Tesla Aims To Reinvent The Electric Grid For A Cleaner Future

Tesla Powerpack


Tesla Powerpacks

Tesla Powerpack battery storage working in conjunction with the grid (Image: Tesla)


Sometimes the most profound revolutions are the ones that most people don’t notice. For millennials and their kids, flipping a switch to turn on the lights will feel pretty much the same as it did for our grandparents. However, the infrastructure behind that light switch will be completely different, in three ways.

Tesla Powerpacks

Tesla’s battery storage project at the Mira Loma Energy Storage Station

Today’s power grid is highly centralized. Enormous power plants generate electricity, which flows through a network of ever-smaller transmission lines to reach the homes and businesses where it’s consumed. The grid is also highly synchronous, for want of a better word – generally speaking, the amount of power being generated must exactly match the amount being consumed at any given time.

If you think about it, that’s an odd way for a system to work – it’s analogous to a car without a gas tank, a body without a stomach, or a bank account with no cushion of cash for emergencies. And in fact, the grid is very inefficient in that sense, because it has to be designed to handle the highest possible (peak) demand for power. To provide a reserve to handle periods of high demand, utilities must build more power plants than they need on an average basis. These “peaker plants” sit idle most of the time, to be cranked up in the evening, when everyone gets home and switched on the AC, TV and all their other toys. Battery storage can solve this problem, but until recently it was too expensive to be practical. That’s changing quickly, and utilities around the world are installing stationary storage.

“Today you have a grid built to meet demand of the hottest minute of the hottest day of the hottest decade,” Michael Oster, CEO of battery-maker Eos Energy Storage, told CNET. “If you have storage, you’re able to build the grid more toward the average.”

*This article comes to us courtesy of Evannex (which also makes aftermarket Tesla accessories). Authored by Charles Morris.

Battery storage also makes renewable sources, which are intermittent by their nature, much more useful. Power generated while the sun shines or the wind blows can be stored, to be used at peak times. And, regardless of what some political leaders may say, renewables are the future. Rooftop solar in particular not only saves consumers money, but it has the libertarian appeal of freeing them from dependence on a centralized utility, especially if battery storage is included.

“We’re trying to move away from that traditional one-directional grid,” says Vivek Narayanan of Pacific Gas & Electric (PG&E). “We’re evolving toward the grid of the future.”

That future grid will be less centralized and more asynchronous, with far less need for large power plants. Electric vehicles will be a third major factor. They draw energy from the grid, but they can minimize that impact by charging at off-peak times (smart charging), and can even store energy and release it to the grid later (vehicle-to-grid, or V2G) to help smooth out peaks.

Tesla Powerpacks

The future could include vehicle-to-grid functionality as electric vehicles become increasingly ubiquitous (Image: Green Living Guy)

Guess who is a leader in all three of these trends? Tesla will be happy to sell you a complete electrical ecosystem: solar rooftop tiles to generate energy, a Powerwall to store it, and a Model S, X or 3 to burn it up.

But it’s not only consumers that are buying Tesla’s energy storage products. The big daddy of the Powerwall is the Powerpack, a grid-scale battery storage system designed for utilities. Powerpacks can be thousands of times larger than Powerwalls (and cost thousands of times more), but their basic functions are the same: utilities use them to smooth out the fluctuations between peak and off-peak demand, and to store energy from renewable sources. Utilities around the world are adding them to their grids.

At the moment, most of the action is in places where chronic air pollution has spurred the growth of renewables, such as California, and places where legacy energy sources are extremely expensive, such as remote islands. Pacific Gas & Electric recently installed a 2,000-kilowatt-hour battery at an electrical substation near Sacramento, and Southern California Edison just deployed an 80-megawatt-hour battery system. The Kaua’i Island Utility Cooperative in Hawaii is using a 52-megawatt-hour system.

Above: Tesla co-founder and CTO JB Straubel talks energy storage (Youtube: Engadget)

Another hotspot for battery storage is Australia, which has been struggling with an embarrassing series of blackouts in periods of hot weather.  Tesla has just won a gargantuan 100 MW/129 MWh energy storage project for the state of South Australia – a project that generated a huge amount of press coverage thanks to Elon Musk’s public negotiation of the terms via Twitter. Tesla has also begun deliveries of Powerwall 2 in Australia.

As hot as the battery storage market is, it’s expected to get a lot hotter over the next few years. Tesla hopes to cut battery costs by 30 percent when the Gigafactory reaches full capacity, somewhere between 2018 and 2020. Combined with the rapidly falling price of solar installations, that should kick off explosive growth in the sector.

