Friday, May 29, 2015

The Powerwall - Tesla’s Latest Innovation Takes Off

A guest post by Beth Kelly

"The issue with existing batteries is that they suck. They're really horrible." Elon Musk chuckled to himself and flashed the crowd a sly grin before proceeding with his announcement.

It was April 30, 2015.

Musk, multi-billionaire and celebrity innovator, stood beside a gargantuan screen showing dirty smokestacks and glossy blue solar panels, a subtle homage to his work as chairman of SolarCity, the nation's largest residential solar system installer. It was there, in the Tesla Hawthorne Design Center in southern California, that Musk revealed what he believed could "fundamentally change the way the world uses energy" - the Tesla PowerWall.

The PowerWall is a lithium-ion battery. A big one. It is hip, white, shiny and sold in two versions: a $3,000 7-kilowatt battery for daily use and a $3,500 10-kilowatt battery for backup power. Both weigh about 220 pounds and come with a 10-year warranty.

According to Musk and the Tesla Press Kit, the PowerWall is practically one-of-a-kind. Here's how it works:
  • Its betrothed partner is a rooftop photovoltaic solar system. During the day, an included charge controller feeds the battery with excess solar power, and at night, the battery returns the favor.
  • The PowerWall can also function as a backup battery to survive the inevitable winter storm grid blackouts.
  • Customers dependent on the grid can charge the battery at night, when rates are low, and discharge the battery during the day, when rates are high.
  • Multiple batteries can be wired in parallel to increase storage capacity.

Musk mentioned all this and more that day at the Hawthorne Design Center. Clad in a casual blazer and dark slacks, he clicked and grinned his way through a keynote PowerPoint address and a simple message: If the world doesn't want to wind up in the way of Mad Max: Fury Road, humanity must transition from combustible fossil fuels to renewable energy sources.

Many critics called his presentation unpolished and off-the-cuff. To others, his halting speech and gratuitous hyperboles came across as humble, straightforward. If Musk says his $3,500 battery can change the world, then it had better start a-changing'. And if Musk says all other batteries are "stinky, ugly, bad in every way?" then who is to say otherwise?

SolarCity would.

SolarCity is a co-venture of Elon Musk and his cousin, Lyndon Rive. The company installs and finances rooftop solar systems nationwide and, despite its close ties to Musk and Tesla, has opted not to offer the 7-kilowatt daily-cycle PowerWall battery because it doesn't make financial sense.

Under current laws, most solar-powered homeowners can sell excess energy back to the grid under net metering regulations. Why pay $3,500 for a battery to store energy when you can simply sell it back to Uncle Sam?

So SolarCity only offers the 10-kilowatt PowerWall, the one designed for backup power. Yet SolarCity spokesman Jonathan Bass says the 10-kilowatt PowerWall, which is optimized for 50 charge cycles per year, can supply only two kilowatts of continuous power. In other words, you can't run a hair dryer and air conditioner simultaneously.



One more kicker: Tom Randall of Bloomberg News noted that whereas one could purchase a 16-kilowatt gasoline generator from Home Depot for $3,700, a similarly sized array of Tesla PowerWall batteries would cost $45,000 for a nine-year lease from SolarCity. An outright purchase of a single battery system, inverter, installation and all, would cost $7,140 from the same provider.

With the numbers so gray, how is the Tesla PowerWall supposed to change the world?

Through faith.

Just seven days after the April 30 product reveal, Tesla stated in its first-quarter earnings call that all PowerWall products were sold out until mid-2016. More than 38,000 reservations had poured in from hungry early adopters. The response had been "crazy off the hook," said Musk.
The product, per se, is not revolutionary. And all other modern batteries do not "suck." In Germany, lithium-ion storage batteries from Bosch and Samsung are standard fare. In the United States, companies like JLM Energy , CODA Energy and Iron Edison offer competitive energy storage systems.

