On April 30, 2015, Elon Musk announced to the world the Tesla PowerWall. In its first week alone, Tesla brought in $800 million dollars for their new PowerWall. Powerwall is a rechargeable Lithium-ion battery pack that will store energy for when you need it, or to use as a backup power supply during an outage. Unlike a generator, it doesn’t require fuel and creates no noise. What’s interesting is that the backlog of customer orders is already winding itself well into the second half of 2016. This is a sign that demonstrates there is a market demand for rethinking how we power our homes both from the perspective of lead-shifting and backup power. With a little speculation, it is also a product that just might serve as a backdoor to the mass adoption of smarter, more automated homes.
While many articles have been focusing on the cost per kilowatt-hour and the number of charge/discharge cycles with regard to the PowerWall, I’ve been enamored by the little known detail that the PowerWall can connect to your home's Wi-Fi network. The reason it has connectivity is that PowerWall will check when utility rates are cheapest before attempting to recharge the battery. Not only is this utterly cool, but it’s convenient if you opt not to install solar panels on your home and still want to (eventually) see a return on upfront installation costs.
If we have a data connection for the battery to get this type of information, why can’t it then be extended to our home appliances so they only run when energy is cheap? In other words, is it reasonable to assume that we could “hack” the PowerWall to become the brain of our smart home? I think it's certainly possible. But I am not interested in hacked-together, homebrewed solutions (well, for DIY fun I am, but that’s beside the point). What I would like to see is a genuinely consumer-friendly solution that will bring home automation to the masses. A Tesla PowerWall-centric, smart appliance ecosystem just might provide the financial incentive to get consumers interested in automation. After all, money talks.
As with everything related to home automation, it will come down to getting all appliance manufacturers to agree on a standard communications protocol. Perhaps Tesla, if successful with the PowerWall, can garner enough muscle that they can get manufacturers on board. From there, to realize a truly automated home, it would then be a matter of getting companies onboard that manufacture things such as light bulbs, ceiling fans, and door locks, to name a few.
The PowerWall might just be the sort of backdoor technology that plants the seeds for true home automation to finally blossom. Seeds based on consumer demand and preference to save money versus trying to sell yet another new-fangled, stand-alone “tech product.” In the industrial space, Tesla also announced PowerPack, which is a scalable battery solution aimed at retailers and other commercial properties. Lastly, Mr. Musk also announced that all patents on the technology would be open sourced to help invigorate market competition, just as Tesla did with their electric vehicle battery patents. So, are you one of the lucky few that managed to snag a PowerWall for installation this year, or are you still on the fence? Let us know in the comments.
Michael Parks, P.E. is the co-founder of Green Shoe Garage, a custom electronics design studio and embedded security research firm located in Western Maryland. He produces the Gears of Resistance Podcast to help raise public awareness of technical and scientific matters. Michael is also a licensed Professional Engineer in the state of Maryland and holds a Master’s degree in systems engineering from Johns Hopkins University.
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