Big Auto Following Tesla’s Lead Beyond Just The Cars

JUN 27 2018 BY EVANNEX 12

BIG AUTO IS COPYING TESLA, AND NOT JUST ITS CARS

Electric vehicles are part of a sustainable energy/transportation ecosystem that also includes charging infrastructure, smart grid technology and renewable energy. The key that ties all of these components together is energy storage. Storage, specifically batteries, is the enabling technology that makes modern EVs possible, and that makes renewable energy viable. Battery storage also provides a number of other benefits for the electrical grid, such as load balancing and frequency regulation.

*This article comes to us courtesy of EVANNEX (which also makes aftermarket Tesla accessories). Authored by Charles Morris. The opinions expressed in these articles are not necessarily our own at InsideEVs.

Above: In front of this Model X is Tesla’s Powerwall home energy storage product (Image: Tesla)

Unsurprisingly, Tesla understood this synergy early in the game, and its Tesla Energy division has carved out a lucrative side business selling stationary battery storage to electric utilities, as well as residential and commercial energy customers (actually, “side business” may not be quite the right description, as Elon Musk has predicted that Tesla’s energy business may someday be bigger than its car business).

As a recent article in SingularityHub explains, other auto manufacturers see the possibilities and are also beginning to get into the stationary storage market. BMW recently signed a contract to incorporate 500 i3 battery packs into the UK’s national electrical grid. Renault is developing a home energy storage product based on its Zoe batteries. Toyota and Nissan have both announced plans to offer energy storage, and Audi is one of several brands that are exploring the possibilities with pilot projects.

It’s a natural move for the automakers, who are steadily securing supplies of batteries for the EVs they’ll soon be building in volume. Volkswagen recently announced plans to invest $48 billion on battery tech over the next few years. If companies are going to be making large amounts of batteries, it simply makes sense to explore other markets that require storage.

Above: Nissan hired actress Margot Robbie to showcase its home energy “xStorage” product along with its Nissan Leaf electric car (Youtube: Motorward)

Of course, Tesla has been doing just that for a few years now. The California trendsetter has scored some highly-publicized successes with utility-scale projects in Australia, and its Powerpacks are becoming popular for off-grid applications around the world.

But there’s more to this than just opening new markets for batteries. Tesla’s vehicles are seen as part of an ecosystem of products designed to function smoothly together. As Elon Musk explained to Fast Company, “This is the integrated future. You’ve got an electric car, a Powerwall, and a Solar Roof.” As Apple and Amazon have demonstrated, this can be an unbeatable strategy – if a customer is driving a Model S, and is impressed with the company, she’ll be that much more likely to buy a solar electric system (and why not a flamethrower, too?) from Tesla as well. The legacy automakers would be foolish to ignore the possibilities.

In dollar terms, those possibilities are staggering. Markets Insider predicts that the market for grid-connected battery storage will grow from $3.3 billion in 2016 to $14 billion by 2021, and probably well over $100 billion by 2030 – a compound annual growth rate of around 34 percent.

Above: Mercedes introduced home batteries in 2016, but is now refocusing on “energy storage systems for grid applications” (Source: Energy Storage News)

It’s not even necessary to produce batteries specifically for the stationary storage market. As EV batteries age, they gradually lose capacity, and drivers, who crave maximum range, will want to replace them. However, once a superannuated battery is no longer suitable for use in a vehicle, it can still be quite useful in a stationary storage application. Several automakers are investigating the possibilities of “second-life” EV batteries.

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Written by: Charles MorrisSource: SingularityHub

*Editor’s Note: EVANNEX, which also sells aftermarket gear for Teslas, has kindly allowed us to share some of its content with our readers, free of charge. Our thanks go out to EVANNEX. Check out the site here.

