For those of you who don’t already know, some big things have been happening in the world of renewable energy. Tesla Motors were the first company able to produce a fully electric vehicle that was both highway capable and able to travel more than 320kilometres per charge. Unfortunately, economically at least, the prices of these vehicles (ranging from $100 thousand to $150 thousand US) far outweighed the environmental benefits. However, they are aiming to unveil the first affordable electric car: the Tesla Model 3 starting at a mild $35,000 US and are expected to start deliveries in 2017. Despite archaic notions that renewable energy is too expensive to invest in, Telsa's advancements have led to promising developments in lowering costs to make the renewable dream a reality.
Enough about how cool Tesla Motors are. Instead, let’s take a look at their latest release and its potential impact: the Tesla Powerwall. The Tesla Powerwall is simply a battery for solar power. Meaning it’ll let you store, harness and power domestic homes as well as businesses using that handy old galactic nuclear fusion reactor (the sun). Though it’s not the first of its kind, it is the first to be sold at an affordable price of $3000USD for the 7kWh model and $3500 USD for the 10kWh model. However, with the end goal of completely phasing out fossil fuels, Tesla Energy has a galactic sized fight on their hands.
Since the unveiling of the Powerwall there have been numerous reports of it being “uneconomical” in a domestic setting, which may be true for now. The average home in Victoria, Australia, uses an average of 20kWh per day. So, hypothetically, if someone wanted to go completely off the grid and they don’t already have solar panels installed, they’re looking at spending $7000 USD on two Powerwall’s and then another $4-5000+ AUD on installation as well as panels. With the average electricity and gas bill being $468 per quarter the Powerwall will take 10-11 years to pay itself off. Economically this doesn’t seem like a logical move, so for now, it’s cheaper to stay on the grid and use solar power as a load shifting mechanism. This allows the user to switch to their stored power during peak hours of usage and avoid tariffs as well as sell energy back to the grid which the Powerwall also allows you to do with ease.
Even though a lot of business writers are tearing apart the Powerwall saying it’s “no good for individual users”, I feel that a lot of them are missing the Powerwall’s huge upside. The goal of the Powerwall is to move away from fossil fuel and replace our existing power grids with renewable energy. This would make for a more resilient power network as it’d be using, I like to think, a pretty reliable power source.
So, Tesla shouldn’t be focusing on residential sales but businesses and governments. Businesses and governments are the ones who would benefit from removing themselves from the grid the most. Logically, a large scale business would be able to foot the installation costs and then reap the rewards in electricity savings in a much more timely fashion. Luckily, Tesla seems to be one step ahead of the game and have taken steps to procure government contracts. Hawaii is the first to jump at the possibility of a completely green power grid. A bill has been sent to the governor’s desk in early May with a goal of upping Hawaii’s renewable portfolio standard up to 100% by 2045. Hawaii will act as a large scale experiment of how well solar electricity can entirely replace fossil fuels and will hopefully set a precedent for other governments to follow.
Tesla Energy really only has one major issue (other than the oil barons) that is holding itself back from mass residential use: elevated costs of installations. Additionally, it has been reported that some utilities companies claim solar power gives customers the tools to avoid paying their “fair share” of grid costs.
These companies will then take a deliberately long time to interconnect their solar systems to the grid. These costs should decrease as the Powerwall proves itself to be economically beneficial. Either way, this is a positive step toward a renewable future as well as providing reliable power to impoverished countries that can’t afford large scale electricity grids. Even though it’s not nearly as easy to create the utopia that Elon Musk made sound so simple in his announcement, Tesla Energy are fighting the good fight to make renewable energy as affordable and accessible as possible.
For more information on Tesla’s Powerwall you can watch its debut performance during its announcement here.