The majority of batteries in peoples houses power just one gadget, such as a laptops and cars, and aren’t connected to our homes except for the recharging cable. However, that may all be about to change thanks to falling prices and backing from Tesla, meaning we could be following in the footsteps of a few hundred homeowners who already power their own homes independent from the national grid.
Solar panels have become more popular in recent years but they have a big flaw- they can only work during daylight hours and in direct sunlight. Batteries could store the energy made at peak times for use at other times and even allow homes to sell unneeded electricity back to energy companies.
The thinking comes from a new report by the Rocky Mountain Institute, an energy policy think tank. Thanks to new advances in technology, home batteries are well on the way to becoming integrated into modern households, not just those who experience regular power cuts. However, big utilities are already in battle with the solar industry and home batteries will still be an expensive investment. Experts worry that the revolution may not take off if homeowners cannot be convinced that the self sufficiency cells are worth the expense. Even though the technology has had a sudden drop in price, it is still expensive to the average homeowner and it’s likely that people will be wondering exactly what it is they get for the price.
Tesla, the electric car firm, has plans to reveal its own home battery with the same type of technology found inside the rechargeable lithium-ion batteries of smartphones and laptops. As a home battery it would store power, replace dangerous gas generators and protect homes from blackouts. You may imagine that home batteries would take up the space of a whole garage or basement, but Tesla’s offering will be silent, maintenance free and take up the space of just a kitchen cabinet. Batteries this size are a contrast to some of those already installed in US homes which take up the same room as a chest freezer or large dining table.
These batteries have been tested in hundreds of California households over the last two years for effectiveness. The predicted price point of up to $15000 is likely to put many average homeowners off the new technology, but Tesla is expecting to provide the batteries on a 20 year lease with low payments of $15 per month.
While home batteries are used on islands which don’t have a reliable power supply and in countries such as India and Bangladesh, they are a niche across much of Europe and the US. However, Tesla could prove to be the company that launches them into the mainstream through its $5 billion battery ‘gigafactory’, the largest battery factory in the world. It says this will reduce the price of home and car batteries by more than 30 percent.
Tesla batteries have so far been installed in Google offices, 12 large Wal-Mart super stores and will be included in Apple’s new campus. However, Tesla will have to fight a hard battle in order to compete with America’s three million miles of power lines connected to the grid. Energy companies are worried about the very real threat that batteries pose in allowing consumers to save and use their own energy without having to be connected to the national grid. It is predicted that combined solar-battery systems will be affordable to many homeowners within a decade and sales will explode by 2018. This may prompt energy companies to charge extra to homes who wish to sell their excess stored power back to the grid- called ‘net metering’.
While it may take years for home battery owners to recoup their money in energy savings, the batteries remain a huge help to those who experience regular power cuts and blackouts. These blackouts are becoming more common in some small towns which are hit hard by the increasing strain put on the grid for more energy. Even for those who don’t experience power cuts, home batteries and solar panels will form part of a new wave of self sufficiency and eco-friendliness that will lead our lives into the future.