Tesla has unveiled its new battery product line in the US and it has been received with the industry buzz usually reserved for a Steve Jobs product launch. The Tesla Energy series is a suite of batteries designed for use by home consumers, businesses and utilities that billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk hopes will help change the "entire energy infrastructure of the world".
This is big news for irrigators and other farmers with large energy demand occurring out of peak sunlight hours. Cheaper, more powerful batteries will make it possible to store the large amounts of electricity needed for bulk water pumping, for example.
Elon Musk is the man who brought us Paypal, SpaceX and the Tesla electric car. So if what we're being told is to be believed (and what we are being told is pretty darn exciting), then prepare for his plan to be realised. We understand that Australian agents have been appointed and we will be advising readers as soon as local supply is available.
How Tesla's new batteries will change the game for solar in agriculture:
1.The new batteries can store solar energy for use overnight.
Tesla's lithium-ion Powerwall battery, aimed at smaller-scale use, is designed to capture and store up to 10kWh of energy from solar panels. This means you will be able to draw on solar energy whenever you need it, 24 hours a day, instead of only during sunshine hours. In addition, areas too remote to be on a power grid will now be able to install an array of powerful battery that can be stacked and wall-mounted to release stored solar power 24-7 (see point 2 below).
One of the most exciting announcements was that Tesla has "infinitely scalable" batteries, starting at 100kWh but with the capacity, potentially, to be scaled up to multi-gigawatt-hour system (500kWh - 10mkWh+). Tesla is yet to announce the price of the large-capacity units (known as Powerpack batteries). Initially targeted towards larger businesses, industrial operations and utility companies, they are likely to become more affordable with greater takeup and, within a few years, may be feasible investments for smaller operators, too.
2. Multiple batteries can be installed together.
Measuring 1,300mm tall, 860mm wide and 180mm thick, each Powerwall battery is compact enough to mount on an inside or outside wall. If your power needs are greater, you can install up to nine Powerwalls for a sizeable combined 90kWh output. The batteries come in a range of colours (so your wall will still look pretty).
3. It’s ridiculously cheap.
A 10kWh battery unit sells for US$3,500, making it cheaper, with better capacity, than current competitors. With conventional batteries costing $1,000/kWh in Australia at the moment, Tesla's offer to consumers of $250/kWh per battery looks like a mighty good deal. We weren’t expecting to see those sorts of prices out on the consumer market for at least another five years. The price doesn’t include installation but Tesla says it will be a simple process that will take between 30 minutes and an hour to complete. This price would transform the business case for solar to power agricultural processes like irrigation or dairy that need energy outside daylight hours.
4. It’s built to withstand extreme temperature changes.
The new Tesla batteries have thermal management systems that allow them to operate at temperatures between -20ºC and 43ºC. Sounds like they have inland Australia covered!
5. It’s one giant leap away from utilities companies and reliance on power grids.
Tesla claims its batteries have the capability to completely unshackle users from the grid.
If yours is a smallish enterprise that already has solar PV panels installed, adding a few Powerwall batteries might be enough to enable you to meet your total energy needs. Even if it isn't, the new batteries make investing in solar PV a more viable proposition.
What we do know is that Tesla's Powerwall has the battery power to lower our energy costs dramatically, simultaneously reducing reliance on the grid during peak energy periods.