We all are aware of Tesla, the electric car company and its genius founder Elon Musk. To recap, Tesla is the first purely electric car company that has successfully made electric cars popular, albeit in the luxury segment so far. Their mass market product the Model 3 has received an outstanding over 4 lakh bookings and is stated for deliveries this year. To put a perspective, Tesla is now bigger than Ford and General Motors. The company isn’t limited to electric cars now. They have invested heavily into the Lithium battery tech and are building the world’s biggest Lithium battery factory at Nevada. This state of the art robotic single factory powered by solar and wind will be producing more batteries than the entire production of factories in the rest of the world combined. It is rightly named Gigafactory. Hence they are now producing home and commercial grade battery energy storage systems called the Tesla Powerwall. Tesla has also unveiled solar roof tiles and is associated with SolarCity. Musk owns SpaceX and his latest venture called Neurolink will merge the human brain with ArtificiaI Intelligence. That’s not all, he has also open-sourced the plans for the next generation super speed mass transportation system called the Hyperloop. Sounds cool, doesn’t it?
What Is The Tesla Powerwall?
The Tesla Powerwall is a battery with an inverter that stores solar energy for use during the night in your home or office. Yes, this is similar to the inverter power backup systems that we use in India, but with one major difference. The battery used by Tesla is Lithium, while what we use is Lead acid batteries. And the Powerwall is meant to power almost your entire home with free solar electricity (which is produced only when the Sun shines) while what we use is essentially for backup during power failures only, though Lead batteries too can be scaled up for your entire home. Most homes and offices in the future will have solar panels on the roof and batteries inside, because who doesn’t love free green power? Another big advantage of battery storage will be to shift the load and this coupled with a smart grid will help cut down on the need for generating more power by polluting sources during peak power demand. For example, during the day, solar panels will be producing electricity while the house will not be using most of it. The batteries get charged by this and the excess is sold back to the grid. Yes, you sell power to your electricity company and get paid for it. This excess power is distributed where it is required, for example, your’s or your neighbour’s workplace. In the evening when you come back and switch on your lights, fans, ACs and other appliances, the battery supplies this power. Now, as most places don’t have batteries, the power plants increase their production to meet the higher demand as people return back to their homes. And this means burning more coal and more pollution. This is how batteries can efficiently use electricity. The Powerwall is completely modular too, and it is easy to add up more batteries if you have a bigger house or office.
Lead-acid batteries have been around for ages. There is a lead battery in almost every petrol-diesel-gas powered car that is used for starting the car and running the electrical and electronic components. Lead batteries are bulkier, have low energy density, and last lesser than Lithium ones. Lithium batteries are the ones that we use in our mobile phones and laptops. Tesla uses the similar ones in its amazing electric cars too. Lithium being lighter can hold 3-4 times more energy for a similar weight of Lead. They also last 3 times longer than Lead batteries. The Tesla Powerwall comes with a 10-year warranty too while most Lead batteries have an average lifespan of around 4 years. Do note that it is estimated that after ten years, the battery’s capacity would have reduced to 80% and this is something crucial because poor quality batteries can degrade faster. The Powerwall is hence smaller in size and can be mounted on a wall. Lead batteries require water top-up too unlike Lithium ones. They are more susceptible to heat and deeper discharges.
So Why Is The World Still Using Lead?
This is because Lead is still cheaper in most markets than Lithium despite all its other disadvantages. The Tesla Powerwall’s 7 kWh model costs around 3000 USD and the 10kWh is 3500 USD. Currently, these prices are around 2-4 times more expensive than similar capacity Lead batteries. But prices of Lithium are falling rapidly. It has dropped 80% over the last six years and is now hovering around 227$ per kWh. It is expected to become cheaper than 100$ per kWh around 2020. That will be the tipping point for affordable Lithium battery applications such as the electric cars and energy storage. In some markets, the prices and longer life have made it viable to go for Lithium as home and grid storage. Australia and Europe are few such markets. There are megawatt-scale storage systems being installed by Tesla and other Lithium battery manufacturers too. Lead is also one of the biggest successful recycling business on the planet. Lithium too is expected to be safe for the environment with recycling and high reusability.
Is It Available In India And Will It Make Sense Here?
Unfortunately not yet. Luminous, a popular inverter power backup solution company has unveiled a model which has a 1-1.5 kWh Lithium battery with a 700 watts inverter. Like the Powerwall, it is compatible with solar. It costs around 64000 INR which is around 4 times the price of a similar inverter with Lead batteries. This battery would last 3 times longer and has a five-year warranty too, but this too doesn’t justify the cost for now. It would be safe to assume that once prices fall by a couple of 10 grands, this will become mainstream. There is immense potential for home energy storage and solar in India. For one, we have power cuts and which is why power backup is essential here. Most developed countries don’t need that. And this will get better returns on investment, especially where expensive-to-run diesel generators are used as a backup. The need for a reliable power backup system along with the abundance of solar power availability is an ideal combo. The prices of both solar and Lithium batteries have to come down for that revolution to happen. And for that, Lithium batteries have to be manufactured in India. Maybe a Gigafactory in India some day?