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Simplicity, Scalability Key To Tesla Batteries and Storage Power, CTO Says



The Palo Alto-based Tesla Inc. may be best known for its sleek electric cars, but the cars are only part of a larger corporate strategy that includes battery storage and battery power in homes and in commercial and industrial applications.

“Our goal is not to build more cars, it’s creating an energy shift,” said Jeffrey Straubel, Tesla’s chief technical officer, during an April 2 talk at the California Energy Commission. Straubel said the energy shift has a lot to do with moving transportation and energy generation away from fossil fuels. In the automotive realm, Tesla is eager to bring electric cars and semis to roadways.

The shift for homes and businesses is playing out with battery storage, where Tesla sees its success defined by modularity and scalability, Straubel said.

The lithium-ion battery products are the Powerwall, for home applications, and the Powerpack, for commercial and industrial power needs.

“These products can scale in parallel,” said Straubel.

With the Powerwall, which integrates with a home solar system, the philosophy was simplicity. It arrives to a homeowner in a single box.

“If you look at solar or battery installations of even a few years ago you can see that it was, literally, a mess,” Straubel said.

Tesla has integrated the inverter into the battery pack. “So installation is easy – there’s no awkward collaboration with contractors and installers, and you won’t have a bunch of different boxes on a wall.”

Straubel said the Powerwall integrates into the home of future.

“If you can link all of these together… if you can include heating and cooking, that is completely electric, then you’ve made a pretty enormous dent in your carbon footprint,” he said. The Powerpack is the commercial and industrial version of the Powerwall. Tesla invented its own inverter-charger and controls so Powerpacks can quickly be deployed in the field.

“We wanted to keep it as simple and modular as possible,” Straubel said.

Tesla’s installation of the 100-megawatt capacity Hornsdale Power Reserve battery in Southern Australia illustrates the company’s success with speed and simplicity, he said.

The origin of the battery project stems from the Australian government decision to install a battery system connected to the 99-turbine Hornsdale Wind Farm. The urgency for the battery system stems from a series of regional Australian blackouts in 2016 and 2017.

The $50 million project drew a lot of attention as the world’s largest grid-scale battery and Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s promise that Tesla would deliver and install the Powerpacks in 100 days, or it would be free.

Building on the battery project began September 20, 2017, with regulatory testing starting before December 1. The system provides a total of 129 megawatt-hours of storage and provides grid stability by preventing load-shedding blackouts.

Powerpacks can also be installed and operate in parallel. At Hornsdale, this meant Powerpacks were powered up while others were being delivered or installed.

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The California Energy Commission is the state's primary energy policy and planning agency created by the Legislature in 1974.
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