When Tesla CEO Elon Musk unveiled his company's new battery division last week, he hailed the beginning of a "complete transformation of the entire energy infrastructure of the world."
In reality, Tesla is joining a crowded field of companies already invested in on-site energy storage, and experts are split on just how much those systems will impact the energy market.
Beginning this summer, Tesla Energy will sell at-home battery systems at a starting price tag of $3,000. The debut press conference featured Musk heralding a dramatic step forward in the ability of homeowners to store energy generated from potentially fickle renewable sources — namely, rooftop solar panels.
"We're just not aware of who would even really be second, honestly," Musk said of his company's advances in accumulating solar-fueled electricity.
Reuters, however, noted that massive multinationals such as Samsung, LG Chem and Saft, as well as startups Stem, Coda Energy and Green Charge Networks, also hope to capitalize on the need for storing energy from solar or wind power.
Musk, for his part, dismissed the current competition and declared that "the issue with existing batteries is that they suck."
The more pressing issue, however, could be simple economics. One consultant doesn't believe Tesla energy will cut home battery prices by much, if at all.
Forbes, meanwhile, argued a solar panel and battery system could cost more than double the country’s average cost for electricity per kilowatt-hour, and that Tesla’s system wouldn’t make sense unless homes included enough solar capacity to leave the electrical grid entirely.
Still, most observers conceded the development of battery technology by Tesla and others could help utilities capitalize on cleaner energy sources and improve their management of power spikes and shortages alike.
In Hawaii, for example, conventional energy sources must be imported, and the resulting costs led to a sharp increase in the use of rooftop solar panels. That’s pitted homeowners against utility officials, who argued those systems jeopardize the state’s overall energy grid.
Similar controversies could erupt elsewhere as solar systems gain prominence. One analysis earlier this year predicted solar costs would be able to compete with traditional electricity generation in most states within 15 years.
"Energy storage can be a really large ecosystem,” Chris Shelton of Virginia utility company AES Corp. told Bloomberg. "It helps to have another voice, and a prominent voice, making the case."