Did Tesla Really Move the Needle on Microgrids April 30? Or Did New York?

May 1, 2015
Tesla made a big splash yesterday with its move into the microgrid business. But action the same day by New York is likely to really move the needle on microgrids.

Tesla made a big splash yesterday with its move into the microgrid business. But action the same day by New York is likely to really move the needle on microgrids.

New York quietly (as least compared with Tesla) gave out the first $500,000 to kick-start five community microgrids in the state. It was the beginning of a $40 million flow of funds from its NY Prize, a program that will show the rest of country what microgrids can do for cities and towns

Among states, New York is doing the heavy lifting in making local energy a phenomenon through its Reforming the Energy Vision, which creates the structure to decentralize the power industry.

You might say New York is putting in the garden, while Tesla this week offered some shiny new tools to help with the digging.

But it’s easy to see why Tesla grabbed the headlines. New York announced “feasibility studies.” Meanwhile, in characteristic form, Tesla gathered the media amid spotlights and music, and its charismatic CEO Elon Musk described “a fundamental transformation about how the world works, about how energy is delivered across the world.”

Tesla says it’s no longer just an automative company, but an energy innovation company. With a backdrop photo of a power plant spewing pollution, Musk said, “I think we should collectively do something about this and not try to win the Darwin award.”

T.C. Sottek, senior news editor at The Verge, aptly summed up Musk’s performance as “DUDE’S SELLING A BATTERY AND HE STILL MANAGED TO BE INSPIRING.”

But credit where credit is due. Musk said nothing new in his presentation about the grid or its problems, nothing the power industry hasn’t been describing for a long time. And Tesla is certainly not alone in offering battery storage, not even home battery storage.

But Tesla infuses an Apple-esque quality sorely lacking in the power industry. Tesla will make a lot of people more aware of microgrids, just as it has made them aware of electric vehicles. (And did I mention that the Tesla home battery is sleek and will look pretty on the wall?)

Tesla’s flamboyant entry into energy will go down in energy history, but probably not so much because of its batteries. At last we are getting a clear picture of how today’s infusion of Silicon Valley marketing savvy will remold the old-school power industry and improve the telling of its story.

So here’s a rundown on yesterday’s microgrid news from New York, followed by details of the new Tesla Energy products.

New York Community Microgrids

The New York State Energy and Research Development Authority (NYSERDA) awarded $100,000 each to five cities (with the possibility of a lot more money to come).

The winners were Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus and electrical utilities associated with the villages of Bath, Westfield and Sherburne; and the East Hampton area of Long Island.

The East Hampton microgrid will integrate up to 15 MW of solar and 25 MWh of energy storage to keep the lights on during storms, use solar at night, and offset electricity demand when the community swells to five times its population in summer.

The Bath project will combine grid-based power with a large anaerobic digestion (gas-to-power) facility that would generate electricity from breaking down organic waste from the county’s wastewater treatment center and other sources. This system will act as backup during a grid outage.

The Sherburne microgrid uses combined heat and power (CHP) and renewables to keep critical services ( fire, police, wastewater etc.) operating during an outage.

Westfield plans to install a CHP microgrid of at least 2 MW to supplement grid power.

The Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus would use its microgrid  for its medical campus (12,000 employees) and the adjacent Fruit Belt neighborhood. This self-sustaining microgrid would combine grid-based electricity with solar and CHP system to increase efficiency.

New York continues to accept applications for community microgrid feasibility funding through May 15.

Applications for the second and third stage funding, which carry projects further into development, will be available this summer. Money is available for local governments, community organizations, non-profit entities, for-profit companies and municipally-owned utilities. More details about NY Prize are here.

Tesla Energy

Tesla plans to start shipping its stationary home batteries in three or four months. Called Powerwall, the home battery will cost about $3,000 for a 7 kWh version and $3,500 for 10 kWh under a 10-year warranty.

The battery specs are: continuous power 2 kW; peak power 3 kW, round trip efficiency >92%, operating temperature range: -4F to 110F. It is 4.26 ft in height,   2.8 ft in width and 0.59 ft in depth. Treehouse, SolarEdge and Green Mountain Power are among early distributors of the home batteries.

Tesla also is offering batteries for businesses, which are already being test-driven by Amazon.com, Target, Jackson Family Wines and EnerNoc. Separately, EnerNoc said it is monetizing the batteries for its commercial and industrial customers through demand charge management and demand response.

For utilities, Tesla already has installed its system at the Oncor microgrid.

Tesla is offering utiities 100 kWh battery blocks, grouped to scale from 500 kWh to more than 10 MWh. These systems can provide two to four hours of continuous net discharge using grid tied bi-directional inverters.

In addition to Oncor, Tesla’s other utility-scale customers are Advanced Microgrid Solutions, Southern California Edison, and AES.

SolarCity (Elon Musk is chairman of the company) will incorporate the new Tesla Energy battery into its DemandLogic energy storage system. DemandLogic’s management software automates the discharge of stored energy to help reduce demand charges for customers.

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About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is an award-winning writer and editor who specializes in the energy industry. She is chief editor and co-founder of Microgrid Knowledge and serves as co-host of the publication’s popular conference series. She also co-founded RealEnergyWriters.com, where she continues to lead a team of energy writers who produce content for energy companies and advocacy organizations.

She has been writing about energy for more than two decades and is published widely. Her work can be found in prominent energy business journals as well as mainstream publications. She has been quoted by NPR, the Wall Street Journal and other notable media outlets.

“For an especially readable voice in the industry, the most consistent interpreter across these years has been the energy journalist Elisa Wood, whose Microgrid Knowledge (and conference) has aggregated more stories better than any other feed of its time,” wrote Malcolm McCullough, in the book, Downtime on the Microgrid, published by MIT Press in 2020.

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