Shortly after Tesla's big announcement, critics took some of the shine off Powerwall's stylish lenticular case, arguing that the devices only made financial sense as toys for wealthy, green early adopters [source: Helman]. Even the largest U.S. rooftop installer, SolarCity, whose chairman and largest shareholder is Tesla CEO Elon Musk, opted not to initially provide Powerwalls to current customers, saying they are not yet cost-effective [sources: Geuss; Randall; Vance]. Instead, the company plans to offer the batteries to its Hawaiian customers in 2016 [sources: Geuss; Helman; Randall]. It also will allow new customers to opt into the Powerwall as part of a nine-year, $5,000 lease plan, or to buy it themselves at $7,140 — quite a jolt compared to Tesla's $3,000 price tag [sources: Galbraith; Downing and Goossens; Randall].
Why the extra cost? We can speculate that some of the extra cash will cover leasing fees and the costs of an inverter. Tesla claims its Powerwall requires no upkeep, but other details that affect the batteries' lifetime remain unclear and unproven, so some of the price might include replacement costs. Current deep-cycle batteries need swapping out roughly four times over the lifetime of solar panels. It's also possible that, given the Powerwall's 2 kW stream, SolarCity plans to equip its clients with two units each [source: Helman].
Powerwall adopters could trim a lot of fat, and possibly make their bets pay off, by owning their own equipment or by pooling community resources but, again, this is largely speculative [sources: Helman; Gangemi].
For now, Tesla's entry into the battery market is a gamble, and a big one. On the positive side, Tesla has already forged partnerships with corporate heavy hitters, and its price point looks attractive to utilities. The greenies and the gadget junkies of the world will join in no matter what and, in terms of bang per buck, no other residential cell is fit to hold Tesla's battery box. If the cost of lithium-ion batteries continues to drop as fast as that of PV systems, then the future of Tesla's stationary batteries could look bright indeed [source: Randall].
That said, in absolute terms the Powerwall remains pricey. Moreover, the company that makes it is on track to lose $500 million in 2015, burns through money like tire rubber and sports the kind of overamped stock prices that would make a dot-com blush — all of which could add up to a sustainability company that's not very sustainable [sources: Helman].
Tesla Powerwalls will become available in late summer 2015 in the U.S., sometime that year in Europe and early in the next in the Asia-Pacific region [source: Galbraith]. After that, only time will tell whether Tesla's batteries jolt the grid or fizzle out.
Author's Note: How the Tesla Powerwall Works
The real story of Tesla Energy is arguably the gigafactory currently under construction in northern Nevada. If its production projections are to be believed, the world might actually have to struggle to produce enough lithium to keep up — at least, if it wants to keep the carbon footprint down. But if it can be done, and if they can manage not to bankrupt Reno's water supply, the benefits to battery technology could be truly transformative.
More Great Links
- Aziz, John. "Does Solar Energy Have a Battery Problem?" The Week. Sept. 22, 2014. (May 15, 2015) http://theweek.com/articles/444064/does-solar-energy-have-battery-problem
- Chereb, Sandra. "Tesla Battery Factory Near Reno Will Gulp Water." Las Vegas Review-Journal. Dec. 20, 2014. (May 19, 2015) http://www.reviewjournal.com/news/water-environment/tesla-battery-factory-near-reno-will-gulp-water
- CNN. "Tesla Wants to Power Your Home With a Battery." April 22, 2015. (May 18, 2015) http://money.cnn.com/2015/04/22/technology/tesla-home-battery/
- Cusick, Daniel and ClimateWire. "Solar Power Sees Unprecedented Boom in U.S." Scientific American. March 10, 2015. (May 18, 2015) http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/solar-power-sees-unprecedented-boom-in-u-s/
- Don Rowe Inverter Sales. (June 3, 2015) https://www.donrowe.com/usage-chart-a/259.htm
- Downing, Louise and Ehren Goossens. "Musk's SolarCity First in Line for Tesla Batteries." Bloomberg Business. May 1, 2015. (May 15, 2015) http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-05-01/musk-s-solarcity-customers-first-in-line-to-get-tesla-batteries
