Future Tech

Did Elon Musk Just Save Us From Fossil Fuels?

Rob Nightingale 03-05-2015

A few days ago, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced a new home battery system. Not the sexiest product at first blush – but a closer look shows that this battery has the potential to disrupt the glacial progress of the energy industry. Check out the keynote below to see what I mean.


In other words, this is huge. According to CBC, “Musk is trying to steer his electric car company’s battery technology into homes and businesses as part of an elaborate plan to reshape the power grid with millions of small power plants made of solar panels”. TechCrunch described the move as “a new business arm that is focused on ending our dependence on grid power and switching instead to solar energy.”

What Is Tesla Selling?


During the keynote, Musk announced two new sets of products. First was the Tesla Powerwall home battery. This is a slick looking power pack that can be mounted and stacked (up to 9 deep) on the interior or exterior walls of your home or small business.

There are two models: a $3000 7kWh battery and a $3500 10kWh battery. The portability aspect of the product makes this the perfect solution for bringing power to off-the-grid locations, and also areas whose power access is unstable, with frequent blackouts and brownouts.

Both models are available for pre-order now, and should be shipping late this summer.


The second product is a much larger version of the battery for use in medium-to-large-sized businesses and for utility companies (with 100kWh to 10MWh+ batteries on offer). The largest stores enough power to run a typical US home for nearly a year It’s these batteries that powered the entire conference in which the products were announced.

Why is This Big News?


Despite the fact that the Sun creates ample energy to power the globe, currently we can thank solar power for a measly 0.23% of the energy that the US consumes (globally, that figure is 1%). And according to Tesla, “The US electric power sector alone produces over 2,000 million metric tons of CO2 which is like burning 225 billion gallons of gas. The EPA says it would require 1.6 billion acres of US forest to negate the environmental damage”. This doesn’t lead to rosy predictions for the future Interesting World Simulations For Predicting The Future & Understanding Society Lots of people are very concerned about issues that affect their local communities, and maybe even their country, but are you the kind of person that's actually also very concerned about the entire world itself?... Read More , and will lead to more of us breathing air that looks like this.

One of the main reasons our use of sustainable energy is increasing so slowly is the unavailability of suitable batteries to store the power generated. During the launch, Musk stated that current batteries “are expensive, unreliable and bad in every way”. Without affordable and reliable batteries we have two huge problems to solve: power availability at night, and power availability during power outages.


But Why Would I Even Want a Battery?


As Wired points out:

“A house battery will let you be more power independent. If you have solar panels or electricity generated from wind, they don’t always produce the same amount of power. With a battery, you can store this energy during the day (or during wind) and then use it at night.

A house battery will also let you get power from the electric company at night when the rates are lower and then use it during the day. Really, that’s win-win. You win with a lower power bill and the electric company wins with lower demand during the day.”

Once we have batteries that can store a suitable amount of energy, that are not reliant on being plugged into the grid, and that are affordable enough to be distributed on a larger scale, then we’re on the precipice of disrupting the energy industry as a whole. And that’s exactly what Musk is offering.

How Does This Solve The Problem?



Currently, installing a home battery to increase your energy independence is expensive and full of hassles. The (usually lead acid) batteries can be difficult to install, and require routine maintenance. They all need to be hooked up together. They need replacing. They take up too much space. They’re ugly.

Is it a surprise that people opt for a diesel generator over a battery?

Tesla’s lithium ion batteries, however, are touted as being extremely simple to install, completely automated, and require no maintenance. Another win-win.

Along with this:


“Without a home battery, excess solar energy is often sold to the power company and purchased back in the evening. This mismatch adds demand on power plants and increases carbon emissions. Powerwall bridges this gap between renewable energy supply and demand by making your home’s solar energy available to you when you need it.”
(Tesla Powerwall).

But this isn’t all. The vision here isn’t just to have each property with a standalone battery being fuelled entirely by solar power Efficient. Cheap. Awesome. Here's Why New Spray-On Solar Cells Matter The cost of solar energy is set to drop precipitously after a team of scientists working at the University of Sheffield in the United Kingdom announced development of solar cells using a spray-on process. Read More . The vision is to reduce the planet’s overall reliance on fossil fuels by creating localised networks of home batteries (or larger, industrial batteries) that can, as a whole, be seen as a power plant in themselves.

