Tesla And Solar City Looking To 100% Renewable Grid Future

MAR 11 2014 BY JAY COLE 24

Panasonic Energy President Naoto Noguchi Gives Tesla CTO JB Straubel One Of The First 18650 Lithium-ion Cells At Panasonic's Suminoe Factory In April Of 2010

Panasonic Energy President Naoto Noguchi Gives Tesla CTO JB Straubel One Of The First 18650 Lithium-ion Cells At Panasonic’s Suminoe Factory In April Of 2010

While not officially joined at the hip, both Tesla and Solar City are backed by Elon Musk.  And as Mr. Musk is the Chairman to his cousin’s CEO position at Solar City, and is CEO at Tesla Motors, the two companies very tight partners.

With the recent announcement of Tesla’s $5 billion dollar “Giga factory,” that partnership has once again taken center stage as batteries, and storage technology play a big roll in any renewable grid model.

JB Straubel Does A Little "Walk And Talk" In This IDG Interview Last Year

JB Straubel Does A Little “Walk And Talk” In This IDG Interview Last Year

Recently EnergyBiz interviewed JB Straubel, who is the Chief Technology Officer at Tesla (and also a co-founder of the company himself) to see how the two companies will work together; and what the ultimate goal is.

Mr. Straubel says Tesla has already been working on their fixed energy storage business for some time by “developing and refining storage products” and that Solar City is going to assist them in not only marketing these products, but installing them.

“We see a huge opportunity to further enable renewable energy and efficient demand management for buildings and houses.

With SolarCity, we see an opportunity to partner with a great company to help us with sales and distribution for some of these products.  They have an excellent understanding of the customers’ needs, the products’ needs and the installation complexities.”

Tesla first looks to assist businesses in relief from demand charges before tackling larger grid issues.  EnergyBiz asks Mr. Straubel for a practical example of this…short of having a few Teslas automobiles in their parking lot.

“The vehicle isn’t needed for this. It’s a very special thing. It’s a stationary product that connects with the building. Utility customers profit from it based on a direct reduction in their utility bills. Control software inside the product lets it charge and discharge at the right time of day so users get a lower demand charge on their electric bills.”

Tesla CEO Elon Musk And CTO JB Strubel At A Recent Conference In Amesterdam (via Tesla Club Belgium)

Tesla CEO Elon Musk And CTO JB Strubel At A Recent Conference In Amesterdam (via Tesla Club Belgium)

Tesla says it has hundreds of engineers working on storage products and that their battery density gives them an advantage over would be competitors, and the new factory will allow Tesla to make that “product for a lower cost.”

As for the future, Straubel says a case can be made for a 100% renewable grid now, but the reality is it is still quite a long way off.

“We are surprisingly close to reaching an economic point that would make reliance on a 100 percent renewable grid compelling or, at least, cheaper.  It will take a long time to change out the infrastructure, replacing, upgrading and retiring old assets.  The first thing that will happen is the cost will cross the economic threshold where it is cheaper to install renewables and storage than to install new fossil-fuel generation.  That’s already happening in island grids and in island nations.  That’s where 100 percent renewable grids will happen first.  We are a few tens of years away from seeing a major shift and the adoption of storage sufficient to drive renewables higher”

Check out the whole interview at EnergyBiz

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24 Comments on "Tesla And Solar City Looking To 100% Renewable Grid Future"

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The grid is very important to Tesla. Solar and wind power is great but to really get them to work, you need a grid to balance the loads around. And you can’t charge your Tesla at fast speeds just from your local solar PV array (unless it is massive and you only charge on sunny days) so the grid is needed.

And the grid needs batteries to balance demand peaks.

Tesla superchargers will be equipped with storage batteries. You just cannot take few megawatts from the grid, when there are eight Teslas simultaneously supercharging. Megawatt scale grid connections are very expensive if peak power is needed only occasionally for few hours in the week.

And if there is battery storage at supercharging station, this makes storing solar electricity more convenient.

PV with battery storage is one way for distributed power storage. There is another.

One product that is “storing” electricity and reducing peak demand right now is the “Ice Bear” by Ice Energy. Here in Redding,CA the local utility has installed 100’s of Ice Bears in the past 5 years and making a dent in our summer peak summer cooling electrical demand. Ice Bears are refrigerant units that freeze up a tank of water into ice during a utility-defined low-demand period, then melt the ice and use the resulting cooling effect for condensing refrigerant and providing air conditioning during peak demand periods. The AC compressors are locked out.


Your post is pretty spammy but thermal storage systems are indeed nice low-tech systems and reasonably priced systems for storing energy. They can help in 2 ways
1) Use cheap power at night to freeze ice for use during the day.
2) Use excess day-time power from solar PV (if available) and use the ice for the late afternoon peak.

I remember seeing something like this on the history channel a few years ago. It’s used in large public buildings that use tons of power. The idea is that at night power is cheaper and cooling something is easier so it takes in the cool air during the night and turns it into ice.

Many large commercial facilities use special chillers that chill glycol solutions down to about 24 degrees F and pipe through poly tubing in large plastic water tanks. That freezes the water. They reverse the flow the next day to melt the ice and chill the glycol for AC use. Really large operations (like university campuses) run their conventional water chillers at night to create extra chilled water and store it in huge insulated concrete or steel above-ground water tanks for use the next day.

