Tesla’s Powerwall is in the House: A first look at Tesla’s home battery installations

by Andrew Meyer
February 26, 2016
Home Battery

Here’s a first look at Elon Musk’s Powerwall home battery in action.

Anticipation has been mounting since Tesla Motors unveiled their new home battery, the Powerwall. Now, the sleek new solar energy storage technology is finally showing up in homes around the globe. Here’s a first look at Elon Musk’s Powerwall home battery in action.

Why Everyone’s Buying Home Batteries

Home batteries are the simplest and best way to solve the solar energy glitch -- the fact that solar is an intermittent energy source, since the sun is not always shining. Experts from the fields of science, engineering, technology, and sustainability are all coming to the same conclusion: energy storage in the form of home batteries are the best way to launch residential use of renewable energy into the future.

Households with rooftop solar are taking their energy systems to the next level with home batteries. They’ll have to if they want to protect the value of the energy generated from their solar panels, according to Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Tesla’s home battery model, the Powerwall, charges using electricity generated from solar panels. According to Musk, every home with solar panels needs a home battery.

“Without a home battery, excess solar energy is often sold to the power company and purchased back in the evening [at a higher price],” Musk argues “The mismatch adds demand on power plants and increases carbon emissions.”

If this sounds like a lose-lose situation, that’s because it is. Houses with solar who don’t also have energy storage like home batteries have no way to use the excess electricity generated during the day when the sun is shining and solar energy is in abundance. When households have solar energy they can’t use, it goes back into the power grid. Often, power companies pay households for giving back the extra power generated by solar, but not as much as they charge for the same amount of electricity later in the day, when people actually need it. Without a home battery, solar customers end up paying extra for the electricity they generated themselves, just like paying the power company to store the energy for them so they can use it later. Instead of giving more money to the power companies, why not just store it yourself? With a home battery, solar households have this opportunity.

Instead of selling electricity back to the grid, home battery owners get to keep their energy, and use it whenever they need it. This eases the workload of power plants, decreasing carbon emissions, and saves money for households with solar at the same time. Taking this into consideration, it’s hard to argue against Elon Musk when he says that all solar panel owners need a home battery. Without a home battery to store excess electricity, solar owners continue to throw money, and energy, at the power companies. Home batteries keep electricity and money in the hands of the consumer.

What’s Special About Tesla’s Powerwall

The Tesla Powerwall is a lithium-ion home battery that charges using electricity generated from solar panels. Lithium, the lightest of all metals, has the greatest electrochemical potential. This means that lithium provides the highest energy density per weight, far lighter and more efficient than the popular lead acid battery. The growth of lithium-ion technology has brought along with it many advantages. In comparison to batteries that have been popularly used in the past, lithium-ion batteries are cleaner, live longer, recycle better, and require much less maintenance.

Tesla’s Powerwall has gotten a lot of attention for sleek design, but the real headliner is its price. The 7 kWh daily cycle battery is available to installers for a mere $3K ($3.5K for the 10 kWh back-up model). The 220 lb, indoor/outdoor battery comes with a 10-year-warranty, so battery owners know that they not only have plenty of energy at night when the sun goes down, but reliable emergency back-up power as well.

First Stop: Australia

Australia is way ahead of the worldwide solar game, so it’s no surprise that Tesla has focused on Australia as one of the premier target markets. Some forward-thinking Australians, like Sydney’s Nick Pfitzner, have been tracking the Powerwall’s progress, and waiting first in line for a home battery of their own.

Nick Pfitzner, along with his wife and two children, live in the Sydney Hills District. Nick works in the Information Technology biz, and has been dreaming of his own solar energy fortress since the Powerwall’s unveiling last year. Finally, his dream has come true.

The Pfitzner family chose the 7 kilowatt hour Powerwall model, and had the battery installed along with new solar panels. When asked about the household’s motivation for installing the home battery and solar panels, Nick focused on the financial benefits.

“There’s obviously an underlying financial argument for having your own battery and leveraging the panels as much as we can,” he said. The Pfitzner family is looking forward to relying less on the power grid, especially with the growing price of Australian electricity in the evening hours. Nick figured that he would see a return on his home battery investment in less than eight years - maybe less if power rates rise, or if the rumors of an Australian carbon tax come to fruition.

When asked if his decision to install a Powerwall solar battery was environmentally motivated, Pfitzner answered that though it isn’t a huge focus for him, using renewable energy sources like solar power just makes sense. In Nick’s words, “I’m not a greenie, but we need to start doing something.”

On to the United Kingdom

The Powerwall home battery revolution has also hit the UK - specifically, a red-brick house in Wales. The first British owner of the Tesla Powerwall is named Mark Kerr, and like the Pfitzners, Mark and his family have been looking forward to owning a solar home battery for a long time.

Unlike the Pfitzner family, the Kerrs already owned 16 rooftop solar panels. They love generating, clean, free energy from the sun, but they encountered the problem all solar-without-storage households face: when the sun goes down, their electricity source goes with it. Not only that, but the unused electricity generated during the day was going into the power grid, instead of staying in the hands of the owners.

Well, not anymore. Now that Mark Kerr and his family have Tesla’s Powerwall home battery installed in their home, they get to keep and store all of the electricity their solar panels generated during the day. Mark Kerr, an electrician and self-proclaimed tech-head, was rightly excited.

“This is the future, definitely,” he said. “For me, this is the logical next step. We have the solar panels but we need a way to make best use of the power they produce.”

Like most families, the Kerrs are out of the house during the day, while their solar panels are working hard, generating electricity from the sun. Now, they’ll be able to use that energy when they come home in the evenings. It will be waiting for them, stored inside of their new Powerwall home battery.

Mark says he loves the sleek, minimalistic design of the Powerwall, and even goes so far to call it a “piece of art.” Tesla’s battery design does set it apart from other boxier batteries on the market. Mark’s partner, Lyndsey, said sometimes Mark disappears in the evenings, only to be found marveling at their new Powerwall.

The Kerrs say that they’re excited about the money they will save, and the independence they will have from the power grid. With the combination of solar panels and energy storage like the Powerwall, Kerr says that his electricity bills will be cut by about 80%. But money aside, Kerr also says that using and storing renewable energy just “seems like the right thing to do.”

Closer to Home: Vermont

This month, Americans have been left to drool over the Powerwall battery installations in Australia and the UK… but not for long. Reports say that customers of Green Mountain Power in Vermont will be the first to sign up for Tesla’s new home battery in the United States. Shipments of the Powerwall are supposed to have already started in January, with 10 pilot customers already named. After the initial 10 installations, GMP will open up home battery installation to all customers.

Green Mountain Power customers will have the option of sharing the battery with the utility company, and receiving a credit on their monthly electricity bills, or lease the Powerwall, paying a monthly fee for ownership without any money down.

So, how fast can you get a Powerwall installed in your own house?

We’ll keep you posted. Swell is excited to be one of the first providers of the Powerwall, and we’ll update our status every step of the way. In the meantime, make sure you don’t miss your chance to apply for any rebates you may qualify for. Not sure where to start? Let us help.

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