By Chris Mooney
In late April, Tesla Motors took a step toward upending home energy when it announced the Powerwall, a battery for homes that can provide backup power, and that was paired with higher capacity versions for businesses and even power companies.
Within about a week of the announcement, Bloomberg reported, the company had already pulled in $800 million worth of orders, with the vast majority of revenue not for individual home batteries but rather for larger, company or utility scale applications called PowerPacks. With numbers like that, the energy storage revolution may already be here.
It’s not entirely clear yet how it will play out, though. In particular, a big question mark concerns when a much touted pairing of home energy storage with rooftop solar power — so that people can power their homes at night with solar energy gathered during the day, and need only minimal amounts of power from the grid — will become widely available, not to mention affordable.
Some skeptics have argued that it’s still very costly to buy the Powerwall — the cost is $3,500 for 10 kilowatt-hours worth of energy or $3,000 for 7 kilowatt-hours — and have also objected that at least at first, it appears its chief usage will be simply to provide backup power during a power outage. Indeed, SolarCity announced it was offering the Powerwall with home solar installations for an added cost, but described it as a “battery backup service,” to replace “noisy, dirty fossil fuel generators with zero-emission storage technology.”
Nonetheless, the solar plus battery revolution is coming in very much in the form many have envisioned, argued Nancy Pfund, the founder and managing partner of DBL Investors, a San Francisco based venture capital firm that has invested in Tesla and SolarCity, at a Tuesday Washington Post event entitled American Answers: Powering Cities (I moderated the panel).
“It is a revolution,” Pfund said, adding that “it isn’t that far away.” When asked how much solar energy capacity and battery storage capacity people would need to fully power their homes with solar energy at night and also charge their electric vehicles overnight, she commented, “remember your cellphone, how unfunctional and expensive and huge it was in those early days. Obviously there’s a cost curve that’s coming down…there’s a long waiting list of people wanting to do this.”
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