In theory this could see entire villages, towns, cities, and eventually countries be able to generate power in an entirely sustainable, renewable way, totally independent of fossil-fuels, in a way that’s no been possible before.

Granted, the $3000+ price tag may scare some people out of the market for now, but it must be remembered that this is a first iteration of the product. The battery is ‘only’ 92% efficient, and It doesn’t include an AC/DC converter. But, for a piece of kit that’s aiming to save you money within a few years of purchase (investment), it’s very affordable compared to the alternatives.

The main selling point (for now) though, is the prospect of back-up power. Given economies of scale, however, as the technology reduces in price, more and more people will be able to turn their homes and local areas into reliable, independent power plants.

Is this the Solution?


This development is from the guy behind SpaceX: the first private company to successfully launch a rocket into orbit, despite huge opposition. It’s also from the guy who, again against heavy opposition, launched Tesla, the all-electric car company, which is now heavily involved with autonomous vehicles Tesla to Release Autonomous Car Features This Summer Tesla owners may get a peek at self-driving features sooner than expected. Tesla has its own autonomous car program, and they want to push some of their software to end users this summer. Read More . If anyone can dream big, and accomplish those dreams, it’s Elon Musk. Historically, betting against him hasn’t worked out.

The thing that really makes this development stand out from other sustainable developments The Energy of The Future, Today: How Do Solar Panels & Heliostats Work? Renewable resources. It’s a problem that we face every day whether we realize it or not. With every pump of a gas handle, with every press of a car’s accelerator, with every plug of our... Read More is that Musk is allowing anyone to freely use his technology. All of Tesla’s patents are freely available for anyone to use. And this is where the revolutionary part of this project starts to really stand out.

Musk has taken this technology through the boring, slow part of the exponential curve, and now that it’s ready, he’s launching it to an entrepreneurial public to do with what they like.

As stated in the book Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World, “The creation of a simple and elegant user interface gives entrepreneurs the ability to harness this new tool to solve problems, start businesses, and most importantly, experiment”.

The gorgeous design and open technology that Musk is offering us is the “simple and elegant user interface” that the sustainable energy industry needs. The barriers to experimentation are at last being removed.

Musk has seen that if entrepreneurs adopt this technology without the burden of paying for the use of those patents, then we could be onto something huge. Be democratizing the technology, he’s hoping to drastically reduce the time it takes to disrupt this market, and create as much of an impact as possible. Not primarily for profit, but for the sake of humanity.

What Does The Future Hold?


If Musk succeeds in distributing 2 billion of these batteries around the globe, we would at last be able to harness enough power from the Sun to power the entire planet. 2 billion is a huge number, but it’s the same number of cars we have on the road, which makes Musk believe that this is indeed possible for humanity to accomplish. All we need to do is connect the dots, and Tesla’s new and future battery technologies could be the most important of those dots to reverse our reliance on non-renewable energy sources without turning to hair-brained ideas of power production 8 Unbelievable New Ways of Generating Electricity Alternative energy is one the rise, but you may not know about all the options. Here are some of the craziest new ways of generating power. Read More .

Do you think this could be the start of a more sustainable energy industry, or are we dreaming too big?

Image Credits: Solar Panels by Kedin Dooley (Flickr), Pollution!, by Agustin Ruiz (Flickr), Elon Musk, Tesla Factory, Fremont by Maurizio Pesce (Flickr), Tesla Powerwall Press Kit

Related topics: Electric Car, Green Technology.

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  1. Yazan
    September 7, 2016 at 10:32 am

    I thought it was a great idea until I saw the "$3500 10kWh battery" part, it is good for cold climate, however If I try to use it where I live it will be pointless. we need air conditions and those will use around 2.5kWh (for the small A/C, some are way over 3kWh) so that won't leave much for everything else if you need more than 2 A/Cs.

    but in cold areas, Yeah it is great and maybe after some time it will be cheaper and more efficient.

