What’s this I hear about Elon Musk inventing a new kind of battery?

Elon Musk is a media darling. The young, ambitious, physics-educated CEO has made himself the poster child for “green” entrepreneurship and gives the impression that he wants to change the world. He is behind some decidedly pretty cool ideas such as SolarCity, Tesla Motors, Hyperloop, and SpaceX. His renewable energy ambitions were seeded by fortunes acquired early in his career through owning shares in other successful projects, most notably PayPal.

Recently, there has been buzz in the news about Tesla Motors most recent gadgety output – The Tesla Home Battery. The intention is to provide energy storage for backup in the event of a power outage, and storage for consumers’ residential wind and solar systems. A SolarCity pilot program has given a few hundred customers the opportunity try it out.

Not a whole lot of information has been released about the nuts and bolts of the technology, although one very recent article claimed that more will be known this Thursday, April 30th. It has been difficult to find technical information about how this battery is supposed to work, how efficient it is, why it is unique, and if it is worth the expense. Sources say it is a large lithium ion battery, but lithium-ion battery technology has been around since the 1970s. It will be interesting to learn what the innovations actually are.

While Tesla initially planned on selling it for $13,000, they have now decided to lease it for a down payment of $1,500 plus $15/month for 10 years. [Source]. Therefore, it seems that at $3,300 for the first 10 years, and $1,800 for each additional decade, a 30-year lease will be around $6,900 rather than $13,000.

This pricing strategy raises some questions. What is the payback? It seems like you would have to look at the lifetime of the battery and the amount of money you would save in electricity costs by using the battery instead of the power grid for back-up power when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing. Also, what are the environmental costs of producing these large lithium ion batteries? What is the total life cycle cost of the battery? Specifically, what do we do with it when it doesn’t work anymore?

Is it really as revolutionary as the news makes it seem? It seems wise to wait until more information is available.

EDIT: The Tesla Powerwall has been released! It’s quite different from what the above journalists described.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s