Thursday evening at Tesla headquarters in Hawthorne, California, Elon Musk finally delivered a much hyped about announcement unveiling the latest product from one of the most innovative companies in the world.
Musk firstly unveiled a residential storage battery product called ‘Powerwall’ – confirming expectations built up over several months. But in addition to this, Musk went on to announce a larger scale variant of the storage technology, the ‘Powerpack’, which is pitched for use in industrial and utility contexts.
Both products will be being produced and sold through Tesla Energy – the new branch of Tesla that removes any doubt that the company, and Musk, are not simply in the motor industry. They are most certainly in the energy business.
Tesla describe the Powerwall as a home battery that charges from the electricity generated from solar panels, or when utility grid rates are low, and then powers the home through the evening and night. Powerwall will be produced in two models: 7kWh and 10kWh, which will be sold at $3000 and $3500 respectively.
The Powerwall’s lithium-ion battery can supply power at 2kW continuously, and has a peak power of 3.3kW. Voltage is rated 350 – 450 volts.
Weighing 100kg Powerwall isn’t exactly light. But it is slender, just 18cm ( 7.1″) deep. It’s 130cm (51.2″) tall and 86cm (33.9″) wide. All told, it should be a neat device, readily able to fit into garages or even the smallest of rooms. It’s also enclosed in a protective casing that renders it safe for mounting on an outside wall.
What’s also notable about Powerwall is its versatility. Several Powerwall units can actually be installed together to increase storage capacity depending on the needs of the owner. In fact, up to nine Powerwalls can be stacked, which leads to storage of 90kWh or 63kWh (for the 10kWh and 7kWh models respectively).
Of course 10kWh model based stacking would suffice for modestly sized commercial properties. But not comfortably with half-measures, Tesla are scaling up – they also introduced a second product, the 100kWh Powerpack. The Powerpack is designed to scale ‘infinitely’, up to and beyond GWh scales. Musk noted that they already have at least one utility customer investing in a 250MWh system.
Musk emphasises the Powerwall’s simplicity – it’s automated, compact and quick to install (albeit by a qualified professional). There wasn’t too much detail on exactly how the Powerwall will be featuring in installation packages from SolarCity – the solar power company Musk is also Chairman of -, but we know that this is certainly the plan.
The Powerwall works straight out of the box, and contains integrated safety systems, thermal controls, and DC-DC converter. What it doesn’t contain is an inverter – a component required for solar power systems. On the plus side, it does come in five colours.
Shipping will begin in summer 2015, between some three to four months from now. Tesla anticipate production and shipping to ramp up significantly as they transition manufacturing away from their current facilities in Freemont, to the company’s giant Gigafactory battery plant, in Nevada, which remains under construction.
So it’s just a battery?
Well, yes. But Tesla’a goal of accelerating the world’s transition towards clean, sustainable energy production and consumption has so far concentrated on introducing electric cars to market.
With Tesla Energy and these new products, we see the beginnings of significantly larger scale ambitions – bringing technologies to market that are necessary for wholesale revolution within the energy industry.
Simply put, without means of storing power generated from renewables, we’ll never be free from fossil fuels. But with storage, renewable energy begins to open up to whole new avenues for clean, sustainable practices.
The sun doesn’t always shine and the wind doesn’t always blow. While many homes can be powered during the day by their solar systems, without the ability to store some of that energy, at night they must draw power from a utility grid (most of which generate electricity from burning coal, oil or natural gas). This scenario, which is analogous to net utility scale renewable energy generation, leaves us dependent on fossil fuels.
The solution to this, which Musk conveyed in the plainest of terms, is straight-forward – store the power generated from renewables when it’s not needed so that it may be used when power isn’t being generated. Powerwall and Powerpack are manifestations of that solution.
Batteries themselves aren’t new of course. But what Tesla Energy are doing is packaging that technology into one neat system. It’s a system that Musk highlighted as bringing users safety, security, and independence. Three criteria that apply not only to what these products mean for residential solar, but what these types of technologies mean for global energy as a whole.
Concluding the announcement, and in the most humble of terms considering he had just delivered news of such great consequence for humanity, Musk stated:
“The path I’ve talked about – the solar panels and the batteries – it’s the only path that I know that can do this. I think it’s something that we must do. And that we can do. And that we will do.”
Elon Musk, Chairman and Co-Founder of SolarCity, and CEO, Chief Product Architect, and Chairman of Tesla Motors.
Tesla Powerwall Debut – YouTube
You can read more from Phlebas about Tesla’s vision for energy storage at ‘Gigafactory & the Looming Necessity of Batteries‘