    • Rob Nightingale
      October 7, 2016 at 5:45 pm

      The plan is definitely for them to become a lot cheaper once economies of scale can be taken advantage of. With Solar City growing so fast though, it's only a matter of time :)

  2. Rob Nightingale
    May 25, 2015 at 4:20 pm

    True. In theory, this could bring the costs of launching a rocket down by over 80% - now that's revolution!

  3. theclmac
    May 13, 2015 at 4:20 pm

    This is definitely a breakthrough in the technology community, and one that will raise the eyebrows of many. However, two things stand out. 1. If something seems to good to be true, it usually is. What's the catch? 2.) I'll approach it just like I did Windows 8, wait for 8.1 when they've fixed all the bugs and then make a calculated decision on whether to make such a costly investment, look at the competition, or continue to seek out other options.

    • Rob
      May 14, 2015 at 4:44 pm

      Agreed. The first iteration is never too impressive, but what's to come, I hope will be worth waiting for!

  4. Steph
    May 10, 2015 at 2:27 am

    @Alan Bravo, excellent response to @blackbook (hope I have that)! You stated the real facts clearly and on point. I hope that @blackbook got your points. :)

  5. Rob
    May 6, 2015 at 8:58 pm

    Robert, not as long as you might imagine. This article on Wired explains the physics in much more detail: http://www.wired.com/2015/05/get-tesla-home-battery-let-physics-explain/

    "Five hours doesn’t seem like a long time, but I bet this would get you through the night if you are using solar power (you don’t use as much energy when you are asleep). Ok, actually you would get less than 5 hours. This calculation assumes everything is 100% efficient. In fact, the battery is only 92 percent efficient and the DC to AC converter would have some energy loss as well. If you aimed for 3 hours at 2 kW, I think you would be ok."

  6. Robert MacKenzie
    May 6, 2015 at 7:08 pm

    BTW a big thanks to you, Mr. Nightingale (Rob - no relation-lol) for posting the article in the first place. Well written and concise, but with enough detail to hold the interest get the old brain thinking.

    The only question that remains is how many batteries do you need for a household of 4 and how many days will that last under normal or average use? As John Williams (above) put it, will these fire your electric water heaters, electric dryers, pool pumps, A/C units, etc, etc. ???

    I think at first, these could be hooked up in parallel to our existing systems, and switched out automatically when the load is too high or the charge is too low (just like hybrid cars do now). I think the question underneath the point he was trying to make is, "Is there a practical number and configuration of these new batteries that can be setup to run a house completely off the grid?"

    Anyone?? Anyone??

  7. Trey Atkins
    May 6, 2015 at 4:30 am

    Even if we do have battery power that is great, the price of grid power is not going to stay the same as usage declines.

    • Rob
      May 6, 2015 at 2:47 pm

      So, do you think the price of grid power will increase or decrease? I envision it will increase and become more of a rarity, as renewable power becomes more ubiquitous (and cheaper).

    • Trey Atkins
      May 9, 2015 at 6:22 am

      Power companies would not go quietly into the night. If demand drops, their initial response is most likely to be raising prices. Or to start manufacturing batteries for home use.

  8. Robert MacKenzie
    May 5, 2015 at 10:59 pm

    This is revolutionary because it puts the power of the decision making process squarely in the hands of the individual. The question is not whether lead-acid batteries are ugly, or if individuals can do things more efficiently than business. The question is, "Which technology do I use to power my home? The problem is all the other technologies are more expensive or harder to use. Simple as that.

    I think it's like the way my grandma used the refrigerator, back in the day. They used to lug big blocks of ice around to stick them inside. They melted all over the place. Ugly! Then came compact electrical refrigeration and voila! no more giant ice blocks. That was revolutionary. Of course now it's simple to go buy one and plug it in myself. Easy.

    Now, I don't suppose this is as plug and play as it seems. You'll need a licensed electrician to make the hookup. But after that, no maintenance and kick it for 10 years or so. No hydrogen gas explosion worries or water level maintenance hassles from the Lead-Acid batteries. Moving? Have it disconnected and take it with you. I think this is very revolutionary.

    Elon Musk didn't invent Lithium Ion battery, he's simply packaging it in a way that is more accessable and efficient to use. Think Apple and the plain old cellular phone. Did they invent it? No. They just made it more user friendly, and made themselves fabulously wealthy in the process.