But what is revolutionary is that, for the first time, Average Joes and not just doomsday preppers are thinking about home energy storage. People are opening their wallets not to save money but to save the earth. It is not the PowerWall – nor its creator – but its 38,000 customers who are the true revolutionaries.


As customers grow, the costs of ownership will decline. Cleantechnica says that if those costs drop far enough, and if enough homeowners invest in renewable energy generation and storage, then the very nature of the electric grid will change. Accord to Columbia Gas, utility companies will no longer be able to simply charge per kilowatt but will evolve into service providers, intelligently directing power where it is needed most. There will be no more wasteful "peaker plants." No more triple-digit utility rate hikes. No more verdant mountaintops sacrificed to the god of coal.

Maybe, just maybe, it could fundamentally change the way we use energy.

About the author:

Beth Kelly is a freelance writer and blogger based in Chicago, IL. A graduate of DePaul University, she’s passionate about covering the in clean tech and other innovations driving the renewable energy movement forward. She is a strong advocate of the “maker movement” and green, self-sufficient living. You can find her on Twitter @bkelly_88


BuilderBytes' MetroIntelligence Economic Update for 5/29/15


Please click here to see the edition of BuilderBytes for 5/29/15 on the Web.

In this issue of the MetroIntelligence Economic Update, I covered the following indicators:
  • Initial unemployment claims rise by 7,000 in latest report
  • Mortgage applications dip 1.6 percent in latest survey as rates rise slightly
  • Pending sales index rose in April to highest level since May 2006
Want to advertise in the newsletter and reach over 130,000 readers? Contact National Sales Manager Nick Cosan at nkosan@penpubinc.com.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

BuilderBytes' MetroIntelligence Economic Update for 5/28/15

Please click here to see the edition of BuilderBytes for 5/28/15 on the Web.

In this issue of the MetroIntelligence Economic Update, I covered the following indicators:
  • New home sales jumped in April more than expected
  • Case-Shiller Indices rose in March by 4.7 to 5.0 percent year-over-year
  • FHFA House Price Index rose 5.0 percent between first quarters of 2014 and 2015
  • CPI rose 0.1 percent in April, but has fallen by 0.2 percent over previous 12 months
    Want to advertise in the newsletter and reach over 130,000 readers? Contact National Sales Manager Nick Cosan at nkosan@penpubinc.com.

    Wednesday, May 27, 2015

    2015: The Emergence of the Millennial Home Buyer?

    http://www.pcbc.com/marketing

    A few months ago, I wrote about the partial absence of the first-time home buyer and what impact that is having on the housing market.  In order to delve into this subject in more detail, I will also be moderating a panel of experts for a session entitled “Where are the First-Time Home Buyers?” on Thursday afternoon, June 25th, at this year’s PCBC in San Diego.

    Scheduled to join me on this panel are Tim Costello, who leads BDX, Builder Homesite and New Home Technologies, LLC; Mike Taylor, Division President for Pardee Homes Inland Empire, which is certainly courting this buyer; and Mike Surges, the National Strategic Alliance Manager for iMortgage, which now counts a number of builders among its clients.

    Recently, however, the Web site Zillow made a bold prediction that Milliennial home buyers will outpace other demographic groups as soon as this year based on income, growth in home values and the level of entry-level homes for sale.  The best large cities based on this ranking include Atlanta, Las Vegas, Chicago, Hartford and Pittsburgh.

    Zillow’s 2015 predictions are based on a series of factors, including housing data that shows rents continuing to rise sharply while home prices level off, more inventory, and Millennials finally starting to get married and have children after delaying those choices during the recession.

    In a similar analysis, The Demand Institute – a think tank focusing on consumer demand co-sponsored by The Conference Board and Nielsen – predicts 21.6 million households headed by Millennials by 2018, for a gain of 8.3 million since 2013.

    In the summer of 2013, the Institute surveyed more than 1,000 Millennial households to find out about their current living situation, intentions on moving and home preferences in order to better understand the future of housing and community demand.  Somewhat surprisingly, the results of this survey were often counter-intuitive to the common wisdom about this much-studied generation, which is likely to behave more like earlier generations than previously assumed.

