Has Tesla cracked the grid energy storage problem?

von Dr. Peter Nagel

Has Tesla finally done it? Has it finally plucked out the long-standing thorn in the side of renewable energy – the need for cost-effective ways to store electricity? With the announcement of the Powerwall storage system, Elon Musk & Co would certainly like us to think that they have.

There is a lot to admire about the Powerwall, at least as it was first presented. It’s small, sleek and clearly designed with aesthetics in mind, not unlike the game-changing hardware produced by that other hot California technology company.

This is not my father’s propane backup generator, which sits in a big box a hundred feet from his house. It is definitely not the diesel generator we had when I was a kid, which looked like (and basically was) a mutant lawnmower engine.

Tesla said the price for the batteries alone is a few thousand dollars but the total is substantially higher when installation and an inverter to make household AC power out of battery DC power are included. Partner SolarCity said it will sell the battery pack for $7,410 or lease it over nine years for $5,000.

To add to the excitement, one utility, Green Mountain Power in Vermont, announced it would be happy to sell the Powerwall directly to its customers. This is a sign not only that utilities are taking the potential of the Powerwall seriously, but that they may be trying to figure out a way to profit from potentially disruptive technologies. (Full disclosure: Green Mountain Power has funded some of my university research in the past.)

But for all the buzz around Powerwall, home batteries – even sleek, more-affordable ones – face some hurdles. Unlike a shiny new iPad or iPhone, batteries are still a long way from becoming the next must-have consumer item ...

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