It’s easy to imagine your clock, cell phone, or cordless screwdriver running on a battery, but how about your whole house? Elon Musk’s innovative company Tesla Motors, maker of the popular line of electric vehicles, announced recently, that it will begin production on such a whole-home battery within the next six months.
Imagine being able to store power, such as the energy gathered by a rooftop solar system or a wind turbine, and store it until needed–or even sell it back to the grid, via reverse metering. No more worries about ever-mounting utility costs or power loss due to inclement weather; the feeling of independence and the comfort of acting responsibly about the environment would be enjoyable, as well. These batteries might make that dream of freedom a reality.
Tesla’s plan is ambitious and optimistic, but what challenges might the company face in actually bringing these batteries to market? Well, the obvious one is price–batteries are extremely expensive, as anyone who has fretted over the cost of even a pack of AAs knows. And batteries that could power an entire house would not only be expensive, they would be very large and heavy (a sizable part of the weight of an electric vehicle is simply from its battery).
Because of their size and expense, these home batteries are not something that you would want to replace on a regular basis, so they would need to be reliable enough to last for years, charging and discharging on a regular basis. Even power companies–who could use large batteries to store excess energy produced during less-demanding hours in order to bolster supply during peak times–are only deploying them in a limited and somewhat experimental way, so far.
If even utilities are a bit leery of adopting batteries on a grand scale, how readily could they become staples in a residential neighborhood? Tesla understands it might be slow going for a while, but the company is determined to keep pushing inexorably toward a greener future.
Besides being Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk also chairs the board of Solar City, a company that provides solar power systems for homes and businesses. He can see that more and more homeowners are adopting solar systems, especially as the price has steadily dropped over the past few years. Batteries that store the solar-produced power and discharge it when needed make perfect sense with this type of system, since the sun doesn’t shine all the time. The inevitable growth in demand for the batteries should lower costs, just as it has done with the systems themselves. Whereas before, most of us suburbanites could only dream of powering our homes with sunshine, it’s becoming more and more within our grasp.
Another way Tesla plans to reduce cost to individual consumers is by mass production. Tesla’s “Gigafactory”, currently under construction near Reno, Nevada, will be the world’s largest battery factory, enabling Tesla to help alleviate cost concerns by having the ability to produce the batteries in large quantities. As for any concerns as to reliability, Tesla’s years of deploying the lithium-ion technology in its car batteries has provided a good track record.
Many other companies are poised on the brink of jumping into the storage-battery game and will be watching Tesla’s every innovative move. Even if not all the power is yet produced by clean sources, the use of batteries will still help curb the overproduction of power by the non-clean ones, and that’s a win by any reckoning.