Has Elon Musk solved the climate crisis?

I just watched this video of Elon Musk revealing Tesla’s new “Powerwall”, a battery pack for the home. The Powerwall can store energy from solar panels when the sun’s shining and then deliver this stored energy to the home when it’s dark. I have to say it sounds wonderful and Elon Musk had me convinced right from the start. It almost sounds too good to be true. I hope it’s not.

More here: http://www.theverge.com/2015/5/1/8525309/tesla-energy-elon-musk-battery-announcement

30 thoughts on “Has Elon Musk solved the climate crisis?

    1. It seems quite cheap to me. What do you mean by in practice? Presumably the company is not planning to change the price immediately after announcing what it would be.

      1. I think what Shub means is that these are wholesale prices. The installed price will be higher since it will need to include distributor profit and installation labor. But as I said on twitter, this step is being taken in anticipation of a much larger market developing over the course of 2-3 years, serviced by the output of that gigafactory. Plus of course Musk isn’t the only one in this market, so competition will have an effect.

        A whole other aspect of this is demand management, where Musk has plans to move in on the traditional utilities. With enough market penetration, it will become possible for him to use the grid to sell excess power to those who don’t yet have these systems. There’s your disruption.

  1. One of the big problems with using renewable energy is how to store energy when the system is not producing. The best solution in the past has been to sign a net energy metering agreement with your power company to use the grid for backup. Though research has shown that net energy metering customers actually supply a small net benefit to the power company and other customers, power companies have been moving (see the Oklahoma Sun Tax ) to make it more expensive to install your own renewable energy system. That may backfire as the new Tesla system will allow homes to go completely off the grid for what seems a very reasonable price,about $3000 for a seven kilowatt-hour system, which is more than up to power an average home. .

      1. It’s not cheap – to either manufacturer or owner.

        Electric car manufacturers face high costs involving the batter manufacturing component of this industry. The costs can be recouped if they can sell enough cars but the cost of the manufacturing (and thus the car) is itself a barrier to high-volume sales. Thus eventually, the car manufacturers are forced to turn into battery salesmen. One proposal floating around was to have electric cars plugged in during non-running hours to sell ‘stored’ electricity back to the grid. Mr Musk simply takes a different route – that of selling wall-mounted to homes.

        The highest possible energy density sources are carbon-based. How will lithium – which is lower energy density compared to carbon, even in liquid-cooled snazzy batteries – beat carbon?

      2. Shub sounds a little desperate. By her stated logic, this announcement can’t exist.

      3. How will lithium – which is lower energy density compared to carbon, even in liquid-cooled snazzy batteries – beat carbon?

        Bear in mind that I’m just guessing here, but I suspect that the crucial difference is that you don’t burn these batteries. Well, and, that the actual energy – as Elon Musk points out – comes from that big, bright (during the day) fusion reactor in the sky.

      4. A battery salesman. 🙂

        Yes, the other parts of electric cars are cheap. And the other parts are easy to build and large number of firms have such expertise creating a well functioning market. The key technology is the battery storage.

        That the new batteries are very fast to charge is also important. Geneva will introduce an electric bus system, where the buses recharge during the bus stops.

        A full electric large capacity urban bus system developed for Geneva.

        A new development I had not thought of. Then you also just need small batteries because you only need them for the distance between bus stops. No need for power lines like you had for trolley buses, which makes the system cheaper and flexible.

      5. Hydrocarbon fuels are unique in that the storage of energy and manufacturing/synthesis of the fuel are both one and the same step. With batteries, you have to put the energy in.

        If you count cost of the solar installation, battery and the solar hardware, the cost will be high. It’s for rich people, unless there are subsidies.

        I would love to see California subsidizing Musk’s batteries while the US works to block financial assistance to coal plants in Africa

  2. I wonder whether Musk is too optimistic and starts too quick too early. There is not only batteries, like he claimed. There are also water power plants that can be used for storage (especially long term) and you can introduce a market, where the price of electricity depends on demand, like it normal in a market economy.

    Especially the latter I would expect to be much cheaper, many companies can be flexible with their energy use if that pays of. Much solar power is produced when you need it (during the day). Thus you may not need storage this soon. Germany has to start thinking about it, but for the USA, it sounds early to me. If I remember right, the ball park number was that above 50% solar and wind, you start to need storage.

    The low price sounds amazing and scientists have also just got aluminium carbon batteries working, which promise to be even cheaper. I thus wonder whether this will be even cheaper than using water power plants for seasonal storage. Does anyone have price estimates for that?

    Maybe the batteries are nice, however, because the power supply is so unreliable in the USA. If you have the money 3.5 thousand dollar sounds like a good price to protect yourself against power outages if they happen often. And in remote areas where there are no power lines, such batteries are likely also a good solution. Those would again be reasons to start this in the USA.

    1. Water power plants for storage sound fine but it’s not the sort of thing you can have in your own home. I like the idea of having my own powerwall at home and not being dependent on grid power supply. Even better if the power is free from the sun.

      1. Water power storage is especially good for Scotland. I had expected that Scotland, Norway and the Alpine countries would provide this service for the rest of Europe. Now that batteries become so cheap so fast, I wonder if that will still happen.

        like the idea of having my own powerwall at home and not being dependent on grid power supply.

