Elon Musk has his fingers in many pies. Two in particular, Tesla Motors and SolarCity, could be a match made in heaven California.
Elon Musk is the CEO of Tesla Motors, producer of the best combination of lithium-ion and wheels ever devised. He is also Chairman of the Board at SolarCity, which is run by his cousin Lyndon Rive, a distributor of rooftop solar panel and control systems. Besides Elon Musk, what do Tesla Motors and SolarCity have in common?
Perhaps a better question is: “What will they have in common?” In a recent announcement, Mr. Rive explained that SolarCity would soon be rolling out a system that would allow its customers to store solar power at night. This plan would require backup batteries, which Tesla Motors has already developed.
Currently, consumers with SolarCity’s rooftop solar panels have their homes equipped with smart meters that measure the flow of electricity in and out of the home, called net-metering. Put simplistically, when the solar panels produce less energy than the home uses, such as at night, power flows into the home and the meter runs ‘forwards.’ Consumers pay the utility when the meter runs forwards. On the other hand, during the day, when the sun is shining, solar panels may produce more energy than the home consumes, and the meter will run ‘backwards.’ When the meter runs backwards, consumers get a credit from the utility company.
This is all well and good, except that the net-metering regulations could change at any time, reducing or even eliminating the amount of energy the utility companies are required to pay consumers when the meters run backwards. If only there was a way to store excess energy generated during the day so that it could be used at night…
SolarCity and Tesla Motors will begin testing backup batteries in a hundred different sites before the planned launch in 2015. Tesla Motors has already developed lithium-ion battery systems for the Tesla Model S, as well as charging and discharging equipment and software. Replace the plug with solar panels and the vehicle with a house, and its simple to see how this could work. It could even get some people off the grid completely if the cost and capability is right.