Of course, Tesla is far from the only company in the energy storage space. Global giants like Siemens and ABB, as well as startup companies located in many countries, are building batteries and all the electronic gadgetry that makes them work. All indications are that the new energy field is going to grow exponentially, and once the boom has run its course, the world’s electrical grid will be completely transformed.

Tesla Powerpacks

52 MWh Tesla ESS delivered for Kauai Island Utility Cooperative

Not everyone sees this as good news. While some electric utilities, such as California’s PG&E and Texas’s NRG, are embracing the new technology, others, supported by compliant state regulatory agencies, are trying to slam on the brakes, imposing fees on rooftop solar and changing regulations to make renewable energy less economical. In the most recent example, a federal court upheld a rule change by the PJM Interconnection, which serves 65 million customers in the eastern US, that opponents say will put wind and solar power at a disadvantage in the region’s energy market. While grandstand plays such as pulling out of international environmental treaties grab the headlines, some of the most important battles for the future of energy are being fought in state legislatures and regulatory commissions over arcane rules that only industry insiders and lawyers truly understand.

However, history shows us that defenders of the status quo can delay new technologies, but they cannot hold them back for long. Jonathan Mir, an expert on energy infrastructure at asset management firm Lazard, likens efforts to revive dying energy sectors to King Canute’s doomed attempt to command the tides. Utilities will adapt to the new technology or die, he says. “That evolution is inevitable, necessary and under way.”


Sources: Electrek, CNET

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

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31 responses to "Tesla Aims To Reinvent The Electric Grid For A Cleaner Future"
  1. Rightofthepeople says:

    “While grandstand plays such as pulling out of international environmental treaties grab the headlines,”

    With all due respect to Evannex, I believe this is in reference to Trump’s action on the Paris Climate Accord. This was not a treaty, at least not in the United States, because the President (at the time) did not send it to the Senate for ratification. Words have meaning, so the author should use the correct word here.

    1. G2 says:

      Just because the agreement wasn’t ratified does not mean it wasn’t a treaty.

      1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

        Right. And in fact, at least one of the nuclear arms treaties we had with the Soviet Union were never ratified by the Senate, but were still considered treaties, and honored as such, by the USA. Without ratification by the Senate, it is left up to each individual presidential administration to continue to honor the treaty… or not. In the past, the U.S. has always had presidents who understood the importance of honoring such treaties once signed.

        The Paris Accords were about every country assigning itself its own limitations to CO2 emissions. Wannabe dictator El Trumpo could easily have changed our own self-imposed limits, without officially pulling out of the Accords. But no, that would not have fit with his narcissistic and pathological need for attention and self-aggrandizement, so he chose to unilaterally declare the U.S. will no longer be a part of the Accords.

        1. Michael Will says:

          Funny enough california steps in to fill the gap. So it’s really G19+CA 🙂

        2. JIMJFOX says:

          Trump is a bozo, for sure, BUT… he has to try to deal with 8 Obama years of disaster for US foreign policy, ‘leading from behind’, Islamophilia, not to mention the same from his forebears Bush, Clinton. I mean, the ‘Glorious 19’ as the Islamists call them were all muslims, 15 from Saudi Barbaria and the best Bush comes up with right after 911 is “Islam is a peaceful religion”.
          Quite so, Dubbya. I’m sure the 3000 bereaved families agree.

          1. Mark.ca says:

            Oh, your username make sense now!

  2. Alaa says:

    As Tesla does well and we no longer need oil there is a negative effect on the PetroDollar.

    The cost of the kWh from solar and batteries is less than the cost of transmission alone. So if they produce electricity for zero dollars then they still have to transmit it. And as I said the kWh is cheaper if you have solar and batteries. That is today not in the future. And without subsidy. Tony Seba explains it very well. What I am adding here is once the US$ is used less in the transactions of oil around the world, what we will end up with is that the US$ will not be the bench mark of the world currencies. This will make the US$ almost worthless, since in the past years there was excessive printing.

    1. Mister G says:

      So if the US$ becomes worthless, does that mean US national debt is worthless and debt holders get screwed?

      1. Alaa says:

        It also means that no one will want to be paid in US$! The US is a large continent but it still imports and sells goods. So let us see what if a country refuses to accept US$ like IRAN. Well it will be a good reason for war. Agree?

        1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

          Absolutely nothing you have said on this subject makes any sense at all. For example, the Canadian Dollar is not the international standard, but nobody in their right mind would declare it’s “worthless”.

          And I hope someone will correct me if I’m wrong, but no war was ever started over a dispute over currency exchange rates!

