Tesla’s $13,000 battery could keep your home online in a blackout

“Tesla isn’t expected to spill the beans about its battery system until Thursday, but thanks to investment analyst Trip Chowdhry, we have some details ahead of the big announcement,” Benjamin Preston reports for The Guardian. “Built to work in concert with residential solar power setups, the Tesla battery system is basically an uninterruptible power supply (UPS) that is large enough to keep refrigerators, routers, lights and other devices powered up when storms and other unforeseen incidents take grid power out of commission.”

“The system is offered, currently, in 10 and 15 kwh configurations to solar customers who do not own electric vehicles or plug-in hybrids; the battery pack costs about $13,000, and Pacific Gas & Electric offers a 50% rebate for using the system (presumably because it can be used to decrease load on the grid during peak use hours); financing is set up for the customer to make an initial $1,500 payment, followed by $15 monthly payments for 10 years (at the end of which the battery is returned to SolarCity); Tesla has permission from customers to monitor data from the systems; and Tesla packages the battery pack in what Chowdhry described as an attractive cabinet, available in white or a dark color,” Preston reports.

“Why install a battery system at home? Chowdhry pointed to customers relying upon constant connection with ‘the digital highway,’ noting that it could take up to 45 minutes to re-power devices and re-set digital clocks when the power went out,” Preston reports. “‘If you are a gadget person living a digital life – you have iPhones and computers and you always want to be connected – the storage battery is a dream come true,’ he said.”

Much more in the full article here.

MacDailyNews Take: Who’s in?

42 Comments

    1. Absolutely. Also if you could have a smaller version to take over power instantly till your gas/propane powered generator kicks in.
      But why does the battery go back to Solar City after you have paid for it?

      1. You didn’t pay for it. Your lease is up. But, battery technology being what it is, you probably wouldn’t want it in 10 years. There will be something newer and better available.

      2. It will very likely have degraded significantly in performance after 10 years. Returning it to the manufacturer will guarantee it’s recycled, not just dumped for all the nasties it contains to eventually leak into the water table and soil.

    1. Perhaps. But he didn’t have to imagine much. The product was already offered to Solarcity customers. It’s on the Solarcity website, although not currently available. I’d caution anyone to doing the lease deal. You end up paying for it, but in the end you get nothing but holes in your house and it complicates things greatly when you go to sell your house.

    2. Exactly. This chowderhead completely misses the mark – again. UPS my arse. Yes, it could be used for that, but the real use to to supply a home or commercial property with stored power captured from solar energy when there is no sun.

      Many power utilities, and our antiquated electrical grid in general, have a real problem with individual electrical consumption nodes (like your home) returning energy that you might generate back into the grid. It was never designed for that. Not being able to store excess energy generated from solar panels wastes its utility, so having a battery storage system can make solar power more practical.

      Like I said, I understand that a battery can act as a UPS of sorts during blackouts and brownouts. But the real use is to make every bit of energy count, not only during daylight hours, but at night as well.

      Why an idiot like Chowdry continues to be quoted is beyond my comprehension. Or just about any other analyst for that matter. They are anything but all-knowing oracles. In fact, their job is to crunch numbers, estimate corporate earnings and make salient recommendations based on their research, something that they don’t do particularly well.

      May God have mercy on us all.

  1. So how long will this power my house in the event of a Public Grid Power failure? Anyone do the math? A lot of folks here in Oklahoma are going to a Solar + Wind solution using an automatic transfer switch, however that solution costs about $60,000 and the weak spot is the battery play to “smooth” things over – i.e. wind turbine and solar panels charge battery plant and house pulls from the battery plant.

    1. How much power do you use in a day? Look at your electric bill, it’ll tell you what you used in a month and what your daily average was. I use about 19kwh in a day, so a 10kwh or 15kwh battery would power me for half a day or so. Of course, if you have an outage, you tend to conserve, so I’m sure I can stretch it for a day.

      Of course, I already have a standby generator that’ll last a week that cost me $4000. The $3300 10 yr lease seems like a fair deal to me.

      Also, Home Depot has been selling for years a battery backup system for $5k to $13k called Geneforce.

    2. Combined with a solar system, it *could* last indefinitely. If the 15kwh system is only enough to last 1/2 a day, guess what? That means is lasts through the night, then recharges during the day to be ready to use again the next night. Cloudy, rainy days would be the only thing that would then mess you up. Since that is normally when most of us have power outages, that is a significant problem, but those storms don’t normally last more than a day. Sure, once a year they might last longer, but in my part of the desert, we never complain about it!