HVAC Man, Nice posting. The Advanced Indirect Evap Cooling and Pre-Cooling Systems are a practical and relatively inexpensive method of reducing On-Peak electrical load. I’ve been a follower of such technology for years. Keep up the good work.

Thanks – advanced evap cooling, heat recovery, thermal energy storage, inverter-driven compressors and fans, digital controls, condensing boilers, all this exploding new technology means it is an exciting time to be an HVAC systems engineer:) I think that’s probably how the automotive engineers are feeling, too.

Here in switserland (and probably ellswher to) we pump whater upp to a high storage during the night, then run it threw turbines during the day.

Virginia power has a massive pumped storage reservoir that make 1000 megawatts. Personally I think Virginia Power should build a massive 500 megawatt solar farm near it and use it to make base load solar power.

Kalle – We do the same thing in California at the Helms Pump Storage Plant. I was born and raised nearby the plant! :http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Helms_Pumped_Storage_Plant

I did some quick back-of-the-napkin numbers for my sunny city of 2M people – there are about 700,000 homes, assuming half can support a rooftop PV system, and each PV system had a storage capacity of 25kWh (enough for overnight usage plus a little extra), that’s 8.75GWh of energy storage.

8.75GWh of energy storage is roughly 115,000 Tesla Model S battery packs.

With a gigafactory (or two) its actually possible to start to get to a pure RE future. We move out of the realm of “is it physically possible” to “is it financially possible”, a bigger leap than you might think.

In my area, Duke Energy is doing away with net metering in favor of wholesale pricing. So if a modest array had a family buying 6000kWh @ 11 cents/kWh and selling roughly the same over the 25 year life of the system you would have a $16,500 cancellation both ways with net metering. Now reducing our 11 cents to 5 cents that leaves $9,000 on the table for the power company. I like your number of 24kWh. Now probably, you would need 2 batteries over the 25 year life of the array. So certainly over simplifying implementation a bit, you have $4,500 to spend per 24kWh battery pack + implementation in a wholesale market. Power companies would be wise to move their number up a little closer to net metering.

I think when the Giga factory is built it’s going to cause massive shifts in the power grids out in California. It’s also going to effectively kill off of the coal and natural gas power plant industry in California. The reason why is there are over 200,000 home solar systems out there and that number is growing rapidly even now. So by the time the Giga factory is built there could be over a million home solar systems in the US with out backup batteries. So there will be a massive tied up demand for back up batteries. Not to mention a lot of power companies in the southwest have spelled their own doom by having sky high power rates. So what will happen is everyone with a solar power system will rush out to buy the mass market back up batteries. As for the new battery factory technically a house would only need about 24 kilowatts of night storage compared to say a Tesla model S that has 60 to 85 kilowatts so the factory could in theory use 20% to 25% of it’s massive capacity to make 100,000 power packs for home solar storage. When this happens the… Read more »

Coal is already pretty much dead in California. Coal provides less than 2% of PG&E’s power. Besides the emissions stuff, a huge advantage of renewables in California is water usage . . . wind, solar PV, and even concentrated solar use very little water whereas thermal plants generally all require a lot of water . . . something we have problems with in California.

Demand management is critical for managing the cost of quick charging EVs. Nearly all utilities charge what’s called a demand charge. This charge is based on your peak power draw over a 15 minute period for the billing period.

Typical costs might be anywhere from $5/kW to $25/kW (think summer peak loads).

So if you charge one Tesla at 120 kW for at least 15 minutes, you might be stuck with a demand charge of $3,000!

Now let’s say you stick a battery storage system on the charger and you’re able to limit your peak grid draw to 25 kW. Now you’ve reduced your demand charge to only $625. That’s almost $30k/year you’d be saving on demand charges and could easily pay for the cost of one of these Tesla/SolarCity demand management systems.

Another good thing is you can add solar panels to this demand balancing system to constantly take in new power from the sun.

Its only 750 $ in the beginning, because you charge only 15 minutes. Normally you pay per hour, or am i wrong? But you are right, you gona save money when you install storage cap.

When you want to have energy efficiency, don’t build energy wasting SUVs.

Can’t get enough JB.

I don’t find anything that Musk does all that amazing. I think he simply estimates out further into the future, and it’s not all that difficult, but for some reason, very few other businesses do that. I think it’s the fakey way most corporations set up the system so that the CEO are driven to short term concerns, and that is a function of the “get rich quick” mentality of the average brainwashed investor. Hardly anyone wants skill to be the determining factor in their success. They would prefer either dumb luck or dishonest theft. Welcome to the country that loves it some criminal wealthy. Here the man that is corrupt and gets away with it is the one to be admired. However, one only needs to be good at the task and to plan longer term to be honest and successful. But then, that is too much like work for that average former drunken frat boy financial worker.


The mainstream corporate culture is not conducive to quality, productivity or longevity.

I also agree that what they are doing isn’t special – I know other people, like myself, who thought all of this was possible years ago. However, none of us created PayPal, so there were no $1B buyouts to make it all happen.

And, as you mentioned, the financial culture does not reward quality, productivity or longevity.