    Unlike Apple, Tesla is willing to license this so others can get in on it. Do a site survey, calculate out some kWhs, hire out an electrician and offer some financing. Bingo. I think Solar Panel companies are kinda of already geared up to handle this sort of thing. But this is new and the potential is limitless. All you business majors out there should be drooling.

    The statement was made that the government subsidizes solar. That's because it has to. That's a good thing for us. So we will buy it and use it. If they subsidize us adopting this new technology for our Solar installations, then I think that's great! It certainly will make the technology more affordable, and so in turn, will help large scale adoption arrive sooner.

    • Rob
      May 6, 2015 at 2:48 pm

      Thanks Robert. That's saved me a lot of time writing out my own replies :)

  9. gbswales
    May 5, 2015 at 10:00 am

    I simply do not understand the obsession here about whether or not a business or government invented something. Up until now I am not aware that anyone else has suggested using lithium batteries. For domestic solar installations in the UK the only available storage area for batteries is usually the loft. Putting aside the technical difficulties the weigh of lead batteries prevents many people from making this choice. This could be the beginning of something big, or a flash in the pan, but if a private company is prepared to try then good for them. The easiest solution for domestic users would be a system that could be simply plugged in between the wall socket and the heaviest using appliances. It would therefor need to accept AC current, convert to DC to store and supply it back as AC current via some kind of automated delivery process. Without this it is going to be of little use to people who have opted for the individual panel mounted inverters which deliver the current into the home converted to AC.
    From the UK perspective however I am just a little concerned as to how this might affect the long term payment subsidies (over 20 years) that are paid to people to recognise the contribution they make to the power grid.

  10. Ian Stevens
    May 5, 2015 at 12:45 am

    I do not see what is special about his product. Batteries for solar panels is obviously not a new idea. And Li-Ion batteries have been around forever. So what did he supposedly "invent"?

    • Rob
      May 6, 2015 at 2:46 pm

      Please read what Robert MacKenzie posted. He has answered your questions in that comment...

  11. John Williams
    May 4, 2015 at 11:54 pm

    Lightweight lithium should be reserved for vehicles that carry their own power supply. There are hundreds of millions of tons of lead which is perfectly suitable for static domestic and business batteries.
    Industry and the railways will always need hundreds of megawatts of power. No solar, wind or renewable will ever be able to provide this capacity - which is why nuclear is begrudgingly accepted by the climate change environmentalists as part of the green energy package.
    Much of this industrial power capacity is idle at night and could charge domestic and light industry batteries to give them power when they need it.
    Solar panel installations on domestic properties should by now be as discredited as little windmills in suburbia. Along with off-shore wind, they only live due to huge government subsidies.
    Even domestic users still need 220V 10KW for the electric shower and other high load items like ovens and dryers. Very few people have the roof space to accomodate all the solar panels needed for those loads, and a 12KW solar array is very expensive.

    When you say "Currently, installing a home battery to increase your energy independence is expensive and full of hassles. The (usually lead acid) batteries can be difficult to install, and require routine maintenance. They all need to be hooked up together. They need replacing. They take up too much space. They’re ugly."
    You are simply talking down lead acid to big-up the fancy new lithium techniolgy. If lead acid was subsidised, packaged and delivered in the same way that Musk envisages delivering lithium to homes, people wouldn't care what the battery technology was
    would they?

    • Rob
      May 6, 2015 at 2:46 pm

      Please see the reply by Robert MacKenzie. He has answered your questions there...

  12. timo
    May 4, 2015 at 10:33 pm

    How long will the batteries last before they need to be replaced?

    • Rob
      May 6, 2015 at 2:45 pm

      They are guaranteed for 10 years, though I don't know how long they are expected to last.

  13. D Korabell
    May 4, 2015 at 10:16 pm

    Henry Ford did not invent the assembly line, he merely refined it. Garment manufacturers were using assembly lines nearly a century earlier.

    • Rob
      May 6, 2015 at 2:45 pm

      To a large extent, he 'perfected' the mass production line, or at least massively optimised it. That, was revolutionary.

