Battery revolution?

There has been a lot of excitement and discussion about the launch of Tesla’s new battery system which is touted as the missing link in off grid solar systems.  I’ve heard some people say that the Tesla batteries last twice as long and charge twice as fast as “normal batteries”.  All of the hype prompted me to take a closer look.
I’m certainly no expert when it comes to solar systems, but having lived off the grid for many years and designed and built my own solar and wind system I know enough to figure out whether something is a quantum leap in technology.

As far as I can see the Tesla battery offers a nice aesthetically packaged consumer friendly battery system.  Most people with an interest in solar know the fundamentals. For example:

 Charge your batteries properly;

Don’t discharge below 50%;

Don’t discharge rapidly; etc … Etc…

The Tesla system appears to manage all this for you electronically optimising charge and discharge rates, but at a price.  They even come in pretty colours to suit your house, but I don’t see it as a huge leap in technology and it appears that the battery chemistry is nothing more special than the latest development in lithium ion.

The positive thing about this is that most consumers tend to like simplicity and will appreciate the plug and play package and it may encourage more people to take a step toward moving off the grid.  If that happens then the price of batteries should follow the same trend as solar panels, which are significantly cheaper than they were 10 years ago. 

Unfortunately most consumers are used to using electricity without any appreciation of the math behind the supply and usage equation. For example, the single Tesla pack can only provide a constant 2kw which means you won’t be running an air conditioner in a large home, or a hairdryer and a kettle simultaneously.  This probably ensures some longevity to the package and Tesla probably limited the discharge load so they can confidently provide a ten year warranty.  The answer is then to buy multiple Tesla units, which now becomes even more expensive than mains electricity or alternatively (and far more sensibly) start to be more considerate of power usage in the home.  My neighbour who leaves their TV and outside light on 24/7 could take this tip.

For me, the refrigerator and freezer is the biggest consumer of electricity.  I only use LED bulbs and my vacuum cleaner is 1000 watts.  Gas is used for cooking so 1 Tesla unit would do me just fine. I used to get by with a 1200watt inverter for just about everything.

It’s a nice development, but definitely not as revolutionary as many people are suggesting. It’s the first time that a battery system capable of running a house has been nicely packaged in a plug and play package. A company called Goal Zero has been doing something similar on a much smaller portable scale for well over a year.

Goal Zero’s range of portable battery systems

It will be interesting to see the price of the Tesla units when they hit The Australian market.  You’ll still need to factor in the cost of solar panels, wiring and an inverter.  So as Flavor Flav would say, “don’t believe the hype”.

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