Tesla Moves Into Home and Utility Battery Systems
April 30, 2015
Tesla is making a not-so-secret move into home and grid electric storage. Look for an announcement in the news late thursday/early friday.
Storage batteries could become a huge business because they solve a big problem related to renewable energy. Sure, rooftop solar cells generate juice during the sunny afternoon, but what about the evening?
The extra energy can be stored in batteries to power homes and businesses after the sun goes down. Demand will be helped along by a California Public Utilities Commission mandate that generators of electric power have stationary storage units.
“What Tesla is doing is an all-in strategy to bring the clean-air revolution to the state. And as California goes, so goes the nation,” says Roland Hwang, energy and transportation program director for the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Tesla CEO Elon Musk is also chairman of Solar City, a solar energy provider, which now also offers stationary battery units. Solar City says it has sold 300 units already this year.
Tesla hasn’t been trying hard to keep its big battery plans a secret. In a job posting for a development operations engineer, Tesla says it “has developed a business unit to address the increasing need for stationary storage battery systems, which allows for even higher levels of renewable generation.”
For US Utilities, this ratchets up the pressure for any company that still clings to the past, and their pre-eminent position as electric providers. Not only are businesses, households, farms and municipalities getting more choices for generating and storing power, they are generally using less of it to do more. Household usage, despite the expanding number of gizmos and gadgets, has been near flat now for several years, and is projected to stay that way.
U.S. energy consumption has slowed recently and is not anticipated to return to growth levels seen in the second half of the 20th century. EIA’s Reference case projections in the Annual Energy Outlook 2015 (AEO2015) show that domestic consumption is expected to grow at a modest 0.3% per year through 2040, less than half the rate of population growth. Energy used in homes is essentially flat, and transportation consumption will decline slightly, meaning that energy consumption growth will be concentrated in U.S. businesses and industries.
Near-zero growth in energy consumption is a recent phenomenon, and there is substantial uncertainty about the main drivers of consumption as the United States continues to recover from the latest economic recession and resumes more normal economic growth. EIA’s analysis in the AEO2015 includes several cases with various assumptions about macroeconomic growth, world oil prices, and domestic energy resource availability.
Increases in energy consumption are mostly related to economic activity, and U.S. industrial and commercial enterprises are projected to increase output more rapidly than countervailing influences from improved technologies. Existing policies also can moderate energy use. Energy intensity, measured as the amount of energy per unit of output, does continue to decline during the projection period. Nonetheless, industrial energy consumption still rises by 0.7% per year through 2040, while commercial consumption rises 0.5% per year in the AEO2015 Reference case.
Declines in energy consumption tend to result from the adoption of energy efficient technologies (often affected by policy measures) and larger, structural changes in the economy. Although the residential and transportation sectors are different in the ways they consume energy, energy consumption in these sectors through 2040 is projected to remain below historical levels.
Most of the major energy-consuming equipment and appliances in U.S. homes and apartments have been covered by federal energy efficiency standards since the mid-1990s. As this equipment can often last for decades, the United States is only now reaching a period in which most appliances were manufactured and installed in an era when these efficiency standards were in place. Residential consumption has also declined as the population has shifted toward warmer climates, reducing the need for space heating. The corresponding increase in energy for space cooling is much less than energy for heating, thus reducing overall residential energy consumption.
Meanwhile, Europe charges ahead with renewables, and new methods of storage.
Grid-scale battery storage solutions have arrived in Europe, despite a lingering controversy. No longer a distant dream, projects in Germany are already feeding energy into the grid, while in the United Kingdom and Italy, commercial projects are close to coming online.
Yet their breakthrough potential — for the quick balancing of intermittent renewables and eventual replacement of fossil power plants — has not been fully tested. Grid-level energy storage remains a new frontier, and among a host of modern storage options, batteries are still sometimes tagged as too costly and unproven in real-world environments.
Wouldn’t it be more economical, critics ask, for a country like Germany, which sits in the middle of Europe, to draw on neighboring grids, rather than invest in expensive storage technologies? In Germany, resistance to high-power battery storage has come not just from lobbyists in the energy industry — which has long argued that renewables have to wait for more cost-effective storage — but from respected green energy think tanks. They point to a host of good options already built into a grid network that currently operates without interruption.