Next month, United Power, a utility co-op in northern Colorado, will activate its new Tesla Powerpack installation. The system is rather small compared to other systems, like the 100 MW Hornsdale facility in Australia — this one is only 4 MW. But in the larger scheme of things, it is another step forward in the renewable energy revolution.
Electricity is a curious thing. You can’t see it, smell it, or taste it. You can’t hold it in your hands. In fact, scientists can even tell us for sure what it is. It might be a wave or it might be a particle. The two things we do know for sure are an electric motor is far more efficient than any internal combustion engine and electricity can be made from renewable energy sources without creating any carbon emissions. One of the lessons of the IPCC 6 climate assessment report is that we need to electrify everything — transportation, industry, shipping, and heating if we are to have any hope of managing climate change.
Another curious things about electricity is that, once generated, it must be used immediately or stored. Otherwise, it will be lost. That quality has led to a rise in energy arbitrage — buy it cheaply when the supply is high and sell it for more money when the supply is low. That is exactly what the new Powerpack in Colorado is intended to do. Even though it can only store enough power to run about 700 homes for 4 hours, the company tells the Associated Press it will save about $80,000 a month by storing excess electricity for use later — savings that will be passed on to United Power customers.
As we wait for Tesla Q3 financial report at the beginning of November, it is important to keep in mind that the company’s energy storage business is an important source of income and one that promises to expand significantly in the immediate future. It’s easy to get overwhelmed by the news on the automotive side of things, where headlines about the Model 3 dominate the news cycle. Storage batteries are not nearly as sexy as world class electric automobiles that practically drive themselves. But the energy storage business will play an important part in keeping the Tesla ship afloat during turbulent times.
In the final analysis, energy storage is at least as important to global decarbonization as electric vehicles. Even a small storage facility like this one in Colorado is welcome news.