Tesla battery won’t let homeowners cut cord to grid — expert 

Source: By Katherine Ling, E&E reporter • Posted: Monday, May 4, 2015

The $3,000 residential battery system unveiled by Tesla Motors Inc. won’t let a home sever its grid connection and isn’t likely to disrupt the national power market anytime soon, the associate director of a national laboratory told lawmakers today.

Jud Virden, an associate director of the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory’s Energy and Environment Directorate, said Tesla’s 7-kilowatt-hour system can’t meet a household’s daily power needs — typically, eight hours of baseload plus peak load consumption of air conditioners, dryers or other appliances kicking on simultaneously.

A homeowner would probably need to spend $15,000 to $22,000 on a battery system that would have the capacity to go off-grid based on the installation costs currently cited by the Energy Storage Association and the industry, Virden told the House Science, Space and Technology Subcommittee on Energy.

Tesla unveiled its anticipated Powerwall last night to much fanfare and optimistic analyst forecasts about what pairing the battery system with solar panels could mean for electricity consumers. There is also a 10-kilowatt-hour version that is $3,500 and a utility-scale 100 kWh product — named the Powerpack — which is already being tested at Target and Amazon (ClimateWire, May 1).

Tesla’s product is a “fantastic first step,” but it is important for homeowners to realize there are still significant challenges and costs to going off the grid, Virden said in an interview after the hearing.

“A community application [for energy storage] makes the most sense,” Virden said, adding that the battery’s use on the grid’s substation level might present the best near-term value.

Others at the hearing discussed grid-level energy storage and agreed that there is a lot more work to be done, especially in getting costs down.

Storage technology will likely find the right cost-benefit balance in the near term — or “easiest applications” — on the distribution side in a size somewhere between 200 kilowatts and 10 megawatts and maybe also in business parks, college campuses or similar-sized applications, said Imre Gyuk, the Department of Energy’s energy storage program manager.

“Individual residences are a market that are considerably in the future,” Gyuk said.

Added Jay Whitacre, founder and chief technology officer at Aquion Energy, “There is some optimal economy of size and distribution that is probably outside of a residence but smaller than an entire city.”

Panelists also agreed that much more federal support for basic and applied research is necessary, especially for getting lab experiments scaled up to the manufacturing level and commercialized into the market.

“Technology is about replicating and scaling,” Whitacre said. “It is so easy to do one thing, comparatively speaking. I did make a very nice individual thing once, and my life’s work for the past six years is making it repeatable.”

GOP backs basic research

Basic research is also important to learn why materials and chemistries fail or lose power and capacity as a technology is being scaled up, Virden said.

Funding is needed for early-stage technology through programs like the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) and other mechanisms because utilities and other end-users don’t see a return on investment for funding these projects, said Phil Giudice, CEO of Ambri.

Ambri’s initial concept of a “liquid” metal battery was funded by $7 million from ARPA-E. Similarly, Aquion Energy has also done some work with DOE in its development of a saltwater electrolyte, carbon composite anode, manganese oxide cathode and synthetic cotton separator battery, Whitacre said (E&E Daily, April 27).

The committee just passed on a party-line vote a Republican energy research bill that includes a reauthorization of ARPA-E that would cut the agency’s budget by 50 percent to $140 million (Greenwire, April 22).

Republicans today reiterated that providing more funding for basic research is the proper function of the government, not support for applied research or more mature technologies in which the private sector could invest.

“By creating an incentive to invest in renewable energy deployment instead of energy storage, the federal government is steering investment away from battery storage technology,” said Rep. Randy Weber (R-Texas), the subcommittee chairman.

Texas Republican Rep. Lamar Smith, chairman of the full committee, said in a written statement, “Basic research on the fundamental challenges to safe, efficient, and affordable battery technology has incredible value and application for the private sector. It will help the private sector lead the way to bring battery storage technology to the energy marketplace.”