      1. I had a 6KW solar panel setup installed a year ago. I’m in NC, which has a 35% state tax credit in addition to the 30% fed one, so the $31k setup cost me about $10-11 after tax credits, for anyone interested.

        One problem with the “solar + battery” idea is that you’d still need grid tie-in for most people. While my panels generate virtually all our power needs (unless A/C is running), they do require fairly sunny days.

        And a few clouds aren’t the problem, actually. It’s overcast days that are the killer. My panels unfortunately couldn’t face south (ideal if in North America), but I still put out over 4500 watts on a clear day, for about 6-8 straight hours, peaking at almost 6000 for an hour or two around noon.

        In really overcast days, the system will peak at around 1000 watts max output, and I’ve actually seen REALLY overcast days where it didn’t crack 500 watts all day.

        Though infrequent, days like that will mean the battery that got drained last night won’t get recharged during the day.

        Not saying it wouldn’t be a sweet setup (I’ll likely look into the batteries at some point), but “off the grid” won’t work for most, unless you’re prepared for the occasional multi-day stretch where your house is “dark” at night.

        1. Therein lies the fundamental problem with solar or wind power, a complete electrical generation capability must be in standby to provide power when renewals aren’t available.

          And no, you can’t just throw the switch at a nuke to suddenly supply power on a hot or cold day or at night. They must run continuously.

          If we all had solar + battery power, we’d still need the nuke plant… and someone has to pay for it.

          1. I am a fan of the intelligent use of nuclear power. It beats coal by a long shot. But you are unfairly and unreasonably exaggerating the availability issue with renewables. First of all, the renewable energy sources will be diversified – solar, wind, hydro, wave/current. You will not experience a major loss of all of these renewable sources across the nation at one time. Second, it is reasonable to expect that the power generation mix in the U.S. will include nuclear and fossil fuel power plants for some time to come. But the growth will be covered by renewables rather than new fossil fuel plants, with new nuclear plants hopefully replacing the older ones and providing a solid power generation base for the country. Third, there are analyses that show that a diversified mix of renewables actually improve power grid reliability and availability.

            Base your viewpoints on facts and science, not gut feel.

    1. It really depends upon your usage.

      The “average” home user probably has a 100 Amp feed (some, like me have a 400 Amp feed) at 240 volts for a maximum usage of 24 kW. If you’re drawing that maximum then you’re only going to get about 35 minutes to finish what you’re doing and shut everything down to the absolute bare necessities.

      Everything scales from there. If you’re only pulling 25 Amps at that 240 volt main line input then the run time would be about 2.5 hours.

      If all you’re doing is keeping the bare necessities going: a few lights, your refrigerator, electronic controls on your furnace in the winter when a lot of blackouts happen in northern states, a few clocks, etc., and have shut down all “technology devices” then you can probably run a day or more.

      For me, a whole house setup needs to run at least four hours with typical usage for it to be worth it to me. This system does not even come close to that. It might help everything run through a quick brownout or short blackout, but for cases where the power is out for an hour or more, it’s useless to me (and I suspect many, many others). I’ll stick with a natural gas generator. It works and can power what I need for days off one large tank.

  2. People, if your power goes out, so does your internet since everything outside your home will likely also be down, so it’s unlikely that you will still be connected in the event of a power failure even if you can power up your modem. On the other hand, keeping everything in your freezer frozen is a good idea ($13,000 just so you don’t have to reset all the digital clocks in your home is a bit of overkill, if you ask me)…

    1. Actually not necessarily. Just because a power line goes out, doesn’t mean the cable line gets taken out as well. In 90% of my outages, I can still report the power outage to my power company via their website, since my computer, cable modem and router are on a UPS. The other 10% of the time, I can just use my cellphone to report the outage.

      1. Yep. Just a week or two ago, we had a power outage, yet were still able to email and so forth. Internet service was still up. Cell phone service was still up. Key computers in the office were up thanks to our own UPS. Power was restored much more quickly that day than our usual hour outage.

    2. uuhhh no. Not sure if you noticed that Cell Towers, Cable TV Data “Points of Presence” (POPs), and Phone Company Central Offices (COs) all have battery plants and / or generators. Most telecom services stay up…even through disasters like Hurricane Sandy and floods such as New Orleans…there will almost certainly be “impediments” to some service but for the most part the US Telecoms do a great job of pushing diversity and reliability into their networks. If you can keep your gear up, your service provider will be trying to do the same.

  3. I am living in California and planning to go solar. This is exactly what I want. Still not sure how long this would power my home, and that would be my primary question.