  14. dragonmouth
    May 4, 2015 at 1:20 pm

    Elon Musk and Tesla have a perception problem. Whenever the name "Musk" or "Tesla" is mentioned, many people automatically think "Preston Tucker." In their minds only huge conglomerates like Ford, GM or Fiat are capable of innovations in the automobile field. What they forget is that, at one time, there were hundreds of independent auto makers in the US alone, all started and run by individuals like Henry Ford, Louis Chevrolet, Ransom Olds, Howard Marmon, Harry Stutz. The various divisions of the Big Three started out as independent car companies.

    Elon Musk is more like Howard Hughes than Preston Tucker. Tucker was a one hit wonder with his Tuckermobile. Musk is a one man conglomerate with interests and innovations in space, auto, solar, transportation and online payment industries. To dismiss him as a crack pot or a one trick pony is to make a big mistake.

    • Blackblock
      May 4, 2015 at 4:19 pm

      hundreds of small companies cant make innovations because they dont have enough financial and scientific resources

    • dragonmouth
      May 4, 2015 at 8:21 pm

      Hundreds of small, and not so small companies do not make innovations because they choose not to spend their money on research. OTOH, thousands of small companies make innovations that general public never hears about.

    • Rob
      May 6, 2015 at 2:44 pm

      It's small companies who make many, important innovations. There's a reason why, when Amazon decided to start taking drones seriously, it bought out 8 small companies, who each had their own ideas and innovative technology that could help. Big businesses can take a shortcut by buying the innovations of small companies. Be under no illusion, small companies are innovating at an amazing rate.

  15. dragonmouth
    May 4, 2015 at 12:34 pm

    "Granted, the $3000+ price tag may scare some people out of the market for now"
    Have you priced a set of lead-acid batteries of similar storage capacity??? It's not like you can go down to the local WalMart and pickup a six-pack of batteries for $29.99.

    The next thing we need for wider spread of solar at home are solar panels that are more productive by at least one order of magnitude.

    • Lee
      May 4, 2015 at 6:33 pm

      Well I've priced them. The HSSBB-AGM-2200 at hardy solar.com is available now, has better specs than the best tesla and cost $1460.

    • Lee
      May 4, 2015 at 7:03 pm

      I really don't understand why people think the Tesla announcement is a big deal. As I see it the Tesla batteries are considerably more expensive than the competition (and there is plenty of competition). Chemical batteries are expensive and have a very limited life. For this reason they're not even close to being cost effective. Consider the absurdity of Musk's solution to the worlds energy problems. You own a Tesla car and a solar powered off the grid home with Telsa batteries. You come home after dark one night and your car battery is almost completely depleted. You will need nine fully charged 10kWh batteries just to charge your 85kWh car. $100K car, $31K in batteries, all of which has at most a ten year lifespan. There are many people working on real world changing solutions to the energy storage problem. Eventually, someone will succeed and I don't think It will be Tesla. Take a look at the velkess.com flywheel solution. It they deliver in 2016 what they say they will deliver, living off the grid may finally be cost effective.

    • dragonmouth
      May 7, 2015 at 12:22 pm

      Sorry, Lee but the HSSBB-AGM-2200 provides only 2.2 kW of storage while the Tesla battery provide 7.5 kW. Hardy Solar sells the HSSBB-AGM-8800, a 8.8 kW battery, which is closer in capacity to the Tesla, for $5840 which makes Tesla the cheaper battery. Or you can buy three AGM-2200 for $4380 but still be 900 watts of storage short.

  16. hearsetrax
    May 4, 2015 at 10:29 am

    Musk is full of bean dip

    • Rob
      May 6, 2015 at 2:42 pm

      Thanks for your contribution.

  17. Blackblock
    May 4, 2015 at 3:37 am

    I doubt very much some private company can invent something that can make revolution in technologies. There were no such cases in history. Computers and internet and rockets were invented by the United States Department of Defense in the times of 70% taxes.

    • Daniel M
      May 4, 2015 at 11:36 am

      Private companies invented cars, airplanes, trains, radio, TV, electricity generation, steam engines, cotten gins, and every other freaking thing before the era of big militaries, governments.

