There’s an intimate connection between electric vehicles and renewable energy, and that connection—both literally and symbolically—runs directly through the electrical grid. Intermittent energy sources such as solar and wind need grid-connected storage in order to be viable, and the most flexible and scalable type of storage is a battery, which just happens to be the core technology behind EVs. Thus, advances in battery technology, and expansion of battery manufacturing, have applications for two very different industries.
Tesla understood this early in the game—it launched Tesla Energy, a division that provides stationary storage batteries for residential (Powerwall), commercial (Powerpack) and utility-scale (Megapack) applications, in 2015. Elon Musk has said on several occasions that Tesla Energy could someday become bigger than Tesla’s automobile business.
That hasn’t happened yet, but Tesla’s energy business has been scaling up quickly. On its Q4 2020 earnings call, the company said battery deployments increased by 83% in 2020, driven mainly by sales of the Megapack to utilities. And the potential for more expansion is enormous—Grand View Research estimates that grid-scale battery storage will become a $15 billion market by 2027. On Tesla’s 2021 Q1 earnings call, Musk predicted that the transition to electric cars will cause electricity demand to double, and the transition to electric heating systems for buildings will cause it to triple. “This is a prosperous future both for Tesla and for the utilities,” said he.
A new video from CNBC offers an in-depth look at Tesla Energy. CNBC visited one of Tesla’s Megapack sites, an installation for Pacific Electric & Gas (PG&E) in Moss Landing, California, for a first-hand look at how smart energy storage systems like Tesla’s are enabling the rapid adoption of renewable energy.
Above: A look at PG&E’s Tesla Megapack site in Moss Landing, California and why energy storage systems like this could be the future (YouTube: CNBC)
Unlike electric cars, utility-scale energy storage is not something that has been discussed much in the popular press—except perhaps in Australia, which has suffered several embarrassing energy outages in recent years. A rapid expansion of solar power, enabled by massive battery farms provided by Tesla and others, is bringing the problem under control.
The recent cold snap in Texas, which led to widespread power outages, brought energy storage to America’s nightly news. California has also had to deal with brownouts and other power problems of late, and CNBC explains why stationary storage is becoming necessary to keep the modern electrical grid up and running.
Storage is not just about enabling renewable energy—it’s also an important tool for ensuring the reliability of the grid, smoothing out peaks in demand for power and preventing sudden surges that can overload local distribution systems. David Bissell, the CEO of the local utility on the Hawaiian island of Kauai, where Tesla built a massive storage system in 2017, tells CNBC that batteries are “amazing” at helping to balance energy supply and demand, because they can respond instantaneously to imbalances. “We had our best reliability ever last year,” he says.
Tesla isn’t the only player in energy storage—venerable electronics giants such as Toshiba, Siemens, Panasonic, General Electric and ABB, as well as utilities such as NextEra Energy, are also claiming pieces of what’s shaping up as a large and lucrative pie.
Demand for storage is being driven both from below and above—governments around the world are mandating energy storage as part of strategies to modernize electrical grids. China has made storage part of its plan to get 16.5% percent of its energy from solar and wind by 2025. California launched a major energy storage program in 2014. The Biden Administration’s energy plan calls for $100 billion of investment in upgrades to the grid, including storage.
For companies that can move quickly to join the transformation of the world’s electrical grid, it looks like a prosperous future indeed.