Elon Musk is at it again.
Most casual observers thought the giant lithium-ion battery Gigafactory being built byTesla Motors (TSLA) was all about the electric car market.
That’s… mostly true. But it’s also about so much more.
Musk also plans to use the Gigafactory to produce batteries that can power private homes, and even larger structures.
The company’s Chief Technology Officer, JB Straubel, believes the market for stationary batteries “can scale faster than automotive,” and could account for up to 30% of the Gigafactory’s battery output.
Rumors about the company making the major shift into stationary batteries have been around for a while. But, they weren’t confirmed until the evening of April 30 by Musk at a Tesla event.
Storage and the New Grid
What’s so big about this news is that these batteries may very well become a key component in the grid of the future.
More and more homes, businesses, and utilities are using renewable energy. But the major problem with energy sources, like solar and wind power, is that power generation can be intermittent.
These batteries can be used to combat the surging nature of renewable energy by storing electricity during peak productions times and then releasing it when it’s needed.
The battery system, unveiled by Tesla yesterday, is similar to what has already been available to about 300 customers of Solar City (SCTY), a company that Musk chairs. These units can be leased for an initial outlay of $1,500, with a payment of $15 per month.
Musk unveiled two batteries for the home: the 10-kilowatt capacity Powerwall and the 7-kilowatt capacity Powerpack. The cost is $3,500 and $3,000, respectively.
The Powerwall is intended to provide back-up power for the home while the Powerpack can be used to run everyday refrigerators and TVs.
In the corporate world, Tesla battery back-up systems have already been installed by both Apple (AAPL) and Google (GOOGL) at their corporate campuses. The company has also launched a pilot program with Wal-Mart (WMT). No price was stated by Musk for the business products.
Currently, it’s believed that these corporate customers are shaving 20% to 30% off their monthly electric bills.
Readers may be wondering why Musk is unveiling these systems now, when Tesla has already tested them so extensively.
Well, Musk is no fool… He sees a very big market about to open up.
Elon Musk’s Vision
California’s Public Utilities Commission initiated an energy storage mandate in October 2014 that requires the state’s utilities to have at least 1.3 gigawatts of electricity storage capacity by 2020.
Other states are sure to follow California’s lead.
Already, some electric grid operators in Texas and New York have begun using batteries for energy storage to smooth out the flow of electricity over transmission lines.
The move toward energy storage is gaining momentum around the world, too. Navigant Research forecasts that global revenue from grid-scale energy storage may exceed $68 billion by 2024.
And don’t forget about the home-use market.
Simon Moores of Benchmark Mineral Intelligence estimates that Tesla could produce enough lithium-ion batteries by 2020 to power 3.5 million homes.
Being the premier player in batteries has apparently been Elon Musk’s plan all along.
In Elon Musk’s future, everyone will have home and car batteries that they plug in to charge and that are connected to the grid digitally, making blackouts a thing of the past.
Analyst Ravi Manghani of GTM Research said of Musk and Tesla, “They’re not just car makers. They’re part of the electricity network. At least, folks in the energy industry are very well aware of Tesla as a battery maker.”
And as Simon Moores said, Musk is making Tesla the first fully integrated and diversified battery company.
Time will tell if that is a wise move, and if Elon Musk is mentioned in the same breath as Steve Jobs.