Tesla 'R' Us: more solar firms partner with the Powerwall


Tesla’s Powerwall battery storage system has enjoyed an auspicious start to life in the competitive renewable energy industry, turning heads and earning partnerships across the solar spectrum.

Yesterday pv magazine reported that both inverter specialist Fronius and residential solar provider Sunrun had both announced collaborations with the Tesla Powerwall, and today comes news that a further handful of leading solar firms have confirmed partnerships to bundle the battery with their own service or product.

In Germany, energy and IT company LichtBlick will integrate the Powerwall home battery into its service, which offers residents of Germany the chance to source their power from smart decentralized power plants and storage systems.

"The new Tesla Powerwall represents a milestone, since powerful, affordable batteries are a key technology in the distributed energy revolution," said LichtBlick CEO and founder Heiko von Tschischwitz.

In Australia, start-up firm Reposit Power will sell the Powerwall in the wholesale electricity market, tying-up its GridCredits technology with the battery pack, and thus potentially offering homeowners the chance to earn many multiples of what they would receive via a normal feed-in tariff (FIT).

"I hope down the track companies like AGL (Australian Gas Light Company) will realize that consumers can provide protection from wholesale volatility for them and reward them for doing it," said Reposit CEO Luke Osborne, adding: "When prices go very high, consumers can stop consuming, and that is a valuable service that consumers can provide, just like a peaking power station."

One of the biggest partnerships announced was the collaboration between Israel-headquartered power optimizer company SolarEdge and Tesla.

SolarEdge will offer the Powerwall battery alongside its DC optimized inverter solution, delivering to customers a combination of automotive-grade energy storage and optimizer technology designed to provide the most efficient solar yield from a typical solar system.

"Tesla’s collaboration with SolarEdge unites leading organizations in two rapidly-growing industries – solar energy and energy storage – to bring homeowners a more cost-effective and integrated energy generation, storage and consumption solution," said Tesla CTO JB Straubel. "SolarEdge’s commitment to improving the value of PV systems through product innovation, combined with more than 1.3 GW of successful deployments, makes it an ideal partner for Tesla to develop and introduce this new energy storage solution to the PV market."

SolarCity, which was co-founded by Tesla CEO Elon Musk, will incorporate the new Powerwall into a turnkey solar offering at costs 60% below its previous all-inclusive product, and will also partner the Tesla energy storage system with its recently launched GridLogic microgrid, offering decentralized solar power and backup to municipalities and communities in need of a microgrid solution.

At commercial-scale, the Tesla Powerpack – a larger version of the newly launched Powerwall – will be installed at a beef processing facility in Fresno, California, via a collaboration between utility Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E), Tesla and food producer Cargill.

The 1 MW storage solution will help to reduce energy costs by storing electricity during off-peak times and using it during peak demand times. In total, Cargill estimates that the installation will save more than $100,000 in electricity bills annually.

"Tesla Energy Storage is another example of our willingness to employ new and different concepts for reducing our environmental footprint in ways that benefit the community and our beef business," said Cargill beef plant general manager at Fresno, Jon Nash. "Proper stewardship of the resources required to produce food is crucial to the ongoing success of our business and is important to current and future generations."

Nuclear and utilities in firing line

Optimists rejoicing at the launch of Tesla’s new storage technology were quick to predict the timely demise of both nuclear power and the more traditional fossil fuel industry. Launched at a retail price of just $3,500 for the 10kWh battery and $3,000 for the 7kWh battery, the Powerwall is far cheaper than had been predicted, but skeptics argue that the additional balance of system (BoS) and installation costs required will double that initial price point, making the batteries still something of a rich environmentalist’s plaything.

However, with solar costs tumbling in many leading solar nations, solar+storage is approaching price parity with traditional nuclear power, argues nuclear critic Arnie Gundersen. On the eve of Tesla’s announcement, the former nuclear engineer told an audience of 80 students and visitors at a lecture at Northwestern University in Chicago that nuclear’s claim to be the perfect stop-gap between fossil fuels and renewable is nothing short of a marketing ploy.

"We all know that the wind doesn’t blow consistently and the sun doesn’t shine every day," he said. "But the nuclear industry would have you believe that humankind is smart enough to develop techniques to store nuclear waste for a quarter of a million years, but at the same time humankind is dumb we can’t figure out a way to store solar electricity overnight. To me, that doesn’t make sense."

In the U.K., University of Exeter professor of energy policy Catherine Mitchell has remarked that Tesla’s Powerwall is a nail in the coffin for conventional utilities.

"Storage offers the ability to extend both the displacement of fossil fuels and reduction of prices beyond peaks – making it even worse for companies whose business models are based on fossil fuels and peak pricing profits," she said. "The question is no longer whether decentralization will happen within the energy system, but when the tipping point will be."

However, as outlined by Lux Research analysts this week, Tesla’s breakthrough is only half the job done. The solar industry at large must further embrace the storage system, offering more and more collaborative partnerships of the kind seen already, while governments and policy makers must ensure that homeowners remain incentivized to invest in such technology, perhaps with the help of industry-driven finance options that lower the initial financial burdens.

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