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Tesla Batteries for Home, Industrial Use Aim to Wean us Off Grid Reliance

Motor Trend logo Motor Trend 5/1/2015 Edward Loh

Last night, Tesla Motors co-founder and CEO Elon Musk opened up the press briefing on his company’s new line of " Tesla Energy" products with a succinct 35-second description:

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“We’re announcing two products today. One is the Powerwall. And it’s a 10-kilowatt-hour (kWh) system for $3,500. The second is the Powerpack, which is basically an infinitely scalable, utility-class system. It’s meant for heavy industrial and utility applications. It’s in units of 100kWh. Like I said, that can be scaled up to multi-gigawatt-hour (gWh) class, and that’s the $250 [per] kilowatt-hour level. Those are the major things.” MotorTrend Image© Provided by MotorTrend MotorTrend Image

That’s a lot of science in 30 seconds, so let’s unpack things a bit. Firstly, we are fundamentally talking about a static battery storage device. No, it's not exactly the battery pack pulled from the Tesla Model S electric car, but it's pretty close. The Power Wall residential and Powerpack utility systems use the same lithium-ion battery technology used in the Tesla batteries, but in smaller (10kWh) and larger (100kWh) configurations (Model S batteries are available in 70kWh and 85kWh). But wait, what's a kWh?

Tesla Energy Presentation 06© Provided by MotorTrend Tesla Energy Presentation 06 A kilowatt-hour is a measure of electric power consumption that is probably easiest to understand as the amount of energy it takes to light ten 100-watt lightbulbs (1,000 watts) for one hour. If you remember the metric system, you’ll know kilo equals 1,000, mega equals 1 million, and giga equals 1 billion. So what Elon is talking about, particularly with the "infinitely scalable" Powerpack systems that offer multi-gWh energy storage, is a lot of power in reserve.

But what does all of this mean, to you the consumer? Well, for reference, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration, the average home in the United States consumes 909 kWh per month, at an average cost of $110.20 ($0.12/kWh). Ignore the dollars and cents for a moment and let’s focus on the energy consumption; 909 kWh per month means approximately 30.3 kWh per day. So one 10-kWh Tesla Power Wall unit delivers enough electricity to power the average American home for about 8 hours.

Tesla Energy Presentation 03© Provided by MotorTrend Tesla Energy Presentation 03 If that doesn’t sound like enough juice, the good news is that you can daisy-chain up to nine Power Wall units together, assuming you have the money and space for the roughly 3-foot by 4-foot by 6-inch battery packs. Other features the Power Wall offers: integration, including integrated thermal management (which means the pack monitors overheating, fires and other thermal "events"), an integrated bidirectional DC-inverter, and internet integration so that, as Elon put it, “ smart micro grids” can be created. Each power wall also has a 10-year life span (guaranteed) and can be recycled (or revitalized, as co-founder JB Strauble put it) at the end of it’s life.

Tesla Energy Presentation 01© Provided by MotorTrend Tesla Energy Presentation 01 Back to the cost, $3,500 for 10 kWh sounds like a lot of money, especially when you compare it to the kWh rate your local utility company is charging, but it’s a lot lower than the estimates some pundits were guessing before the launch (some were quoted as high as $20,000 for more powerful battery packs). It’s also important to understand what Tesla believes its battery system is for. From Tesla’s website:

The [Power Pack] battery can provide a number of different benefits to the customer including:

  • Load shifting – The battery can provide financial savings to its owner by charging during low rate periods when demand for electricity is lower and discharging during more expensive rate periods when electricity demand is higher
  • Increasing self-consumption of solar power generation – The battery can store surplus solar energy not used at the time it is generated and use that energy later when the sun is not shining
  • Back-up power – Assures power in the event of an outage

"There is nothing remotely competitive at this price point," Musk said at the unveiling. "Our goal here is to fundamentally change the way the world uses energy -- at the extreme scale. You'll see what I mean. It's gonna seem crazy. We're talking at the terawatt scale. The goal is complete transformation of the entire energy infrastructure of the world. To completely sustainable, zero carbon."

Musk said the entire presentation and party was powered by the new batteries, which were charged using solar energy.

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