  4. I am on the fence about solar. I have had discussions with Solar City. I am not inclined to go the utility rout. Also I haven’t found very many alternative vendors, though I am sure there are some. Anyway, I am not sure that $13,000 justifies the benefit from power outages. I do realize that “is” the cost of the function. But power is so stable, and the inconvenience of an occasional, if not once a year or every other year outage for 10 to 30 minutes, is all that critical. All my clocks set themselves. So I am simply of the mind they are selling to a problem that does not exist or they are overstating it.

    I would rather pay $200, to replace a smaller unit every other year.

  5. While I like the idea of solar, I’m not yet sold on Solar City. They will install a solar system on your house for basically free (they keep the government subsidies for their payment). You agree to pay a fixed monthly fee to them for 20 years to use the system. They perform all system maintenance for free, because they own the system, not you.

    The amount you pay typically covers about a quarter of the electricity you draw from the public utility. Your discount, over time, is presumably from the difference you’ve contacted to pay monthly and the anticipated rate increases the utility company will make over that time. This battery system will simply tack on another $15 a month to give you some protection during a utility power outage for 10 years, much like a standalone UPS does for your computer.

    So, for an agreement to let Solar City add a (their) solar plant on your house, you get to stabilize a portion of your monthly electric bill, and now add a whole house UPS battery for occasional outages. Throw in a whole house surge protection breaker, and it sounds pretty attractive.

    Two things have given me pause with them. One is not their fault, that of the efficiency of the system. Today’s solar panels have improved greatly, but covering half the area of your roof won’t give you more than ~30% max of your electricity needs, on a typical 2500 sf home. I’d like to double that before I saddle my home with obsolete panels for 20 years. There’s nothing in their agreement about upgrading the system’s capacity as technology improves, so after installation, you’re done for 20 years. Secondly, their current customer service is abysmal. Virtually every review I read of their system was terrible. This is not Apple responsiveness or quality ownership of their stuff. The only good reviews I read were from customers who haven’t needed to use their customer service yet, and love having a functioning solar system on their homes to control their energy costs over the next 20 years. If you move, I believe, their contract can be incorporated into the sale of your home for the next owners. Solar City will also simply sell you the system if you want, as well. Then you add on the cost to maintain it.

    I really like the idea of solar. But until I can get a system that covers at least 2/3 of my monthly electricity needs, or is at least upgradeable when the technology catches up to make that possible, it sounds like a marginal deal at best. Throw in the need for a responsive, reliable maintenance contract to actually close the deal.

    I was an early adopter of solar hot water for my home in the 80s. The system worked great for about three years, which made it a break even cost for me, but when it failed the vendor had gone out of business and I was left on my own to get it fixed. In the end, I was left with an unusable system on my roof, so any new solar purchase/contractor will have to cross a few more hurtles to get my business again.

      1. It depends completely on where you live, guys. In northern states, it probably is close to 30% offset, which often correlates to a 20-year payback. In some southern states, it’s probably closer to 60% offset and a 10-year payback.

        Not sure where offset is 83% unless you’re talking about southern California, or only during the sunniest 2-3 months a year.

    1. If a system the size of mine (24 panels, 6000 Watts total) wouldn’t cover at least 60% of your power needs, I’d seriously look at where you’re burning so much power.

      I have a 3000sq ft home, 3 refrigerators (one is a larger “dorm sized” in the man-cave), two home theater setups w/ 46″ & 60″ TVs, several computers, etc, and my solar setup easily covers 60% of my annual needs.

      If that sounds low to you, you may want to (1) invest in compact fluorescent or LED bulbs everywhere (I went CFL 4-6 years ago…thanks Costco!!), (2) turn OFF your heat and A/C when you don’t actually need it (you’d likely be shocked at how often they kick in even when the temp outside is the same as your setting!!!), and (3) buy a kill-a-watt or similar meter and find out where your power leaks are.

      I have a nine-bulb chandelier in my foyer. The builder put in 60-watt incandescents, so 540 watts anytime it’s on!!! 13-watt CFLs dropped that to around 100W. Huge savings!!

      Among other things,it turned out for me that the home theater system in my man-cave was drawing over 150 watts…24X7, 365 a year. I rarely use it, so I simply turned off the outlet strips into which it was all plugged. Super easy to turn on when needed!!

      We have 3 guest rooms that have a guest maybe 3-5 days a year. Between clock radios, cordless phone chargers, and “ghost” draw from TVs that were “off,” that was another 200 or so watts…again, 24X7, for NO reason. Turned off outlet strips and unplugged a few things, very easy a to reverse if/when needed for guests.

      I have an old MacPro that I use as a media server for our AppleTVs…turns out that it draws about 250W (w/ 4 internal mirrored drives)!! Sleep mode and “wake for network access” solved that one!

