Is there anything Elon Musk can’t do? First, he enabled the secure online purchase of dog treats and diapers with PayPal. Then he founded SpaceX, going broke in the process while everyone scoffed at his goal to design and launch a reusable launch vehicle. He did it in 7 years. And since money and rockets can get kind of boring for a South African billionaire, he moved on to cars with Tesla Motors. Now, he wants to change the world … for realsies this time.
Elon Musk revealed last week that Tesla would start producing large batteries for homeowners to help them go off the grid, in conjunction with solar power generation. Ralph Nader and Preppers everywhere squealed with glee, no doubt. But what does it mean for you?
Truthfully, this is a very big deal. Not because the Powerwall home battery is groundbreaking technology. It’s not. Similar products have been on the market for quite a while. Granted, the Powerwall is thinner, lighter, and looks much cooler than the competition.
The breakthrough is the Powerwall’s price. For $3000, a homeowner with a solar power system can get a 7kwh battery that will power the average home during the night hours, or a 10kwh battery that will serve as a peak time backup and power storage system for $3500. Competitive products currently range between $10-13000.
Tesla has made individual energy independence significantly cheaper, and that’s great news for consumers and homeowners, but most news reports don’t tell you the underlying secret that makes the Powerwall a game-changer for energy production. Our energy utility system in the US is stressed. Very stressed. We have ancient infrastructure and delivery systems; dirty, overtaxed power plants; and billing systems that don’t make any sense at all (utilities have problems measuring commercial energy usage – with benefits of commercial battery backup – so they tend to bill based on peak usage. Cause, you know … fairness). To keep up, or even to maintain our current system, America is looking at a huge, probably budget-breaking expenditure to modernize and supplement our system. Unless, of course, demand goes down, or supply goes up. A LOT.
Enter the Powerwall. Homeowners alone won’t have a significant enough impact, but as they raise awareness and popularity, the system will become popular for commercial applications, and that’s where the life-preserver hits the water. Consider all of the technology companies who value “always-on” power for their data protection and services. The NSA data center in Utah alone could support years of battery production!
Another impact will be energy sell-back. In the US, most consumers who produce power and sell it back to the grid don’t make any real money. They’re limited to wholesale prices. But in Europe, that’s different. Elon Musk himself predicted that Powerwall will be huge in Germany, where individuals who produce power with solar panels can get good rates selling it back to the grid. Imagine if you triple the number of individual power producers in 2 years. Why would anyone pay billions to get a new nuclear plant licensed and built, when you can potentially generate the same power by providing solar systems and Powerwall battery subsidies to the homeowners in a few cities at a fraction of the cost, and significantly lower environmental impact?
I won’t draw all the conclusions for you, so I will just encourage you to pay attention to this product. I predict huge impact within 5 years, and major upheaval within 10. And this is just version 1!