In the spirit of constant innovation, Tesla’s batteries and energy storage products continue to see improvements over time. From improving energy density to more efficiencies in manufacturing, Tesla’s energy products are evolving just as fast as the company’s electric cars. Such improvements were teased by Tesla President of Automotive Jerome Guillen. In a recent interview with CNBC, Guillen remarked that the company’s batteries are always dynamic, and are in a constant process of improvement.
“We are improving the design of the cell. The design of the cell is not frozen. It evolves, and we have a nice roadmap of technology improvements for the coming years,” Guillen said.
Tesla’s upcoming ramp of its energy products is coming at the perfect time. Amidst Tesla’s push to increase the production of its energy products, as well as the company’s efforts to achieve $100 per kWh in battery cell costs, the renewable energy market itself is also making huge strides.
The results of a recent analysis from research firm Lazard has revealed that wind and solar energy costs in the United States have finally reached a point where they are becoming more and more competitive with traditional power sources, such as those derived from coal. And that’s without tax subsidies. With subsidies in the picture, the cost advantages of renewable energy over coal are even more notable.
Lazard’s levelized cost of energy (LCOE) analysis concluded that US onshore wind energy costs now average between $26/MWh and $56/MWh without subsidies. Solar energy, on the other hand, averages around $36/MWh and $44/MWh with no subsidies involved. In comparison, the average cost of US existing coal plants is between $27/MWh and $45/MWh.
With such competitive costs, renewable energy is currently challenging coal generation. And the movement is spreading — in the Upper Midwest, Xcel Energy’s utilities have revealed plans to retire about 50% of their coal-fired capacity in the coming years. To replace these facilities, Xcel is looking to wind energy. In a statement to Utility Drive, Xcel CEO Ben Fowke stated that the lowering price of sustainable energy is a large factor for the company’s push towards wind power.
“We’re looking at [wind energy prices] in the low teens to low 20s [in dollars/MWh] — not starting prices, but levelized across the 25-year life of the project. That beats gas, even at today’s prices,” he said.
Considering that wind and solar power are not ever-present, though, the key to a shift to sustainability lies in solutions such as industry-grade battery storage systems, which are capable of storing and distributing energy. This is where Tesla Energy comes in. In a statement to the San Francisco Chronicle back in September, Tesla CTO JB Straubel noted that grid-scale battery solutions such as Tesla’s Powerpacks, which are easily scaled and are reliable, are starting to become an ideal alternative to fossil fuel-powered solutions.
“I think what we’ll see is we won’t build many new peaker plants, if any. Already what we’re seeing happening is the number of new ones being commissioned is drastically lower, and batteries are already outcompeting natural gas peaker plants,” Straubel said.
Such changes are becoming more notable in the United States. Just recently, the state of California announced that it had approved PG&E’s proposal to build a record-breaking 2.2 GWh battery storage project to replace three gas-powered plants. In South Dakota, BP plc has also installed a Tesla battery storage system in at one of its wind energy farms. While BP’s 212 KW/840 kWh battery storage system is not as large-scale as the recently announced CA project, the company has noted that the installation could be expanded in the future.
Wood Mackenzie, a research firm, estimates that the world’s shift from fossil fuels to renewables could happen as early as 2035. At this time, the company expects electric cars, wind power, and solar power to be more prevalent than gasoline and diesel-powered vehicles, as well as fossil fuel-based electricity. Wood Mackenzie notes that the shift towards renewables will hit a tipping point when EVs and clean energy solutions achieve a 20% market share. With this in mind, Tesla’s ramp of its energy business could not come faster.