- Fehrenbacher, Katie. "Why Tesla's Grid Batteries Will Use Two Different Chemistries." Fortune. May 18, 2015. (May 19, 2015) https://fortune.com/2015/05/18/tesla-grid-batteries-chemistry/
- Fronius International. "Fronius Energy Package Available from June." Jan. 28, 2015. (May 13, 2015) http://www.fronius.com/cps/rde/xchg/fronius_international/hs.xsl/83_20054_ENG_HTML.htm?inc=108602.htm#.VVNoZvlVhBd
- Fuhs, Michael. "Forecast 2030: Stored Electricity at $0.05/kwh." PV Magazine. Sept. 26, 2014. (May 15, 2015) http://www.pv-magazine.com/news/details/beitrag/forecast-2030—stored-electricity-at-005-kwh_100016581/#axzz3aE6sTSiv
- Galbraith, Kate. "With Tesla Entering Market, Hopes for Home Batteries Grow." The New York Times. May 13, 2015. (May 13, 2015) http://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/14/business/international/with-tesla-entering-market-hopes-for-home-batteries-grow.html
- Gangemi, Jeffrey. "Selling Power Back to the Grid." Bloomberg Business. July 5, 2006. (May 15, 2015) http://www.bloomberg.com/bw/stories/2006-07-05/selling-power-back-to-the-grid
- Geuss, Megan. "Tesla Already has 38,000 Reservations for the Powerwall, but Use Case is Narrow." Ars Technica. May 6, 2015. (May 13, 2015) http://arstechnica.com/business/2015/05/tesla-already-has-38000-reservations-for-the-powerwall-but-use-case-is-narrow/
- Gies, Erica. "Lithium Producer Chases Tesla's Bold Battery Plan." The New York Times. March 16, 2014. (May 15, 2015) http://www.nytimes.com/2014/03/17/business/energy-environment/lithium-producer-chases-teslas-bold-battery-plan.html
- Groom, Nichola. "Tesla Faces Competition for Customers, Subsidies." Reuters. May 4, 2015. (June 2, 2015) http://www.reuters.com/article/2015/05/04/tesla-motors-batteries-competition-idUSL1N0XS2AH20150504
- Helman, Christopher. "OK, So Maybe Tesla's Powerwall Isn't 'Only' For Rich, Green People." Forbes. May 11, 2015. (May 15, 2015) http://www.forbes.com/sites/christopherhelman/2015/05/11/ok-so-maybe-teslas-powerwall-isnt-only-for-rich-green-people/
- Illinois Environmental Protection Agency. "Peaker Power Plant Fact Sheet." (May 15, 2015) http://www.epa.state.il.us/air/fact-sheets/peaker-power-plant.html
- Lighting Global. "Lithium-ion Battery Overview." Technical Notes. Vol. 10. May 2012. (May 19, 2015) https://www.lightingglobal.org/wp-content/uploads/bsk-pdf-manager/67_Issue10_Lithium-ionBattery_TechNote_final.pdf
- National Museum of American History. "The Public Utility Regulatory Policies Act." (May 19, 2015) http://americanhistory.si.edu/powering/past/history4.htm
- New Mexico Solar Energy Association. "Calculate the cost of Photovoltaic Systems (Home Solar Electricity)." (May 15, 2015) http://www.nmsea.org/Curriculum/7_12/Cost/calculate_solar_cost.htm
- Oglethorpe Power Corp. "Types of Power Plants: Peaking Plants." (May 15, 2015) http://www.opc.com/PoweringGeorgia/TypesofPowerPlants/PeakingPlants/index.htm
- Randall, Tom. "Tesla's New Battery Doesn't Work That Well With Solar." Bloomberg Business. May 6, 2015. (May 13, 2015) http://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2015-05-06/tesla-s-new-battery-doesn-t-work-that-well-with-solar
- Sherman, Don. "When Electric-Car Batteries Die, Where Will They End Up?" The New York Times. June 11, 2010. (May 15, 2015) http://www.nytimes.com/2010/06/13/automobiles/13RECYCLE.html
- Tesla Motors. "Gigafactory." Feb. 26, 2014. (May 19, 2015) http://www.teslamotors.com/blog/gigafactory
- Tesla Motors. "Planned 2020 Gigafactory Production Exceeds 2013 Global Production." 2013. (May 19, 2015) http://www.teslamotors.com/sites/default/files/blog_attachments/gigafactory.pdf
- Tesla Motors. "Tesla Energy." 2015. (May 13, 2015) http://www.teslamotors.com/presskit
- Tesla Motors. "Powerwall Tesla Home Battery." 2015. (May 13, 2015) http://www.teslamotors.com/powerwall
- U.S. Energy Information Administration (USEIA). "Average Retail Price of Electricity, Monthly" http://www.eia.gov/electricity/data/browser/#/topic/7?agg=2,0,1&geo=g&freq=M
- U.S. Energy Information Administration (USEIA). "How Much Electricity Does an American Home Use?" http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=97&t=3
- Wald, Matthew. "An Afterlife for the Electric Car." The New York Times. Nov. 14, 2012. (May 15, 2015) http://green.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/11/14/an-afterlife-for-the-electric-car/