Power to change?

Making waves in the technology news at the moment is the introduction of Tesla’s Powerwall. Elon Musk’s innovative company has launched an electric power storage solution for the household.

At an estimated cost of US$3000 for the 7kwh unit and US$3500 for the 10kwh capacity unit it seems affordable. But is this the big deal that everyone is making it out to be or is it just a small step in the right direction?

One problem I have with electric cars is the fact that the electricity used to power that vehicle is most likely being produced by the natural gas power plant at the other end of the grid. So I can see how people might ask “How is this better than burning the fossil fuel in my car?”

I realize that the electric car is a move away from reliance on fossil fuel and a necessary step in terms of making a shift towards more sustainable energy sources. I feel like that’s what this era of energy evolution is about, slowly testing the waters with new technology and improving existing technology to deliver the results we need before making the eventual shift to 100% green energy. There is no leap of faith, but instead a gradual process of getting all the ducks in a row before pulling the trigger. The Powerwall is not the solution, but it is a valuable building block.

Just like the situation with the electric car viewed in isolation, it is important to keep in mind that the real value in having a Powerwall is not what it can do by itself, but what it has the potential to do when coupled to other technologies. However, the cost of the solar infrastructure, a DC-AC inverter and the cost of installation make this an expensive venture. So is the investment worth it from a financial standpoint?

I think that the answer to this question lies in the real world application of the Powerwall with an analysis of average household power consumption as well as the costs involved in setting up solar power systems. Based upon the Australian Government’s figures (for Brisbane), the average household’s (based off a family of 4) energy usage would far exceed what this unit could store and output even if you coupled a 7kwh and a 10kwa unit together.

But its not intended to be a complete solution for off the grid living (unless you want to spend a fortune in solar panels and piggy-back multiple Powerwall batteries together – yes this is possible). My understanding, based upon the capabilities of the unit, is that its primary purpose is to maximize the consumption of on-site clean power (by storing solar energy generated during daylight hours). When the sun is not blessing us with its presence, the Powerwall will recharge itself from the grid during off-peak times. Both these features will help significantly lessen the cost of energy for the ratepayer and shift us away from reliance and pressure on the power grid.

Telsa itself does not market it as the silver bullet that people are making it out to be. They list the key selling points on their website as the ability to avoid paying peak rates for power and energy security for unreliable utility grids.

If you look at it as a logical step in the right direction for renewable energy and realistically accept its capabilities for what they are, I think that there is value in the Powerwall. It won’t save the world, but it will help.

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