          P.S. — We’re still a long way away from petrodollars not having a very significant influence on international trade, or the value of any country’s currency. To say “we no longer need oil” is yet another example of how your opinions and viewpoint, Alaa, are controlled by your wishful thinking rather than facts or by facing reality.

          1. Michael Will says:

            I think it is referring to the theory that because america would have replaced their debt backing with the petro dollar, they had to attack iraq to prevent them from switching to trade oil for euro instead, same with lybia etc. I don’t know how real this is, but you can read about it on http://www.globalresearch.ca/the-real-reason-russia-is-demonized-and-sanctioned-the-american-petrodollar/5402592

            1. Doggydogworld says:

              You are correct about the theories.

              They are crackpot nonsense. Countries can sell their oil for any currency they want. Foreign exchange markets are much deeper than crude markets, so even if they were forced to sell for dollars they could immediately convert to Euros, Pounds, Yuan, Zlotys or whatever, which is the exact same as selling for those currencies in the first place.

          2. Alaa says:

            Every time you mention my name I feel so very happy. Thank you.

    2. JIMJFOX says:

      You meant “Quantitative Easing, didn’t you? ;-))
      Gotta use the right words… I mean, the mumbo-jumbo of the ‘experts’.

    3. JIMJFOX says:

      “produce electricity for zero dollars”
      As brainless a statement as I can recall.
      Oh, sorry- of course they can use perpetual motion machines to do this, Allah [oops, Alaa!]

  3. Stimpacker says:

    PG&E embrace….???

    Wow, they are one of the loudest voices against rooftop solar. Only the CPUC prevents dracionian rules like what APS did.

    Since they weren’t able to kill NEM, come the next few years, they’ll do it via the backdoor with a new solar rate structure, where every unit of solar is worth half of consumption.

  4. darth says:

    Behind the meter storage makes net metering battles moot because you increase your self consumption to almost 100%

    1. Devin Serpa says:

      Can’t wait to go off grid.

    2. Jason says:

      Here in Australia we pay a utility charge, at the moment mine is about $1/day for electricity. most utilities have this charge, and you basically have to pay it if the utility goes past your property. Several years ago we had a severe drought, lasted about 10yrs. People stopped using water, basically because we didn’t have any. Did my water bill go down significantly, yes, but because the water utility still needs to maintain all that infrastructure they just bumped the utility charge up. We’re out of drought now, did the utility charge go down? Nope! So I fully expect when my home solar goes battery storage I will still have to pay the utility charge, so it will be cheaper, but who knows how much cheaper due to the utility fee increasing. It will take a long time for the effects of these changes to really go through the whole system, and in the meantime I fully expect utilities will do everything in their power to keep their income levels.

  5. And while Tesla has nice, and maybe someday low cost, whole home energy storage, who is making a UPS for home things besides computers? Things like Fridges & Freezers? Things like Air Conditioners or Stoves?

    While our home uses quite a bit less electric power than many, due to natural gas heat, instead of electric heat, and 95% lights are now LED, with a few remaining CFL’s, we still have a Fridge that cycles and an air conditioner, doing the same!

    Plus, while I rent and don’t own or control my roof, for adding Solar, I could help the grid by ‘Time Shifting’ my Grid demand, via Smart Battery Buffering that simply plugs into the wall, knows the time, and passes the low cost and low demand electricity to the load, while charging the battery, then supplying power to the load from the battery when demand (and per kWh price) is higher!

    Just like a very Busy McDonald’s Restaurant is having a few ready made Big Mac’s in the rack, to keep customers moving through! It plans for the peak demand, and buffers it, rather than waiting on individual orders!

    Obviously, for uses like this, the Energy Storage products need 5+ years of cycle capacity, maybe even 10+ years, at a quite low cost to gain value for most such high cycle activities. That can be done with some items like Supercapacitor & Battery Combo’s; Hi Cycle Life Lithium Titanate Batteries, or oversized Batteies such that a smaller portion of capacity is cycled, like what the Volt is designed around doing, or how the average Tesla Driver uses 20%-40% of capacity between charge cycles daily!

    Either way, the ‘Time Shifting Battery’ concept must be affordable, long lasting, and reduce a customers power bills enough, that buying it just makes sense!

  6. arne-nl says:

    “If you think about it, that’s an odd way for a system to work – it’s analogous to a car without a gas tank”

    I don’t get that. It’s exactly like a car with a gas tank, just that the tank holds mostly coal or natural gas.

    1. Pushmi-Pullyu says:

      No, it’s like a car which has no gas tank or fuel pump, nor even a direct link between accelerator and how fast the fuel is squirted into the engine.

