Having lived in Florida, I know a bit about hurricanes. What I didn't anticipate was that big blows that cut power would follow me to New York. Super Storm Sandy proved me wrong and showed that if you live in a dense urban area, it can take even longer to restore electricity. And today losing power doesn't just affect electric kettles and microwaves, but Internet service and cell phone towers. But imagine if your home were already fortified for the next storm; when power lines fell, your home could continue to hum along.
This is one of promises of Tesla Energy, the latest project from the people who made electric cars chic. In the spring founder Elon Musk announced Tesla's three-pronged approach to changing the way we think about energy. The pitch was simple: We need a better battery, whether you are a utility manager who needs to boost energy output during peak demand (mornings and evenings), a businessperson who wants to avoid peak charges, or a homeowner who wants to get off the grid. To that end, Musk previewed scalable battery packs tailored to the needs of businesses and utilities (what Tesla calls Powerpacks) and homeowners (Powerwalls).
Tesla's packs are designed to be daisy-chained, hence Amazon is developing a pilot program with enough electricity to power a small town (4.8 megawatts). But that capability also is important for home use. Powerwall comes in two models. The first (seven kilowatts) is designed for what they call a daily cycle (ideal if you have solar panels), and the second (10 kilowatts) is designed for weekly use (such as emergencies). Neither battery pack alone will likely displace your energy needs. The average U.S. home uses about 11 kilowatts per hour. But thankfully, you can stack up to nine Powerwalls to run your Xanadu.
Unlike a generator, a Powerwall is silent, hyper-connected (you can monitor stats via the Internet) and svelte. It also won't fill your cellar with carbon monoxide. They come in a handful of colors—glossy red to charcoal—and are designed to drape on a wall. Elon Musk compares Powerwalls to "beautiful sculptures," which is a stretch, but hanging them in a garage won't upset your decorating scheme.
Powerwalls don't generate power, they conserve it. So you can load-shift energy from the grid when it's cheap (during the day) and use it when it's expensive (night) or tap solar when the sun has gone down.
Expect to pay more than the $3,000-$3,500 price once you add on installation and an AC inverter. Since Tesla has already received tens of thousands of preorders, it's unlikely that you'll get one before next year. This kind of tech might be worth the wait, however, especially when prices inevitably drop. Carbon neutrality never looked so empowering.