Tesla Powerwall: The Right Time for Storage

Recently a Tesla Powerwall stores solar energy, Picture: LichtBlick
Recently a Tesla Powerwall stores solar energy, Picture: LichtBlick

Lars Thomsen is a renowned futurologist, founder of future matters AG, and self-proclaimed Tesla fan. He was one of the first people in Europe to buy a Tesla. Now there’s also a Tesla – or, to be more precise, a Tesla Powerwall – at his parents’ place in Hamburg. But the battery does more than just store the solar power generated there: As a ‘SchwarmBatterie®’, like the erngy and IT company LichtBlick offers the battery, it will also soon be connected to a network of batteries and energy markets, thus contributing to the German ‘Energiewende’, the energy transition. We talked to Lars Thomsen about batteries, Tesla, and the future world of energy.

Reaching the Tipping Point with Powerwall

Mr. Thomsen, what made you opt for battery storage?
I began looking at home batteries around two years ago and was surprised at how expensive they were. Back then you just couldn’t justify the costs of purchasing one. It really only paid off with subsidy programs – and plenty of enthusiasm. The announcement of the Tesla Powerwall was a sort of tipping point for me. It was reported that the battery would cost around half as much as the market average at that time. That’s when I became interested in the topic of storage.

Mass Market Still Two to Three Years Down the Road

Lars Thomsen knows: The storage-boom will come, Picture: LichtBlick
Lars Thomsen knows: The storage-boom will come, Picture: LichtBlick

But I also have a certain soft spot for Tesla. I’ve been observing and following the company for some time now, and I like the vision of Elon Musk and JB Straubel, who, among other things, promotes battery development at Tesla. The company is so much more than a manufacturer of electric vehicles. It’s taking the battery and storage market to whole new dimensions and areas of application. Even if mass production is still two to three years down the road. But I like to stay ahead of the game. Regardless of the development, I always prefer to get involved before the tipping point.

Personal consumption of 50 percent

You’ve already installed a photovoltaic system. How high do you predict the internal consumption of solar power to be?
With our 8 kWp photovoltaic system, internal consumption has been approximately 14 percent. In summer, the photovoltaic system generates up to 55 kilowatt-hours (kWh) a day, and we use maybe 4 kWh in the house during this time. In the evening and at night, we’ve been taking 6 to 8 kWh from the grid. In winter, the system output is sometimes only about 10 kWh a day. With the nearly 7 kWh of the battery, we should be able to increase our internal consumption to around 50 percent – and possibly even higher.
Due to our system’s year of manufacture, we still receive compensation for our percentage of internal consumption. As such, the new storage system pays for itself pretty quickly: With internal consumption and the ability to store around 5 kWh a day, the battery should allow us to save around EUR 700 a year. But we just have to see what that really looks like in reality.

People Are Searching for Innovation

You don’t just have battery storage, but have also integrated the Powerwall as a ‘SchwarmBatterie®’ into the LichtBlick ‘Schwarm®’, an energy cluster. What made you decide to do that?
The ‘SchwarmBatterie®’ and the concept of sharing underline other current trends. It’s safe to say that people are always on the lookout for innovation, and they’re social creatures – so we’re also more than happy to share something. Take for instance Airbnb: Millions of people open up their homes to strangers and allow them to spend the night. So why can’t we share energy too? From that point of view, ‘SchwarmDirigent®’ is also a social network.

Battery and solar energy have to go hand in hand, Picture: LichtBlick
Battery and solar energy have to go hand in hand, Picture: LichtBlick

Achieving More Together

People can achieve more when working together than they can on their own – and that also applies to energy. We’ll never be able to find the happy medium between generation, consumption, and storage with silo solutions. It therefore makes sense to share a portion of the energy generated and stored and make it available to the ‘Schwarm.’
We’re only beginning to really understand what an energy cluster can do. A small calculation: Tesla currently has around 400,000 preorders for the Model 3 – and while that’s just the first wave, we’ll stick to that number. Let’s assume that the car has 50 kWh of storage. Combined, that’s 20 gigawatt hours, which is one of the world’s largest energy storage solutions. But rather than a single location such as a huge dam or pumped storage facility, it’s distributed across 400,000 units with four wheels, which are parked somewhere and connected to the power grid around 90 percent of the time. Tesla’s not only building a car, but also an enormous cluster storage network. We need to see the bigger picture: What’s possible now and will be possible in the future?

Democratizing Energy

There’s something else we’d like to ask you about. You’re a futurologist and involved in the areas of digitalization and energy. How do you see the future development of renewables and the importance of battery storage?
I think the ‘SchwarmEnergie®’ approach makes a lot of sense. The energy transition can only be achieved through collaboration – not through egotism and division. We’re democratizing energy this way and breaking down the existing monopoly. At the same time, we’re making energy regional again, which offers a lot of benefits.

Photovoltaic Systems + Battery Storage

At future matters AG, we expect the demand for batteries to increase a hundredfold over the next 500 weeks. Scale effects and learning curves will result in lower prices. It’s going to be an enormous market. And we’ll get to a point when photovoltaic systems with battery storage are simply more economical than those without. Consumers will then opt for distributed generation for financial reasons, even without any subsidies or other incentives. As I said before, battery prices have to and will fall by around 50 percent compared to today, and we’ll experience a huge boom.

Germany Will Be Among the Pioneers

This will, however, work differently from one market to the next. It will make sense to invest in batteries earlier in some countries and later in others. The electricity price structures in place will be the deciding factor. A point will eventually come for many of the approximately 1.5 million owners of solar panels in Germany when it makes sense to increase the percentage of internal consumption. As such, I believe that Germany can be one of the pioneers in the storage market, along with other markets such as Australia and U.S. state California.

Find out more about LichtBlick’s international activities and our IT platform ‘SchwarmDirigent®’ at: www.lichtblick.com

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