      Imagine the accelerator merely moved an indicator to let somebody sitting in the “shotgun” passenger seat know how much or how little gas he needed to pour into the engine on a second-by-second basis, and there’s your analogy for the electrical grid.

      On the now-defunct TheEEStory forum, an engineer whose job it was to balance the grid once gave a long detailed explanation of all the difficulties in maintaining the electrical supply to balance demand on a minute-by-minute and at times even second-by-second basis; and how unpredictable, fluctuating power sources such as wind farms make that more difficult. It was pretty hair-raising, and what I find astonishing is that we don’t have more blackouts and grid failures.

      Yes, the grid is in desperate need of a cushion of energy storage, to smooth out supply vs. demand, and make the entire system more reliable. I don’t know that Tesla’s PowerPacks are the answer; that’s still pretty expensive in terms of kWh of storage. But various companies and startups are busy working on other, and hopefully cheaper, solutions. I have confidence that eventually, someone will be able to commercialize one of them.

      1. Jason says:

        So how does that explain the comments that EV’s charging at night use the lost excess power, therefore is a good thing?

        That is base load power. Maybe the base load is just higher than ever to account for all the demand, and peak load is just a bit more on top of that? Base load is the fuel tank in this scenario. Peak load is more like you carry a service station around with you just in case your tank runs dry, or the fuel system is pulling more than the tank can deliver.

        And that engineer has most likely been replaced by a computer by now, I’m sure a computer would be able to monitor demand and ramp up peak load gas generators pretty easily. The person would be there to ensure nothing goes wrong with that process.

        1. Bill Howland says:

          “lost electric power”.

          The power is not “lost”, like someone threw a bucket of the stuff out the window.

          The problem is, central stations cannot change their power levels as quickly as solar and wind generation systems change THEIR outputs.

          Batteries and flywheel systems help smooth out ultra-fast transitions to the extent that central or peaker plants can more gracefully shed and then reabsorb loading.

          That said, since running a central plant at a low percentage output is highly inefficient, the marginal cost of charging one extra EV in the middle of the night is very very low, since the efficiency of the central station improves, and therefore, the EV’s act of recharging its battery results in some, but not much additional fuel usage at the central station.

          1. Bill Howland says:

            “Charging EV’s after midnight”.

            People seem to have great difficulting visualizing this point: CHARGING EV’S AFTER MIDNIGHT IS TOTALLY A WIN-WIN SITUATION.

            Let’s say you own a volt that you are charging at the default rate of 115 volts and 8 amps (900-1000 watts).

            The central station improves its efficiency a slight bit when your car is charging, such that it only uses 300 watts worth of extra fuel; the 600 ‘free’ watts come from added efficiency. The other benefit is you reduce heat-stresses at the plant, therefore making it last longer.

            So, the idea from the uninitiated saying that an electric car just moves the tailpipe from the car to the smokestack at the central station is wrong on several levels, but it can be said that the added size of the tailpipe is only 1/3 as much as it would be on the car, provided the car is usually charged over night. Or that 3 EV’s charging similarly now have the added ‘polution’ of one gasoline powered car – that’s assuming you even have the situation where the central station is poluting in the first place, but thats another discussion for another day. More Ev’s charging at night produce less polution (if they produce any) than 1 gasoline powered car.

  7. FISHEV says:

    A bigger problem is Trump, fossil fuel and utility lobbyists success at killing solar power. Depressing that GOP is so successful in cutting back on solar and wind power as US needs it the most. A fair number of states will fight it but there will be a lot of damage to US building sustainable energy grid.

    “Rooftop Solar Dims Under Pressure From Utility Lobbyists” (link)

    1. Mark.ca says:

      You are forgetting that US is not the main solar player in the world. Lucky for us, this administration can only slow down the progress but rest assured the rest of the world will carry on. Get used to US not being the leader.

      1. FISHEV says:

        You forgot that I didn’t forget and was talking about US, one of the largest greenhouse gas generators and engaged in 30 years of oil wars and terrorism in the Middle creating mayhem from refugee crisis to terrorism to $17T in US debt and distortion of US government to 70% overseas military operation.

        1. Mark.ca says:

          Ok, so we’re on the same page we on this one…

  8. Bill Howland says:

    The article is wrong about the use of batteries with peaker plants. It is not to eliminate usage of them, it is to allow the load to gradually be applied and removed from the peaker plants. Even the newest require 8 minutes to start, and 30 minutes to ramp up to full rating. The batteries help with a quick changing loading to prevent damage to the peaker plants, most of which cannot respond as fast as just listed, without damage to themselves.