Renewable technology is by no means a new practice; Europeans developed the vertical waterwheel in 200 BC, Persians followed by grinding grain with windmills in the 10th century, and the first “solar powered steam generation system” was invented in France in 1860. Even the photovoltaic cells we know as the defining features of solar panels were patented by Edward Weston in 1888, though since then they’ve undergone countless improvements that have lowered their costs dramatically. Despite the rapid growth of the solar industry, the main challenge to widespread adoption of this bountiful renewable has been energy storage.
With standard solar systems today, the photovoltaic cells on your roof only produce electricity when the sun is shining; thus, as soon as the sun sets, cloud cover moves in, or even debris covers part of the panel, the panel stops converting light energy. In such cases, the local utility company steps back in and your home again receives energy from the grid. This is a huge problem for solar; as an industry regularly criticized for cost and slow payback times, the less time spent producing energy, the longer it takes to “recoup their installation and maintenance cost[s].”
Enter Tesla, a well-known automotive and energy storage company, that in April 2015 introduced its Powerwall home battery pack. This rechargeable lithium-ion battery, weighing just over 200 pounds, is mounted to the wall of your home and connected to the grid and your solar array system in order to provide backup power, either when the grid goes down or the sun stops shining. Though the system costs between $3,000 and $3,500 depending on the kW size of the battery you desire, the Powerwall has almost no maintenance costs and is considerably less bulky than its current competitors.
The Powerwall forms the missing link between simply harnessing the energy of the sun and transitioning solar into a renewable solution technology that’s ready for mass consumption. The implications of this technology are immense; according to Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, 160 million Powerpacks could completely transition the US off of oil and gas to renewable solar energy. In a world where oil, gas, and coal can cause serious foreign relations issues—not to mention devastating environmental consequences—such a step towards efficient, personal solar energy use indicates a bright future for renewable energy.
Written by Rachel Pierstorff, ESLLC 2015-2016
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 “Problems With Solar Energy – Why It Is Not More Widely Used.” SolarPowerIsTheFuture.com. SolarPowerIsTheFuture.com, n.d. Web. 10 Nov. 2015. <http://www.solarpoweristhefuture.com/problems-with-solar-energy.shtml>.
 DeBord, Matthew. “Elon Musk’s Big Announcement: It’s Called ‘Tesla Energy'” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 01 May 2015. Web. 10 Nov. 2015. <http://www.businessinsider.com/here-comes-teslas-missing-piece-battery-announcement-2015-4>.
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