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12 Comments on "Big Auto Following Tesla’s Lead Beyond Just The Cars"

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I suspect all this “second-life” talk from various car makers is mostly a PR stunt. As far as I’m aware, typical Li-Ion batteries tend to enter a faster capacity decline once they go past a certain point. Thus, a battery that is no longer suitable for EV usage, because it has fallen below 70%, likely doesn’t have much life left in it. What’s more, grid storage applications usually require daily cycling, which is much more frequent than in typical BEV usage. With that in mind, I doubt a “second-life” battery used for grid storage would last more than a year or maybe two. Probably not worth the effort to even install it for such a short time…

The only exception is when EV batteries get retired *before* losing a large part of their capacity — such as when many people upgrade their ZOEs from 22 to 40 kWh.

At this point in time recycling the battery is more expensive than building a new one, therefor it would make more sense to have the battery bring in some additional money for 1-2 years before it’s stored permanently.

This scenario depends on the prices of both recycling and batteries, but some conservative calculations estimate we could barely have enough Lithium to power all the worlds cars, which could increase raw material prices to the point where manufacturers recycle, or mandate recycling by law, which if it is unprofitable would increase the price of new BEVs.

AFAIK, .. there has been no practical example of lithium batteries getting recycled back into lithium batteries. It is too expensive to get the materials back to pure enough to re-utilize in batteries. (i.e. the lithium gets recycled back into lithium lubricant)

/I’m not saying it’s impossible, I’m just saying I have looked, and haven’t found where anyone is actually doing it on a commercial scale, … and consumer electronics have already discarded a lot of lithium batteries into the recycler’s market.

A report I read a while ago claimed that recycling cobalt and nickel from batteries is perfectly feasible already. Lithium and other materials are more tricky, but apparently ongoing progress on that front is fairly encouraging…

Tesla has in the past said it intends to recycle the batteries, tearing them apart for raw materials including lithium. But I’ve seen no news that they have actually started in on a project to do so. The reality is that lithium is so cheap that recycling it would result in marginal cost savings. Cobalt is another thing; that likely could be profitable to recover.

If Tesla (and Panasonic) keep reducing the cobalt they are using there may be nothing left to recycle.

Installing the batteries costs money/resources though. I seriously doubt there is much hope for a positive return on investment over such a short lifespan…

Not to mention the safety risks/management complications involved with building an energy storage system around “soon to fail” batteries.

It’s never made much sense to me.
/ the only way I see around it (or lessen the problem) would be to keep the used batteries operating in a narrow window of SOC, .. but then that’s going to take a lot more batteries, associated electrical gear, space, etc.. etc.. (ultimately — money).

Using used batteries at an average 75% remaining capacity would be little if any different than using batteries from just a few years ago, when the total capacity was 25% less.

The differences are that they will be much cheaper, and calendar life will be shorter. There would be a problem if they are used long enough to reach the end of calendar life, or if they are cycled so much that the capacity drops so far that they don’t have much left. (That would have been 50% a few years ago; perhaps now it’s something around 35-40%?)

You’re thinking too much inside the box here.

“I doubt a ‘second-life’ battery used for grid storage would last more than a year or maybe two. Probably not worth the effort to even install it for such a short time…”

I think you’re just speculating. It would be interesting to see some “napkin math” analysis of the cost-effectiveness of using li-ion batteries with 70-80% of their capacity remaining.

Li-ion batteries have been steadily improving in energy density and dropping in cost for quite a few years now. Simple math and logic indicate that the cost/benefit of using current li-ion batteries with an average 75% capacity would be better than using new batteries made just a few years ago.

“…typical Li-Ion batteries tend to enter a faster capacity decline once they go past a certain point.”

There are do-it-yourself-ers who have repurposed modules of li-ion batteries from wrecked EVs, for home solar energy storage. Have any of them reported a sudden drop-off in capacity after only a couple of years or so?

No, I don’t think so. Yes, there is a calendar life for li-ion batteries, and if the batteries start reaching that limit the capacity will drop off a cliff. But I’ve seen no evidence that happens nearly as soon as you’re suggesting.

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win”

At Ev Tv they run off Tesla vehicle batteries (repurposed) off grid solar system, part pf their power also comes from a grid tied system. Together they supply about 65% of their electricity needs.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Je71tbm7LWQ

Note the (working) converted to electricity, old timey gas pump.