The Powerwall

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Revolutionising energy infrastructure

In the midst of the renewables revolution, technological advancement and innovation is progressing at an exponential rate and making the race towards a carbon neutral future finally seem like one we can win. This issue we look at the pioneering work of Tesla; the company released its Powerwall home battery earlier this year – potentially providing the solution to powering your home on solar power alone without any need for connection to an electricity grid.

Here at Total World Energy we have the enjoyable problem of having to select just one innovation to focus on each month, but for this issue it was perhaps not as difficult as usual. In the renewables revolution we are currently experiencing, Tesla, the company at the forefront of electric vehicle innovation and headed by the inimitable Elon Musk has come up with a highly efficient home battery that would effectively solve any issues with consistency of supply when using electricity from rooftop solar panels.

This new power storage technology not only has the potential to provide consumers with an affordable, effective way to become independent of a national grid network, but has much more far-reaching potential benefits.

It has been somewhat of a consensus in the ongoing climate debate that in order to achieve a reduction in emissions in enough time to combat global warming and still provide for the world’s power needs, we will have to utilise nuclear power as a reliable way of consistently producing energy. Although statistically considered relatively safe, on the occasion that accidents do happen the consequences are devastating – take Fukishima as an example.

But one thing that may have been underestimated is our own human ingenuity – is it so inconceivable that we may be able to develop the technology and restructure to the extent where nuclear power also becomes obsolete? Can we change energy infrastructure so that consumers can produce enough power at home for their own needs, without impacting the environment?

Earlier this year a very real solution presented itself in the pioneering work of the team at Tesla. The company entered the energy market with a bang, announcing its new suite of cost-effective solar batteries in April of this year for use in homes and businesses – the Powerwall.

Tesla’s charismatic CEO has always wanted to build technology and innovation to contribute towards a sustainable energy future – and has consistently stated that his work has the central goal of progression in the areas of “space, solar and electric cars.”

“The goal is complete transformation of the entire energy infrastructure of the world, to completely sustainable zero carbon,” Musk explained at the Powerwall launch event at the Tesla facility in California.

Retailing at around US$3,000 in the US, the Tesla Powerwall can store up to 10kWh of power from wind or solar panels for use when sunlight is low at peak times such as evenings and early mornings, when grid electricity costs are much higher. The battery will also add energy security to the home, providing a reliable backup in the case of a power outage and will be guaranteed for 10 years.

The potential for Powerwall is immense – once fitted on a wall in a house the battery could theoretically make solar-powered homes completely independent of the electricity grid, making significant cost savings and eliminating the consumers personal emissions at home in one fell swoop.

The aesthetically pleasing and surprisingly compact device (around four feet by three feet) is available in a range of colours and is expected to go on sale in the United States later this year, with international roll out expected for 2016.

The quality of life potential for Powerwall is also significant – the technology could be a huge advantage in under-developed regions where power supply is unreliable, even in the event that solar power is available.

“This is going to be really great for the poorest communities in the world,” Musk explained. “This allows you to be completely off grid.”

The lithium-ion batteries are recyclable and don’t pollute when discarded. In order to ensure production for what the company anticipates to be a healthy demand, Tesla announced construction of the world’s largest lithium-ion battery plant in Nevada last year, an investment worth US$5 billion to be built in partnership with Japanese electronics giant, Panasonic.

Embarking on this new side to the business, Musk and his team at Tesla could potentially be starting a business in Tesla energy that will eclipse what is currently Tesla Motors. The CEO’s long-term goal is to help move the large economies of the world, such as the United States, away from fossil fuels altogether – using the Powerwall energy storage option as the starting point.

Musk has repeatedly stressed that Tesla’s focus is not on profits but on innovation – with capital being ploughed back in to research and development. A by-product of this focus on quality and innovation over profits is, ironically, a healthy profit margin as the company and its CEO have built up a reputation for excellence.

Musk explains what drives him to focus on innovations such as the Powerwall: “my interest in the future of humanity comes from asking the questions, what is important? What is the meaning of life? And I came to the conclusion that what we really need to do is make sure that life continues into the future.”

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