Three competitors are trailblazing the way into home energy solutions: Tesla, Daimler, and Powervault. What are they offering, and what does it mean for consumers and the environment?
Tesla are no strangers to competition; CEO Elon Musk has famously declared that competition is exactly what he wants, and Tesla in many ways is about inciting such competition into the electric car market.
Tesla's most recent moves have veered away from this, and has seen them innovate in the area of home energy storage. The Powerwall was born of this: a wall mountable energy storage device that is designed to capture excess energy generated by solar panels, and store it for use at anytime. Finally, renewable energy enthusiasts aren't at the mercy of the weather and the time of day they wish to use their devices. Ironically, but in many ways obviously, peak energy demand falls outside of the hours of peak sunlight. The Powerwall allows anyone to live 'off the grid' without the myriad of sacrifices it tends to bring. They're priced very competitively, when consideration is given to the energy costs a home will likely save, and they're guaranteed for a whopping 10 years.
The dust had barely settled on Tesla's PR party when Daimler, the parent company behind Mercedes-Benz, jumped in, vying for a piece of the home battery market. The offering is much smaller (but subsequently cheaper) batteries. This in many ways mirrors the car market - Tesla's machines are entirely electric, and the expectation here is to live off an entirely solar generated home, whilst Mercedes-Benz is primarily looking at hybrid, and with the much smaller batteries for your home the expectation is around dual energy.
We do have to say, the Mercedes-Benz offer is currently lacking in terms of design, looking like it was inspired by a pedal bin - not great for a luxury car company. However, with Daimler's home country of Germany being one of the most environmentally forward-thinking countries on the planet, this will no doubt go down a treat.
And now the UK has entered the foray, with a startup initiative no less. Powervault took a mere 4 days to raise £700,000 in capital via crowdfunding platform Crowdcube. Attracting attention from some big VC funds, including Future Matters, Powervault promises convenience to the UK customer.
It can be installed within an hour by an electrician and is compatible with any solar units available. Powervault argues that their system is the simplest for the everyday consumer - something which will be vital as solar and home batteries move closer to the mass market.
Where is the market heading?
Tesla has shown the market is there, gathering approximately $800 million in revenue from reserved Powerwall units alone. Despite this market appearing to be one of the future battlegrounds for energy companies, not a single unit has actually been installed yet. Tesla's will be the first to ship, and will start being installed in homes sometime over the next few months.
I doubt this will be the end either. This is a market that has mostly seen entry from automotive companies, and that's arguably quite surprising. Some of the more traditionally linked industries will no doubt enter this in some way in the coming years. Li-ion battery companies and energy companies being obvious contenders, and corporate energy solutions will likely start getting involved soon too.
What it means for customers
Ultimately, when it comes to the two major stakeholders of customers and the environment, this is positive. We, as consumers, are likely to see tumbling prices and growing quality in these units. I, for one, would love some of these units in my home today. However, the savvy consumer in me says hold out - this industry is set for incredible things, and I would be stunned if these three companies left these offerings on the table as they stand now with the likely threat of new entrants growing by the day.
What it means for the environment
And what of the environment? I would love everyone to operate in hippie communes, living entirely off the grid, and eating homegrown food - don't get me wrong. But it won't happen. I fully share Elon Musk's vision that we cannot expect the average consumer to sacrifice their livelihood or wellbeing for such an abstract concept as 'the environment'. Instead, we shift consumers towards better options and products that are inherently better for the environment. Who doesn't want a Tesla car? They're awesome, and to most consumers the eco-friendly benefits of the vehicle barely even register. The same can be said for these batteries - it isn't about the environment; it's about saving money and powering your home off the grid. Saving the environment is a secondary benefit to this innovation in energy for your average consumer.
Thus, I also share Elon Musk's vision mentioned at the start of this article - one of perfect competition within the market. Driving down prices and driving up offerings is his goal (other than driving Tesla cars), and I sincerely hope that we see the necessary competition for that to occur within home energy storage.