Above image source: http://blog.360dgrs.nl/tech/tesla-powerwall-home-battery
You’ve heard of the state-of-the-art electric vehicles by Tesla. On April 30, in Los Angeles, the company unveiled Powerwall, a home battery unit that can affordably reduce homeowners’ dependence on the grid. Independence, clean energy, and cutting-edge technology that could transform the domestic energy ethos? Sounds good to us! In this post, we explore an exciting new option that has received over 38,000 orders in its first week.
The Powerwall is a wall-mounted, rechargeable lithium ion battery with liquid thermal control. Measuring 51.2″ x 33.9″ x 7.1″ and weighing 220 lbs, it is a sleek home energy solution designed to work with rooftop solar panels. Ten years ago, solar panels were something of an oddity in residential installation, but eco-minded homeowners are increasingly turning toward solar energy. Among its advantages:
- No greenhouse gases!
- After installation, it’s basically free.
- Minimal maintenance
- Decentralized power=self-reliance
- Usable in remote areas, without an ugly power line infrastructure
The above image, from the April 30th presentation by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, is a radical revision of the well-known Keeling Curve, which offers a foreboding projection of atmospheric CO2 levels. See that plateau on the far right of the graph? That’s Musk’s revised CO2 concentration should the world adopt clean solar energy through the infinitely scalable technology offered in the Powerwall. Says Musk, “I think we should do something about this and not win the Darwin Award.” Jokes aside, the Powerwall seeks to solve some of the most trenchant issues facing a widespread adoption of solar energy on the individual, small business, factory, and even global scale:
- One of the most obvious challenges with solar power is the inconsistency of sunlight, in adverse weather conditions or at night. The Powerwall can store excess solar power for use when the sun isn’t shining, store power from the grid when energy is the cheapest and put it to use during times when it’s most in demand (and thus more expensive), and serve as a massive backup battery when the grid goes down.
Relatedly, power companies often charge a higher price for electricity during peak evening hours than overnight when demand is low. Powerwall promises to lower your bills by storing electricity when rates are low and powering your home when rates are high. They offer this visualization:
- Solar is often imagined to require a huge amount of square footage to gather the sun’s rays. But rooftop installation addresses this problem, and worst case scenario: your home offsets energy needs with some recourse to the grid. The Powerwall unit itself requires no utility room, and can be installed right on the wall of your garage, for example:
Additional food for thought:
- Even if you’re not keen on installing solar panels, due to their expense or relative inefficiency, the Powerwall might still be worth a look. It’s capable of connecting to both residential solar systems and the traditional power grid.
- The technology is stackable, meaning multiple batteries may be installed together for homes with greater energy need, up to 90 kWh total for the 10 kWh battery and 63 kWh total for the 7 kWh battery. The smaller units ring up at just $3K!
- California (where DCA is based) has one of the most aggressive renewable energy mandates in the country, and recently declared the most aggressive energy storage mandate as well: a goal of 1.3 gigawatts of storage by 2020.
But, what about the drawbacks? Well, for starters lithium ion batteries rely on a highly volatile element—lithium—that basically blows up in contact with air. Of course, this doesn’t mean that there’s any immanent danger to the homeowner with a Powerwall set up in the garage. The manufacturing process is pretty nasty, though. Lithium metal, stored in mineral oil, is also a rare commodity. Alternative batteries include zinc-air and liquid metal technologies.
SolarCity, a company related (in an operational and a familial sense) to Tesla, is currently running a pilot project with 500 homes in California. Powerwalls are now available for order, with the first deliveries scheduled for summer 2015. Next year, Powerwall production will transition to the buzzed-about Gigafactory under construction in Nevada. Exciting stuff!
Dylan Chappell Architects is committed to designing places for people to live and work in balance with our environment. Our clients share this vision; we look forward to projects that seek certification under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Green Building Rating System. Our firm has also adopted the Architecture 2030 Challenge, which sets incremental targets toward the goal of carbon-neutral operation of all new buildings by 2030.