Tesla Powerwall – The Energy Storage Appliance
On April 30th Elon Musk unveiled the long murmured about and thereby thoroughly unsurprising “Tesla home battery” that has been predicted for months. Based on industry info and Elon’s own tweets, most people who keep tabs on the renewable energy scene had a fairly solid idea of what the reveal would be. In usual fashion, however, Tesla once again surprised with the details and brilliant design of the product.
What the Powerwall brings to the table is more than just being an energy storage device or even a revolutionary sustainable energy device which could have wide-sweeping impact on the energy production and storage systems of the world, though I argue that it does have potential to be both of those things.
In order to gain mass-acceptance in modern western society I submit that your product has to do three things aside from the actual function of the device or service. Let’s take a brief look at what those three keys are.
Appliance Level Interaction
How often do you think about your water heater? How about your well pump (if you are rural, like me), water meter, and furnace? Chances are you don’t think about these devices on more than a “once in a great while” basis. There’s a reason for this; they’re essentially extremely durable appliances with expected lifetimes of 5 years or more – up to 20 years in many cases. They’re designed to be a set-it-and-forget it installation, once it’s in place you don’t have to interact with it at all unless there is a problem with said device. This differs a bit from standard appliances like refrigerators, stoves, microwaves, and TVs – you interact with these devices on a daily basis and they are often visible extensions of your home decor.
The Powerwall exists in a bit of both worlds – it’s a set-and-forget appliance, but it’s also potentially highly visible. Tesla has a focus on aesthetics that only Apple and a few others can compare to, and this is a fundamental design concept for the “appliancing” of technology products. Chances are that the Powerwall is going to be seen on a daily basis by its owner and it will be a conversation piece as well; more on that shortly.
Okay, at $3,500, the 10 KWh Powerwall isn’t exactly like picking up a loaf of bread at the corner store, but in the world of energy storage, it’s very reasonable. A little bar-napkin calculating seems to put my household firmly in the “I need two of those” realm – so I’d be looking at about $7,000 before tax breaks. The gotcha here is that this doesn’t include installation or an inverter, however it does include the cells, circuitry, packaging, etc.
Don’t misunderstand me, this is by no means cheap, but if you were already in the market for an off-grid or grid-optimized system, this is pretty spot-on, really. If you are looking to go with a solar or wind system and have the power output from said system to support it, this is your more or less plug and play solution. There is of course another reason for using this tech which takes all the possible negatives out of the equation…
Let’s face it; current Tesla owners generally have money in no short supply. Tesla owners also generally have friends that have money as well. Tesla has done a fabulous job becoming a luxury brand. They’ve had to, honestly, as their whole business model has relied upon it. Sell expensive cars with envelope-pushing technology and uncompromising quality and desirability until the tech and support infrastructure becomes ready and cheap enough to mass produce “Joe Sixpack” cars. This is exactly what Tesla is doing with the Powerwall as well. The existing install base of the Tesla Model S is a shoe-in for the Powerwall. Folks with the resources to have a 100% Zero-Carbon home are also perfect candidates for the Powerwall.
Having one (or more) of the Powerwall unit(s) in your home / garage will become a conversation starter; something to show off when you have guests over for dinner. As the number of Powerwall units increases and the Gigafactory comes online in days to come, the cost of production per unit will drop and Tesla will either make more money off them or be able to sell them less expensively. I hope for the latter, as I’d really like to believe Musk is aiming to improve the grid system and accessibility of renewable energy for all.
A ray of hope for clean energy production
When all is said and done, if nothing else this is a step in the right direction for the US and the world to take energy production into our own hands and responsibly generate clean energy. Earth’s global power consumption is currently around 16 Terwatts per year. Solar power has the potential to produce 23,000 Terawatts of energy per year; over 1,400 times the global demand. Even wind power has potential to produce up to 70 TW in the not too distant future. The Powerwall is a small but significant part in the journey to harness that clean energy.
I look forward to the day when I can go off-grid for my power needs, however for the time being it remains just out of my grasp. Hopefully it will happen Soon™.
Edit: If you didn’t catch the keynote from the Powerwall event, here it is for your viewing pleasure: