The battery – re-revolutionising society?

Published: Wed 21 Sep 2016
A blog entry by Alex Powar

Contributed by:

Alex Powar
Marketing Advisor
Baringa Partners

Alex Powar's Blog

It was as early as 1800 that Alessandro Volta invented the modern battery which effectively transformed society, and is now so integrated into our everyday life that we barely pay attention to it as it powers mobile phones, portable computers, electric vehicles and a range of other electrical equipment. Its development has come a long way, yet it’s nowhere to be found when it comes to powering our homes – but not for long. Tesla Motors’ new Powerwall might be the game changer our society has been waiting for, and the timing couldn’t be better with clear synergies to other emerging technologies such as smart meters and renewable energy.

Tesla’s front figure, Elon Musk, recently introduced the Powerwall, a 7-10kwh home battery able to store energy generated from solar panels or taken directly from the grid. Multiple batteries can be combined to increase storage capacity, and while this might not be relevant for every household, it certainly would be for some, as well as, for example, SMEs. Many see this lithium ion battery as a leap forward in terms of battery technology. With its new Gigafactory, Tesla is set to begin large scale production of the Powerwall battery, and early adopters can expect the first delivery in late 2015.

In the UK, the Powerwall could play an interesting role as part of the national roll-out of smart meters. Smart meters will facilitate the introduction of a much broader range of ‘Time of Use’ (ToU) tariffs which allow suppliers to incentivise consumption during off-peak periods when spare capacity is available and the wholesale electricity price is lower. Not only does this provide suppliers with an opportunity to balance output capacity but also opens up a variety of opportunities for households.

By pairing ToU tariffs with battery technology, reducing energy bills would be possible by storing off-peak energy in the Powerwall to use during periods of peak demand when energy is likely to be more costly. Additionally, the half a million of us in the UK who already have solar panels could simply start storing excess energy generated during the day and use it in the evenings, taking further pressure off the grid and our energy bills. Also, by utilising ‘feed-in-tariffs’ there could even be potential for consumers with renewables such as solar power to strategically sell their electricity back to retailers at times of high demand, provided they have a flexible export tariff arrangement. This would effectively reduce the payback time for green technologies – hopefully providing more incentive to invest.

Looking beyond the UK, the social implications of Tesla’s Powerwall are potentially game-changing for developing countries. In Musk’s keynote speech when announcing the Powerwall during a press conference at the Tesla Design Centre earlier this year, the ability to revolutionise energy supply in Africa was recognised as a key benefit.

Sub-Saharan Africa suffers from a poor distribution network – only 30 per cent of people have access to electricity. This area also has one of the greatest sources of renewables in the world. Year round sun and strong winds along the coast and over the arid land, coupled with geothermal provisions in the east, make the potential for renewable power generation huge. The Powerwall would allow for a constant supply of electricity, all derived for renewable sources.

The main hurdle to this development will be high prices, however with plans to release all IP, rival devices will soon be available. With lower prices and a plentiful source of renewable energy, the Powerwall could act as a catalyst for the growth of the African economy and provide a much larger proportion of the population with energy – just as the mobile phone has opened up internet access.

Volta and Musk have both contributed to our understanding of how and what energy can be used for, today and in the future. Battery technology now also offers exciting opportunities to expand the provision of renewable energy around the globe, and we look forward to seeing synergies with other emerging technology such as smart meters exploited in the coming years, both in the UK and abroad. Incentives for investment and growth in this area are set only to increase; opening up greater energy supply and economic development to developing countries. Ultimately, only time can tell if the Powerwall is the game changer we’ve been waiting for.

This blog was writeen by Filip Nilsson and Jack Woodnott, Interns, Energy and Resources, Baringa Partners.

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