Spotlight On: Tesla's New Home Battery System

Tesla's new home battery system.

Tesla's new home battery system.

The world consumes 20 trillion kWh of energy annually—enough to power a single family home for 1.8 billion years or supply energy to a nuclear power plant for 2,300 years (or launch the Falcon 9 rocket seventeen million times). 

Of all the fossil fuel consumed in the United States, one-third is used in transportation and another third goes to electricity production. The US electric power sector alone produces over 2,000 million metric tons of CO2 which is like burning 225 billion gallons of gas. The EPA says it would require 1.6 billion acres of US forest to negate the environmental damage. 

What if we could move the electricity grid off of fossil fuels and towards renewable energy sources?

To kick off this departure, car company Tesla has reinvented itself as a power company that is going to change the way we look at consumption—and shepherd in a new era of renewable energy at home and businesses.

Because once we’re able to rely on renewable energy sources for our power consumption, the top 50% of the dirtiest power generation resources could retire early. We would have a cleaner, smaller, and more resilient energy grid.

Here's how Powerwall, Tesla's new home battery system, works.

Powerwall is a home battery that charges using electricity generated from solar panels, or when utility rates are low, and powers your home in the evening. It also fortifies your home against power outages by providing a backup electricity supply. Automated, compact and simple to install, Powerwall offers independence from the utility grid and the security of an emergency backup.

Here's some more info from Inhabitat:

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 Tesla CEO Elon 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.

Reserve your Powerwall here.


Nicole Caldwell

Nicole Caldwell is a self-taught environmentalist, green-living savant and sustainability educator with more than a decade of professional writing experience. She is also the co-founder of Better Farm and president of betterArts. Nicole’s work has been featured in Mother Earth News, Reader’s Digest, Time Out New York, and many other publications. Her first book, Better: The Everyday Art of Sustainable Living, is due out this July through New Society Publishers.