. And according to Lux Research analysts, the cost of installation along with other equipment may double the price tag.
Still, Mr. Musk has never been anything less than ambitious, and he gleefully told the audience that a 1 gigawatt class battery could power the entire city of Boulder, Colorado. To power the U.S., it would take 160 million of them. To power the world – including all transportation, electricity and heating – it would take 2 billion.
Musk admitted this is a lofty idea, but one that shows transitioning from fossil fuels to renewables is far from impossible.
“If Tesla can produce a cost effective home energy storage system it could prove far more valuable, and profitable, than anything the company is doing with automobiles,” said Karl Brauer, a Kelley Blue Book senior analyst, in a Friday statement. “As solar panels get cheaper and easier to install the only thing thing keeping consumers tied to the energy grid is a need for electricity when the sun isn’t shining.”
Customers can start ordering Powerwalls now, with deliveries beginning this summer. A more robust system designed for businesses, known as the Powerpack (a block of interlinked Powerwalls), will become available later this year. According to The Verge, Target and Amazon have already signed up for pilot programs. Southern California Edison is also adopting the batteries to supplement its electricity storage systems.