One of the common refrains about solar and wind is that the sun doesn’t always shine (actually it does but not always on us) and that the wind doesn’t always blow. In short, solar and wind can’t always provide power when we need it. Often that means that solar and wind have been consigned as a supplemental resource in our just-in-time power system. It also has caused many problems between early adopters of these renewables and the power companies as they fight over the price of sales to the grid (net metering) vs charging solar users extra to help support the grid. The problem has been power storage – our system and technology do not let us generate power and store it for when we need it.
Last night (actually this morning), Elon Musk announced that he wanted the entire United States to convert to batteries – for home, office and business use and that he further wanted the entire United States to fuel those batteries with solar power. Now, most of us would think that was an amazing futuristic projection. However, Musk is the CEO of Tesla – the high end electric car manufacturer – so he knows about batteries. Further, he’s the cousin to the CEO of, and a major investor in, SolarCity – a firm that is leasing rooftops for solar panels (and then selling the electricity to the roof-owners. So, when he says he wants to get us off coal, oil and natural gas and onto solar and wind, he’s worth listening to. He says we can eliminate the grid.
He is now offering for sale the Tesla Powerwall which is a lithium ion batterypack for $3,500 each. It would take about 3 of them to power a whole home but these could be hooked up to a house with solar panels and the panels could be used to charge the batteries which then could eliminate the need to be on the grid at all. He actually thinks we can eliminate all fossil fuel use in the United States – he said that it would take 2 billion battery units to do it but that equals the number of cars driving on the planet today – his thinking being if we can have 2 billion cars, we can have 2 billion batteries.
He’s got a “gigafactory” going up in Nevada to make these batteries and says there will be more. This could change everything about our economy and our environment and could unshackle our economy in ways not seen since the industrial revolution. Have all the questions been answered about how much this would cost and how long these batteries will last? Not yet, but that was one intriguing announcement and it could lead to some really interesting and positive changes for the planet and our economy. It looks like the Tesla was merely the wrapper and the battery technology may be the true gift. I, for one, will be watching.