Imagine a high-tech home of the future. This house is outfitted with all the latest gadgets that save energy and make life easy: solar panels, water conserving plumbing systems, rainwater collection. The house and its residents have a miniscule carbon footprint, using only eco-friendly forms of transportation. This house can take care of itself, and never has to depend on fossil fuels.
This imaginary future world is the kind that Tesla CEO Elon Musk wants to create. And with Tesla’s latest announcement, they’re taking the next step towards making every home more sustainable.
For the future to be good, we need electric transport, solar power and (of course) … pic.twitter.com/8mwVWukQDL
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) April 29, 2015
“Our goal here is to fundamentally change the way the world uses energy at the extreme scale,” said Musk at the unveiling event for the battery in California this April. That’s big talk—and in order for him to follow through on that, he needs to have a revolutionary product.
His answer? The Tesla home battery, called the Powerwall, which will be sold starting late this summer, for a $3000 starting price (plus installation and connection costs).
How Does The Battery Work?
The battery itself is relatively small: 4 feet tall, 3 feet wide, and 7 inches thick. It’s designed to fit on the wall of your garage, and will be able to help users store energy throughout the day, to either reduce dependence on the energy grid (especially during peak hours, when energy is most expensive), or to get away from the grid completely.
This is especially exciting for people already generating their own home’s power via solar panels. Rather than selling the excess energy from the panels back to the grid and then re-purchasing it when needed, battery users would be able to store the power, for their own home’s use at any time. This has the effect of stabilizing solar power, making it a more attractive option for homes.
Kimbal Musk, Tesla board member and brother to the CEO, told CNNMoney that the new battery would cut users’ energy bills by 25%.
On paper, this seems like an exciting new development. Saving money! Dependable power! Support a company that cares! Reduce demand for grid power—that means fewer power plants being used!
But is it? Should we all rush out to buy these batteries?
Not unless you already own a full-home solar panel unit, and live in a region of high-sun and expensive grid power (areas like Hawaii, Arizona, and California). Currently, the Tesla battery stores up to 10kwH of charge—which would help solar-power users recoup the investment of the battery in at little as 3 years.
For the rest of us, who don’t fit this narrow lens, the benefits of a home battery as a backup power source would be negligible: the investment of the battery might not even pay for itself until at least 16 years of use, say reports from CNNMoney.
It’s true: the Tesla battery is not quite ready for mass consumption. But the idea is gaining a lot of traction, and pre-orders for the battery have so far exceeded anyone’s expectations: 38,000 inquiries in the first month alone.
Why This Idea Isn’t Revolutionary… Yet
As much as I hate to admit it, I’ve been guilty of some Tesla envy.
Just a few blocks away from my office sits a Tesla Motors store. Sleek Model S cars are artfully positioned behind wall-to-wall windows, gleaming in the sunlight. These sport cars not only look like Bond vehicles, they use no gasoline—something I care deeply about. And they’re quite possibly the future of small-scale transportation.
I’m thrilled these kinds of cars exist. And I want to see more of them, and to push Tesla to do more in our economy.
But I certainly won’t be purchasing a Tesla product anytime soon.
Why? Because there’s no way I can afford a car like that. That’s a luxury product, built for a tiny section of the population, and priced as such. Even Tesla’s plans for the Model 3, their current prototype for a more affordable car, will still be out of the budgets of millions.
And unfortunately, the affordability problem is what could stop Tesla’s home battery from taking hold. Don’t let the Apple-like fuss distract you: these batteries, the ones Musk just advertised, are not made for middle-class Americans. They are made for luxury goods purchasers.
Yes, the battery could save people money and offer a more sustainable alternative to getting power from the grid. And yes, this is a logical next step in green tech. But if the price isn’t acccessible to people who need it most, then is it truly effecting any change?
Musk has stated that he wants to start with the top-down with the car market, and make electric cars a status symbol, before lowering the price for all. And he’s doing this with Tesla’s cars, so far. There’s plenty to say he’ll also make home batteries affordable for all in the long term, too. But we as consumers must put pressure on Tesla to make sure they stay committed to improving access.
Taking this big step towards in-home batteries is of course an amazing feat, but it’s by no means the most important step towards a cleaner world. We must make sure great ideas like these have impact across diverse communities, and will be useable by more than just the most affluent.
I’m keeping my eye on Tesla. I believe they have the ability to revolutionize everyday energy consumption. But clean energy shouldn’t be a luxury product, and it’s high time for Tesla to take steps away from the luxury market once and for all.
Kelsey Ryan is the editor of Groundswell’s magazine. She’s a linguist, fledgling Tolkien scholar, knitter, Oxford comma proponent, and firm believer in the use of stories for social good. Explore her website, or connect on Twitter: @kryanlion.