Tesla’s long awaited home battery is now on the market. Late in the evening on April 30, Tesla CEO Elon Musk kept his promise for his hotly anticipated announcement about the company’s next product line. Musk admitted the week prior that the announcement would indeed be about the home battery he promised earlier in the year, the details of which have been quite secretive until, well, the announcement. Musk took the stage at 8pm PST on a Thursday evening to make the announcement, in which he wowed the crowd by directing people to the Tesla website, where the stationary battery is already available for pre-order and scheduled to ship within a few months.
With this announcement, Tesla has fulfilled the conclusion posited by Wired last week: they are no longer a car company. Tesla is now a battery company first, and a car company second. Tesla isn’t creating a new market, though. The Tesla Powerwall is not exactly the first home battery of its kind. Others exist. Most home batteries function approximately like this: batteries charge at night, when utility company’s rates are the lowest, and can then be switched on in the morning so homeowners can enjoy that cheap energy throughout the day. Batteries, as we all understand, can be juiced up from nearly any source – including a homeowner’s solar panels, provided the correct wiring is available. So, could the new Tesla battery be used to take your home off the grid?
Musk says so. The battery, which is supposed to look like a “beautiful sculpture,” isn’t the determining factor there. Yes, the Tesla Powerwall battery is designed to be powered by what Musk calls the “handy fusion reactor in the sky called the sun.” But a homeowner’s individual ability to harness that energy is what determines the answer to the “on or off the grid” question. For instance, does your home have enough solar panels or wind turbines to collect all of the energy you’ll need to power through another day? And not just one day, of course, because you’ll need to store enough energy to make it through the days when you can’t generate enough new power, like when the sun isn’t shining bright. How many Powerwall batteries would your home need to run day after day? You’ll have to do the math.
Here’s one way to think about battery usage. In 2013, the average annual electricity consumption for a U.S. residential utility customer was 10,908 kilowatt hours (kWh), an average of 909 kWh per month according to the US Energy Information Administration. If you’re an “average” consumer of electricity, that translates to around 30 kWh per day, meaning that you’d need at least three batteries to cover your power usage for one day without relying on the grid. Of course, one could probably manage to scale down their energy usage if they planned to use Tesla’s home battery system as an emergency back-up.
The new home battery is a Tesla-branded product, but the car-turned-battery company won’t actually be in the business of producing the energy storage contraptions. That job will be carried out by a number of partners, including SolarCity, the solar installation company run by a pair of Musk’s cousins. In fact, some SolarCity customers are using the Powerwall batteries already, through a leasing program that Tesla and SolarCity launched, possibly to test the market.
The Tesla Powerwall battery system is priced at $3,000 to $3,500, depending on the model your home needs, and installation charges would be additional. Although the battery itself may seem cheap compared to similar batteries on the market, it’s pretty clear that this home battery isn’t targeted at your average homeowner, considering that this cost is for the battery alone and not the array of solar panels and a power inverter that one would also need in order to harness that “free” solar energy Musk likes to joke about. The $3,500 option provides 10kWh, and is designed to be a backup power supply for power outages and people wanting to live off-grid. The less expensive $3,000 version will have a 7kWh capacity, and is designed primarily to help a homeowner deal with fluctuations in energy pricing and supply to cut the cost of their power (by charging up at night when the rates are lower).
What’s the take-away? The new Tesla Powerwall battery, which can clearly be used for either home or business use, is one more notch in the belt for Elon Musk. It’s a wall-mounted rechargeable Lithium-ion battery that looks way more stylish than its competitors. The real purpose of this battery, though, is to get people excited about the prospect of turning away from fossil fuels. Musk doesn’t envision that every home in America will have a Tesla battery in the next X number of years. What he hopes, though, is that Tesla’s newest product will light a fire under other innovators in the industry to get busy working on accessible solutions to help every day people take control of their energy consumption, and the environmental costs associated with it, over a longer timeline. Could the new Tesla Powerwall save the world? Not by itself. Will it give the world a big push in the right direction? Definitely.
Watch the entire battery-powered announcement here:
Images via Tesla Motors