        The real libertarian. 🙂

    2. You aso need an invertor not cheap, plus installation costs,etc. Good salesmanship though.

      The Guardian had an eco-audit of this, and were not really that convinced

  3. Thanks for the link to the Tesla battery pack presentation!!!

    I have been asking our local Solar City reps for a few months when the battery pack would be available. I haven’t been able to get an answer to a question of mine in regards to how the pack would work with our existing PV infrastructure- a 6.12 kW system installed back in 2006. As we have a well and some of our winter storms can take power out for a day or so we also have a backup generator. Out here in CA we get lots of sun hence lots of utility scale PV has been installed to meet our 33%RES. My local utility has a contract out for a couple of MU’s of battery energy storage- to be located about 15 miles from our place- and it sounds like Mr. Musk’s firm has put a bid in for the contract.

    In order to meet our, CA’s, decarbonize goals we are hedging our bets a bit as far as technology development goes. The following reports talks a bit about the “Two forks in the road” (see page 15) that are currently being discussed. https://ethree.com/documents/E3_PATHWAYS_GHG_Scenarios_Updated_April2015.pdf

  4. So let’s see, the Musk announcement, the Pope announcement, Obama’s WHCD rant, overall it’s been a very depressing week for our Shub, so very far from the glory days of “Climategate.”

  5. Rachel, back to the talk, I loved the relaxed but informative style and killer graphics (like the area needed for panels, then the pixel for the batteries). A picture vs a thousand words again.

    The naysayers will of course try to kill this regarding costs to transition etc. But we have to start somewhere and this looks like a great product that can definitely find a market in US, and attract further investment, growth, etc. And so the cycle begins – as with every transition that went before. The economics do not need to be perfect today at every point on the planet, but good enough to create a significant market and thereby start the scaling, innovation, and competition that will increase the spread.

    We do after all have this free fusion reactor in the sky, which is not going away anytime soon!

    1. I really enjoyed the talk too. He was quite amusing and made it very accessible to a wide audience. At $3500 I think he opens up the product to a much wider a market. This is something I would seriously consider getting (if and when it becomes available in the UK)

  6. We almost missed the Kentucky Derby as our boob tube said “Remote Battery Low”. Not having any spare batteries- that we could find- I resorted to a work around that has worked in the past. After removing the batteries and adding a dab of moisture to each end and reinstalling the batteries the message went away which allowed us to watch the race. The most important part of Mr. Musk’s talk, from my perspective, was that his firms patents will be open sourced to aid in the development of a transition to a more electrified world. Telsa has figured out how to minimize degradation of the batteries from what I have read- which is a big plus when it comes down to reducing the mean time to failure of the hardware. For example- per an associate who owns a Tesla- it’s algorithms will prevent you from driving off if the charge is low enough to be “battery low”. When our batteries were low our little PV system was sending energy to the grid (about 2000 watts at that time of the day during a sunny May). I don’t know about you but I am happy to leave grid balancing to the experts. It sounds like Mr. Musk’s IT is moving that expertise from the regional grid operators down to the local micro grid level. At least I hope this is the case.

    Like most PV owners our system is hitting the time of year that it produces a lot more energy than we consume. Finding ways to optimize over generation at point A from the grid’s perspective is going to be a big challenge as we add more PV, or wind, into the grid. Our local wind farms and utility scale PV facilities would love to find a ways to firm up their 5 minute bids into the marketplace. Interesting times we live in. I think I would need at least 20 kWh of batteries at our place as our load for just running our well is close to the maximum output of the 10 kWh battery pack.

  7. From the Guardian:

    “Price excludes inverter and installation,” reads the Tesla press kit. According to Roger Kemp, a professorial fellow in engineering from Lancaster University, the battery will also need a switch to be installed in a home’s fuse box to stop power feeding into the grid during a blackout – which can harm electricity company workers and cause imbalances in the grid.

    “This would take an awful lot of rewiring and a few days of an electrician’s time,” he said. “The total add-ons probably come to much the same price as the battery itself.”

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/may/01/will-teslas-home-battery-really-transform-our-energy-infrastructure

    http://www.theguardian.com/environment/2015/may/01/will-teslas-home-battery-really-transform-our-energy-infrastructure

    The mining and processing of lithium is not without environmental cost either.

    1. John,

      No question that Mr. Musk’s approach to developing a market seems to be working:

      http://www.navigantresearch.com/blog/powerwall-takes-tesla-into-the-energy-cloud?utm

      “Elon Musk has announced that Tesla’s Powerwall, the company’s residential energy storage product, is already oversubscribed—38,000 residential systems have been reserved. The company’s PowerPack
      offering has an even more impressive backlog: 2500 reservations averaging an estimated 10 Powerpacks at 100 kWh, representing 7.1% of the Gigafactory’s planned capacity. Executing these orders will carry the company into 2016. In total, the reservations amount to between 2.9 GWh and 3.6 GWh. While this is an impressive feat, Tesla’s contribution to the market will not be based on technology—at least not at the battery cell level. Although the company’s battery pack offers benefits that integrators may not receive from products from LG Chem, NEC, Saft, or Samsung SDI, Tesla’s effect on the market is likely to reach far beyond hardware deployments.”

      I am not sure how to reconcile some of the limitations of the product offerings http://energyskeptic.com/2015/bloomberg-news-teslas-new-battery-doesnt-work-that-well-with-solar/
      to the Powerpack reservations noted above. I assume the folks getting 100 kWh worth of Powerpacks must have the electrical expertise to integrate the packs in a micro grid. It will be interesting so check back in a few years to see how the integration has worked out.

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