    • Blackblock
      May 4, 2015 at 2:19 pm

      To Daniel M.
      May be you are right, though many of these inventions were made by even not a private company but a private person. The inventions in that time didnt demand much knowledge and resources Often they were made by government scientists educated again by government. Its very simple to invent car I mean the car is just a box on the wheels like a cart. 90% technologies which is used in modern cars, airplanes and so on without which they are just boxes was invented by government military or non-military big or little it doesnt matter. Because government thinks of well-being of all people not only an individual private businessmen.
      For example Ford just used common knowledge. Yes he created successful business but he didnt invented nothing new.

    • Blackblock
      May 4, 2015 at 2:33 pm

      Sorry, he invented nothing new

    • Blackblock
      May 4, 2015 at 2:47 pm

      Daniel M.
      By the way how much did Space-X pay for state rocket patents? How much do modern computer companies pay for state patents. And what would our world have looked like if the government had been as greedy as private companies?

    • dragonmouth
      May 4, 2015 at 8:11 pm

      "Sorry, he invented nothing new"
      If you mean Henry Ford, then you are wrong. Ford is credited with inventing the assembly which is used in all manufacturing.

    • dwynath
      May 4, 2015 at 11:10 pm

      Edison. Tesla. Thomas Adams. Tomislav Uzelac. Luis Walter Alvarez. George de Mestral. Momofuku Ando. Claude Beck. George Ballas. Sergey Brin & Larry Page. Examples of individual inventors significantly changing their industries.

    • Alan Smithee
      May 5, 2015 at 1:47 am


      Unless I'm misunderstanding you, you are not factually or practically correct.

      In addition to all the tech that Daniel M had mentioned (all invented and deployed by individuals or private companies, *not* governments), please remember that the internet was created by individuals, some of who worked for the U.S. government at the time. Most of the backbone and virtually all of the peripheral of the internet (in the U.S.) is privately built and maintained. A majority of all the software (transport, security, content, etc.) is created by individuals or private companies, not governments.

      Rockets were not "invented" by governments, but the really expensive, typically poorly-run massive projects are pretty much a government exclusive (no sane individual or company will continue to do really expensive things incorrectly; they tend to try to fix things). And even for the "guvamint" versions -- all of them -- were built by private companies, not some mythical creature called "government". And in almost every situation, where the government gets out of the way, a faster, better, stronger, cheaper, more efficient, more effective product is created. In almost every situation where the government is involved, it's frankly shite.

      Don't mean to burst your bubble, but for god's sake, do some reading (If you were taught to read in a privately-run school, your comprehension is probably better).

      Also remember that, as they are composed of individuals, governments vary greatly in effectiveness and capabilities.

      It's easy to label governments as all-wise, all-kind, all-knowing, but that's typically the opinion of very young, poorly-educated Americans. The main difference between governments and private companies is that governments enjoy a unique monopoly of being able to force (at gunpoint, threat of death or harm) individuals to "buy" their product.

      All private companies and individuals only seem to want that power, but do not have it.

    • Cody
      May 5, 2015 at 1:50 pm

      @Alan Smithee

      You saved me a lot of time by writing what you did. It's always nice to see that other people actually get it. Puts a bit more faith back in humanity. Great job man.

    • Rob
      May 6, 2015 at 2:42 pm

      I can't put it better than Alan. Governments are becoming less and less of a requirement for revolution and innovation, so I'll leave the conversation at that.

    • Bob
      May 8, 2015 at 1:44 am

      Correction Rockets, Computers were not invented by the USDD. Open up your History books (yes the ones that involve the rest of the world outside of the US of A). You may find that others were doing it first.. I recall the Russians making some pretty impressive space rockets... and the Germans before that (although not space).

      The British, Germans and Russians "helped" with many of the so claimed "invented" by Americans..

    • Rob
      May 12, 2015 at 6:55 pm

      Agreed, Bob :)

    • lorie
      May 24, 2015 at 8:12 am

      last time i checked im pretty sure no other company invented vertical take off and vertical landing rockets. so he did invent something, or at least his company did.

  18. Angsu
    May 4, 2015 at 1:24 am

    This is one of the most well written and though provoking articles I've ever seen on MakeUseOf!!

    • Rob
      May 6, 2015 at 2:40 pm

      Wow, thanks Angsu! High praise indeed :)