    Despite the gloomy reports about challenging financial situations, Millennials are actually quite optimistic about the future, with most having plans to move within the next five years.  When they do move, they’re looking to upgrade their housing situations, whether that’s a nicer, more spacious rental or purchasing a home for the first time.

    As Millennials find these new places to live, for some the requirements of raising a family will be a key factor – just like those generations before them.  Although it is true that most Millennials are currently single, most respondents in this age group still plan to get married or have children within the next five years.

    As would be expected, those seeking to start a stable family also desire an equally stable place to live, at least down the road:  while most Millennial movers will rent their next home, more than 8 in 10 already own or plan to own their own home someday.  The good news is that the most recent crash in home prices did not lead Millennials to believe that home ownership is a poor investment. In fact, this generation should be just as likely to own their homes compared with previous generations.

    Like other generations before them, when they do rent or buy their next home, Millennials are mostly looking for more space.  Although multifamily demand should continue to be strong in the next few years due to continued demand, the single-family home still remains the top choice for this age cohort. In the meantime, for those not yet ready to purchase but in need of more space or family friendly alternatives, single-family rentals are an increasingly popular option.

    As opposed to common perceptions of Millennials as mostly city dwellers, many will instead head to the suburbs in search of larger spaces more appropriate for growing families.   In addition, most Millennials surveyed said being a short drive – rather than walking distance – from grocery stores, restaurants and other services was perfectly acceptable.

    If there is one wrinkle in their plans for homeownership, it’s how to finance such a purchase.  Although student loan debt does not spell disaster for home ownership for most Millennials, these households still have little saved for a down payment, and so many are concerned about qualifying for a mortgage. Consequently, they are asking for new approaches to home finance, such as lease-to-own plans in which the tenant builds equity over time, and is then given the option to purchase the home at market rates.

    However they choose where to live, one thing is clear about the Milliennials:  marketing to them is a lot different than to Baby Boomers and other generations.  Those builders who can manage to capture them with lots of data, authenticity and an emotional appeal will be much further ahead in the game than those competitors who only rely on formulas which worked in the past.

    Friday, May 22, 2015

    BuilderBytes' MetroIntelligence Economic Update for 5/22/15


    Please click here to see the edition of BuilderBytes for 5/22/15 on the Web.

    In this issue of the MetroIntelligence Economic Update, I covered the following indicators:
    • Existing home sales fell 3.3 percent in March but still up 6.1 percent year-over-year
    • Leading Economic Index jumped more than expected in April
    • Initial unemployment claims fall by 10,000 in latest report; 4-week average lowest since April 2000
    Want to advertise in the newsletter and reach over 130,000 readers? Contact National Sales Manager Nick Cosan at nkosan@penpubinc.com.

    Thursday, May 21, 2015

    BuilderBytes' MetroIntelligence Economic Update for 5/21/15

    Please click here to see the edition of BuilderBytes for 5/21/15 on the Web.

    In this issue of the MetroIntelligence Economic Update, I covered the following indicators:
    • Building permits in April rose by 10.1 percent over March and 6.4 percent year-over-year
    • Housing starts in April rose by 20.2 percent over March and 9.2 percent year-over-year
    • Mortgage applications dip 1.5 percent in latest survey as rates rise to highest level since December
    Want to advertise in the newsletter and reach over 130,000 readers? Contact National Sales Manager Nick Cosan at nkosan@penpubinc.com.

    Tuesday, May 19, 2015

    BuilderBytes' MetroIntelligence Economic Update for 5/19/15

    Please click here to see the edition of BuilderBytes for 5/19/15 on the Web.

