MAY 04, 2015 4:04 PM PDT

Elon Musk Completes The Solar Power Equation

WRITTEN BY: Andrew J. Dunlop
So, you want to put solar panels on your house. Great. You'll be generating clean electricity. You won't have to worry about increasing energy prices. In some places you can even sell your excess electricity back to the power company. But, up until now there has been a missing piece. What do you do when you want to watch TV, but it's overcast, or worse, it's night? Well, you can stay hooked up to the electric grid and use that when your solar panels aren't generating. But then, in almost all cases you're back to using electricity created by burning fossil fuels. Also, let's say you're usually not in your house during the day. Then, in a sense you're losing out on all of that good solar generating time. Without some way to store your solar power, it's tough to justify the thousands of dollars you'd have to lay out to install the solar panels in the first place. Well, Elon Musk's Tesla company, yes the one that makes high-end electric cars, has just added a new element to the equation. At Tesla they've been using and refining battery technology for years, and now they're offering simple, effective, not terribly expensive battery storage systems, designed specifically for those who generate their own electricity. The new product is called Powerwall.

Elon Musk at the release of the Powerwall battery pack. The event was powered by Powerwalls.

The Powerwall comes in two sizes: 7 kilowatt hours (kWh), which cost $3,000 and 10kWh, or for $3,500. Any home or business that needs more capacity, can install up to nine units together for a maximum 90kWh. The average four-person household uses between 20.9kWh and 21.6kWh of electricity per day. So for about $7,000, plus the cost of solar panels, a family of four would be good to go, or rather stay in, and watch TV, even at night. On top of generating their own electricity, in many states electric utilities are required to buy back any excess electricity that homeowners generate. So, once the Powerwalls are topped off, homeowners could potentially turn a profit.

Electric utilities aren't happy about this arrangement, or about the increasing number of homeowners who are generating their own electricity. They're often quoted as saying things like, "The grid isn't built for this." Well, that's true enough. But it's also true that we lose as much as fifty percent of the electricity we generate in current plants during transmission in our current antiquated grid.

To demonstrate the effectiveness of his company's new product, Musk used them to power the entire press conference at which he announced the Powerwall's release. Musk also announced that Tesla was taking orders for new units that could be delivered within the next three months.

So, if you're looking to move off the grid, or if you just want to go solar and hang on to all of the energy from the sun you produce, the this may be the product for you. It seems likely that Powerwall or something like it will become a standard part of solar systems installed in people's homes. Imitations are likely, as Musk has open sourced the design. When asked about this unconventional move, Musk explained that this is a revolution in power generation that needs to happen, but that he and Tesla won't be able to make it happen alone. Musk is clear that he's going to need competition, and according to him, the fastest way get competition is to make it.


(Sources: phys.org, NPR)
About the Author
Andrew J. Dunlop lives and writes in a little town near Boston. He's interested in space, the Earth, and the way that humans and other species live on it.
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