      Look around your own home and you can probably easily shave off 200W or more of constant draw. The power monitor included with my solar panels made it easy to monitor usage and waste, but they’re available separately.

      1. Replacing your chandelier bulbs with CFLs was NOT a “huge savings”. Do the math… Unless you use them 12 hours/day, 365 days/year, your annual savings were probably actually in the $10 ballpark. It will take you a year or two just to recover the cost of buying those pieces of junk.

        The average home spends only about 10% of its electric bill on lighting. The biggest power consumers are air conditioning, heating, water heating, cooking, and other large appliances. So, replacing all the incandescents with CFL’s probably saves the average home less than $50/year – less than what it costs to buy the CFL’s.

        Personally, I hate CFLs with a passion. They aren’t allowed in my home. Fluorescent is the absolutely worst quality of light available, and ecologically, they’re terrible. I went around and removed every single one of them when I moved into a new house last fall so I wouldn’t have to stab myself in the eyes with forks to stop the obnoxiousness. I threw them in a drawer because I don’t know what to do with them. I’d throw them in the trash where they belong, but I don’t want to put that crap in a landfill, and I don’t want to waste time and gas to figure out where to recycle them.

        You could have replaced those 60w incandescent bulbs with 30w incandescents. 270w would have been fine for a foyer. You’d have saved a little less money than CFLs, but you’d have a far superior quality of light.

    2. If you sell your house, your options are to have them remove the system at your expense and reinstall it on your new house at your expense, OR get the new home owner to agree to assume the remainder of your lease agreement OR to pay off the lease and eat the loss. The Solarcity lease is an unbreakable obligation.

      If you die, your heir or estate will still have to pay off the obligation. And if you think having Solarcity will improve the price of the resale of your house, think again. Imagine wanting to buy a house and then suddenly being told that you now have an additional contractual obligation. Doesn’t seem appealing.

      There’s another sneaky secret of Solarcity. Not only do you not get the government tax credit for installing the system. You also don’t get the renewable energy credit. Every quarter, owners of solar panel get a credit for the amount of renewable energy produced by their system. Those credits can be traded, bought and sold. That additional money goes to Solarcity. Your system is very valuable to their financial partners as it is guaranteed income. They sell off the income of your payments and the energy credits to their financial partners who turn these obligations into financial instruments, much like the how Wall Street took all those bad mortgages and turned them into a huge amount of money just before they cratered the economy.

      I’m not educated enough on financial instruments to predict how this could go very wrong. But if it does go wrong and if Solarcity goes under, I’d imagine that could cause a lot of problems for people with these systems installed.

      The “fixed price” for electricity isn’t quite as appealing as it sound because in the contracts, it still goes up. The price you are paying to SolarCity also goes up over time. The difference is that they lay out the price increases in the contract. Yes it’s fixed, but it goes up over time at a known rate.

    3. It’s “FREE” – the government subsidized it!

      The frigging TAXPAYERS paid for your fancy battery.

      No wonder this country is going to h*ll in a hand basket.

  6. My Generac Guardian cost less than 3 grand and runs off natural gas.

    It works like a charm so far and its paid for.
    Granted the tesla option sounds like it does a bit more than just handle the power when things go down.

  7. I don’t own a Tesla vehicle, but it would be great to use the battery in a Model S to power your home in the event of a power outage.

    It’s not the same thing as having an automatic transfer switch to cutover to battery backup in the loss of power, but it would a great use of the 60-80kWh battery in the Model S.

    1. The Nissan Leaf also has a “home backup power” option that let’s the car battery serve as house auxiliary power in times of need. The technology is here.

  8. EXPENSIVE.

    Tesla packages the battery pack in what Chowdhry described as an attractive cabinet, available in white or a dark color

    So this massive cost is for an attractive cabinet?

    I need hardly point out that anyone can create an array of cheap, ordinary car batteries, throw in a transformer, and do this themselves for maybe a 10th of Tesla’s price. It will be ugly and take up lots of room! But it would do the same thing. (I’ll skip pointing out the carbon fuel based generators of even cheaper).

  9. This is the beginning of the decentralized grid. One day, the awful power lines that scar the mountains will be melted down into windmills and the trees will grow back. Taking wealthy power wasters off the grid and having them transfer power back to the grid, will load balance a lot of communities whose power lines were not built to support the 8 full size A/C unites it takes to air condition a 16,000 sq. ft. mansion or 4 that it takes for a McMansion. In fact, in places like Greenwich Connecticut, it will have a very positive effect on line sag in the summer in certain neighborhoods where you have above ground powerlines going to a subdivided mcMansion hell.

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