Okay, let’s start by getting a couple of things out of the way.
First, I have a gigantic soft-spot for Tesla for a lot of emotional reasons. The company is California born-and-raised, and represents the seeds of an economic renaissance. It is based in Hawthorne in the heart of the Dust Belt, that long string of aircraft factories eviscerated by the post-Cold War downsizing of Southern California’s aerospace industry. The cars are gorgeous, innovative, and, of course, no-emission. And Musk is a fellow member of my tribe.
So I am a tad biased.
Second, I believe that private enterprise has an essential role to play in moving us to a cleaner, more environmentally-friendly future. Tesla is proving that.
So I am doubly biased. But let’s dive into the topic of the day: Tesla Energy and its proposed Powerwall home and business energy storage system.
At its basic level, the idea is to take power from the grid when rates and usage are low and store it for usage anytime. Not only should this drop the rates people pay for electricity, it would help eliminate the need for power companies to build plants to compensate for high usage periods. Tesla says that it would also allow for us to store solar power or wind power we generate at home and use it when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing.
In short, the Tesla Energy Powerwall could be an incredible breakthrough in moving more of us to solar and wind power.
All to the good.
But before we all rush to the Tesla website and place our orders, we need to understand the full costs of the technology.
Raw Materials: First, we need to think of where the materials are going to come from? If millions of homes and businesses shift to Tesla, will we need to increase mining of rare earths for the inputs into the batteries? If so, what are the environmental costs of that mining, and who will bear them?
Manufacturing: Where will the batteries be manufactured and under what circumstances? Today, they’ll be manufactured in Nevada. But what about the long term? Is Tesla eventually planning on having these made someplace where the government doesn’t worry so much about the environment?
Logistics: Will these be exported or shipped from overseas, thus raising the carbon footprint of the product?
Disposal: How long will the batteries last? What happens when the time comes to replace these batteries? Will they be recyclable? What percent? How much will be dumped into landfills?
I am excited about the technology, enough so that it may be enough to push me into converting my home to solar. But if this turns out to be less an environmental step forward than it is a First World Feel Good technology, I will save my money and look for other ways to cut our energy use.
UPDATE: Corrected the product name from “Powerall” to “Powerwall.” By the way, Tesla Powerwall is a trademark of Tesla Motors.