One of the “hot” topics in the Engineering press is that of sustainable energy. Clearly, we have to quickly find a long-term solution for the good of mankind else our world will eventually resemble something from a Max Max movie. Progress seems to have been hampered by differing opinions as to what technologies will offer the best-fit solution in terms of effectiveness, practicality, human and environmental impact. The net result of this lack of conviction is that the necessary investments in infrastructure are not being made in a timely fashion. What’s needed, it seems, is a giant “leap of faith”.
Judging by their recent product launch, Tesla seem to have taken the bold steps necessary. Their Powerwall product is positioned to compete in the emerging domestic market space and seems to be winning support in their US homeland, as the current demand would suggest. Advance orders mean it is already sold out until mid-2016.
Unveiled earlier this year, the much-anticipated Powerwall is a wall-mounted battery that can store electricity produced by solar panels. Storage of electricity from solar panels has long been an issue because homeowners generate the majority of their electricity during the day but use most of it in the morning or evening. Historically, without a home battery much of the excess solar energy has been sold off to power companies only to be bought back later on.
So, function-wise Powerwall is being seen as a game-changer in terms of allowing the owners of solar panels to use the electricity they generate around the clock. Some commentators believe that Tesla technology will significantly accelerate the progress of clean energy and enable customers to completely disconnect from the grid. It has been predicted that Powerwall will do to the power grid what mobile phones did to the land line and free consumers from using it.
If there is one slight drawback Powerwall is not a breakthrough battery technology and is based on the lithium ion battery cells that are used in Tesla’s electric cars. While lithium ion batteries are the most successful electricity storage device to emerge over the past quarter of a century, they do have their limitations and have been known to overheat and be prone to ageing. Experts around the world are working on alternative chemistries to improve the technology.
Tesla’s high-profile Silicon Valley entrepreneur Elon Musk has bigger plans than producing batteries to store locally generated power for homes. His commitment to his massive Gigafactory concept shows that he is prepared to invest billions of his own dollars to make the dream of a sustainable power a reality. Already well-known for pioneering electric vehicles with his company Tesla Motors, he was also responsible for changing the face of online payments when he co-founded Paypal. It would seem with his latest project, Powerwall, billionaire Musk is prepared to step up to the plate.