Tesla may be best known for exceptionally good-looking electric sports cars, but their role in the automotive industry has honed their skills in battery-making too. Now, the company is teaming up with solar rental company SolarCity, and the pair is set to apply their battery know-how to create a complete off-the-grid kit for home solar power storage. The partnership could provide an easy (though potentially costly) way to overcome a long-standing problem: almost all solar systems are tied to and somewhat dependent on an electric grid. When the grid is off, the solar panels are out, and when the sun is off, there’s no solar power stored and you’re back on the electrical grid. And if both are out, you’re completely in the dark. But Tesla and SolarCity’s new off-the-shelf lithium-ion battery pack could just solve that once and for all.
Image © SolarCity
Some solar users have overcome this problem with battery storage systems of their own. Gizmodo reports that these battery packs are often comprised of a gang of less than eco-friendly lead acid car batteries. Tesla has been working on developing lithium-ion batteries—the kind one typically finds in a laptop computer—for use in their electric vehicles. Through their partnership with SolarCity, a California-based company who provide solar panel lease options and full service installation in 12 states, Tesla hopes to provide a rack of these lithium-ion batteries which can be easily hooked up to SolarCity’s arrays of photovoltaic panels for a fully off-the-grid system.
The battery unit is presently displayed on SolarCity’s website, and takes the form of a wall-mounted unit which is “about the size of a solar-inverter,” and can be placed either inside or outside the home. SolarCity claims that “A fully charged battery will power basic home needs for a few days and a solar powered home can recharge the battery from the sun to run indefinitely,” enabling one to be “prepared for anything” from an average blip in the power supply to a natural disaster.
The partnership between the two companies began two years ago, when they received a $1.8 million grant from the California Public Utilities Commission to research a solar-storage battery unit. It’s somewhat of a family affair since Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk is the cousin of SolarCity co-founder and COO Peter Rive. In 2010 Rive commented to the New York Times that “We think in the years ahead this will be the default way that solar is installed. Getting the costs down, though, is not going to be an easy task.”
Solving the cost-effectiveness issue of the technology appears to be the project’s next step, as the companies are reportedly waiting for approval for subsidies from the California Public Utility Commission’s Self-Generation Incentive Program (SGIP), and federal investment tax credit (ITC) for clean power before rolling out the tech commercially.
Lead Image © Tesla