Tesla opening market for home solar batteries

Elon Musk’s recent reminder that Tesla is working on a house-sized battery has caused quite a stir, but not enough. Tesla alone isn’t the significant part: Tesla opening a market for inexpensive home solar storage methods is. And not all those methods will be batteries: also coming are capacitors, organic vats, compressed air, and water pumped up towers, for storage to car- and house- size to municipal- and utility-scale, all of which will drive solar and wind deployment even faster.

John McDuling, QZ, 30 July 2014, How solar energy storage could make Tesla much more than an automaker,

How lucrative could the solar energy storage business be for Tesla? Almost as lucrative as selling cars.

That’s according to Morgan Stanley, which this week placed a figure—$2 billion—on how much it thinks Tesla could make in annual revenue from solar energy storage. That’s assuming that its “gigafactory”—a massive lithium-ion battery production facility, which is currently still in the planning stages—is up and running by the end of the decade.

That was six months ago. And for that matter, SolarCity already offers a home battery based on Tesla technology:

SolarCity’s residential battery system can help you keep the lights on and fridge cold in a power outage or natural disaster while potentially saving you even more on your monthly utility bills. Our energy storage systems are currently offered in select California markets.

For that matter, I’ve had that kind of battery storage on my solar panels since 2005, and they’re nothing but four deep-cell marine batteries. Most people don’t have them because they’re expensive if you want enough of them to handle much power.

The battery Tesla’s working on will be less expensive and presumably will store more.

Recent coverage of Tesla’s proposed battery have been all a-buzz about “off-grid”, which also misses the point, as partly explained by John McDuling, QZ, 18 February 2015, Elon Musk is designing a Tesla battery to power your home,

There’s a lot of hype about what kind of threat Tesla could pose to electricity utilities by helping people go off the grid. Morgan Stanley estimated last year that by 2028, Tesla’s US fleet of cars will have an energy storage capacity of 237GW which it said was equal to 22% of US production capacity, and nearly 10 times larger than existing US grid storage capacity. (That analysis doesn’t even take into account batteries sold separately from cars).

In reality, mass defections off the electricity grid aren’t likely. Solar City CTO and Musk’s cousin Peter Rive has said he has “no interest” in such a scenario, because “the grid is a network, and where there are networks, there are network effects.” Also, it seems to be illegal in some states.

Tesla is actually working closely with utilities on the home battery product. “There’s a lot of interest, and a lot of utilities working in this space, and we’re talking to almost all of them,” chief technology officer JB Straubel said on the conference call. More likely, the batteries will help people sell excess energy back into the grid, and save money on their electric bills.

Rive envisages a scenario where batteries with storage capacity were optimized across the grid, allowing utilities to direct clean solar electricity more efficiently, lowering costs for everyone and helping the environment. “We can do so much more working together than we can working alone.”

As a veteran of the Internet, I have no interest in being off-grid. I want to be able to continue to sell excess power through the grid; getting a fair market price for it would also be good. And if I happen to have a short-term need for more power, I want to be able to draw it from the grid. The more people who do that, the more robust the grid is; way more robust through distributed generation than currently through a small number of fossilized centralized fossil fuel and nuke plants.

The real importance of Tesla’s house-sized battery is that it’s driving a market for solar storage.

A year ago Harvard announced a no-metal organic battery. In their announcement was this:

By the end of the three-year development period, Connecticut-based Sustainable Innovations, LLC, a collaborator on the project, expects to deploy demonstration versions of the organic flow battery contained in a unit the size of a horse trailer. The portable, scaled-up storage system could be hooked up to solar panels on the roof of a commercial building, and electricity from the solar panels could either directly supply the needs of the building or go into storage and come out of storage when there’s a need. Sustainable Innovations anticipates playing a key role in the product’s commercialization by leveraging its ultra-low cost electrochemical cell design and system architecture already under development for energy storage applications.

“You could theoretically put this on any node on the grid,” Aziz said. “If the market price fluctuates enough, you could put a storage device there and buy electricity to store it when the price is low and then sell it back when the price is high. In addition, you might be able to avoid the permitting and gas supply problems of having to build a gas-fired power plant just to meet the occasional needs of a growing peak demand.”

This technology could also provide very useful backup for off-grid rooftop solar panels—an important advantage considering some 20 percent of the world’s population does not have access to a power distribution network.

So if they’re on schedule, that’s two more years until you’ll see demonstration versions of Harvard’s organic battery capable of storing energy for a house.

Teresa Henry, IDTechEx PR, 24 June 2104, Supercapacitors can destroy the lithium-ion battery market,

As tracked by market research company IDTechEx and further explained in the recently updated report Electrochemical Double Layer Capacitors: Supercapacitors 2014-2024, supercapacitors are improving faster than lithium-ion batteries in most respects.

Then there’s Southern Company’s compressed air underground power storage project.

And Georgia’s own Robert E. Greene will be presenting 18 March 2015 at the Georgia Association of Water Professionals (GAWP) about pumping water up additional water towers:

…to see if we can smooth out the intermittent nature of solar energy by storing more elevated water than we do currently. You are able to bring more solar energy to bear on the total water demand if you can store the solar energy in the form of elevated water. It is perhaps the best form of a solar battery. It is just a ‘Physics to Finance’ calculation that should reveal how close we can come to operating water treatment plants 100% on solar energy.

I don’t care which one wins: I hope they all do, for power storage from car-size to house-size to municipal to utility-scale.

And we don’t even need to wait on new energy storage methods. We already know how to power each and every U.S. state with sun wind, and water through a distributed smart grid. We just need to stop listening to entrenched utility executives such as the current head of the TVA and get on with deploying solar and wind power, as even Georgia Power has finally sort of decided to do.

And affordable energy storage, whether batteries or capacitors or grown in vats or pumped up water towers, will drive solar and wind deployment even faster. I look forward to the warm clean breeze of a sun, wind, and water-powered world.