    In this issue of the MetroIntelligence Economic Update, I covered the following indicators:
    • Builder confidence dips two points to 54 in May, but still up sharply year-over-year
    • Consumer sentiment index falls in May in preliminary estimate
    • Industrial production fell in April for fifth straight month
    • Empire State Manufacturing Survey shows slightly improvement in May
    Want to advertise in the newsletter and reach over 130,000 readers? Contact National Sales Manager Nick Cosan at nkosan@penpubinc.com.

    Friday, May 15, 2015

    BuilderBytes' MetroIntelligence Economic Update for 5/15/15


    Please click here to see the edition of BuilderBytes for 5/15/15 on the Web.

    In this issue of the MetroIntelligence Economic Update, I covered the following indicators:
    • Producer Price Index fell 0.4 percent in April, and was down 1.3 percent year-over-year
    • Initial unemployment claims fall by 1,000 in latest report as 4-week average dropped by 7,750
    • Mortgage applications drop 3.5 percent in latest survey as rates rebound
    Want to advertise in the newsletter and reach over 130,000 readers? Contact National Sales Manager Nick Cosan at nkosan@penpubinc.com.

    Thursday, May 14, 2015

    BuilderBytes' MetroIntelligence Economic Update for 5/14/15

    Please click here to see the edition of BuilderBytes for 5/14/15 on the Web.


    In this issue of the MetroIntelligence Economic Update, I covered the following indicators:
    • Job openings fell while the quit rate rose in March
    • Retail sales remained flat in April as consumers watch their spending
    • Business inventory growth dipped in March while sales rebounded strongly
    Want to advertise in the newsletter and reach over 130,000 readers? Contact National Sales Manager Nick Cosan at nkosan@penpubinc.com.

    Wednesday, May 13, 2015

    May column for Builder & Developer magazine now online

    My column for the May 2015 issue of Builder and Developer magazine is now posted online.

    For this issue, entitled "The Connected Home Evolution," I covered the evolution of the connected/smart home over the last 15 years and the state of the market today.  An excerpt:
    About 15 years ago, when I formed the Technology Task Force with the BIA of Southern California, at the time our builder members told us that the adoption of technology in their homes would be postponed for two reasons: (a) Most consumers weren’t yet asking for it; and (b) It would risk upsetting production schedules that were already tight due to meeting unmet supply after the California real estate recession of the 1990s.

    Fast-forward to 2015, however, and it’s a completely different world for the connected home. Most importantly, consumers are now asking for it: according to a consumer survey by smart-home vendor Savant, about half of the respondents believe home automation will become a common feature in their home in less than a decade, with a quarter thinking it will take just five years for widespread adoption...
    To read the entire column, click here.

    To read the entire May 2015 issue in digital format, click here.

    Tuesday, May 12, 2015

    BuilderBytes' MetroIntelligence Economic Update for 5/12/15

    Please click here to see the edition of BuilderBytes for 5/12/15 on the Web.

    In this issue of the MetroIntelligence Economic Update, I covered the following indicators:
    • Job growth rebounded to 223,000 in April as unemployment rate dipped to 5.4 percent
    • Wholesale inventories rebounded slightly in March
    Want to advertise in the newsletter and reach over 130,000 readers? Contact National Sales Manager Nick Cosan at nkosan@penpubinc.com.

    Friday, May 8, 2015

    BuilderBytes' MetroIntelligence Economic Update for 5/8/15


    Please click here to see the edition of BuilderBytes for 5/8/15 on the Web.

    In this issue of the MetroIntelligence Economic Update, I covered the following indicators:
    • Planned job cuts surged in April, largely due to falling oil prices
    • Initial unemployment claims rise 3,000 in latest report but 4-week average still lowest since May 2000
    • Consumer credit rose 7.5 percent in March, posting the highest growth rate since last April
    Want to advertise in the newsletter and reach over 130,000 readers? Contact National Sales Manager Nick Cosan at nkosan@penpubinc.com.

    Thursday, May 7, 2015

    BuilderBytes' MetroIntelligence Economic Update for 5/7/15

    Please click here to see the edition of BuilderBytes for 5/7/15 on the Web.


    In this issue of the MetroIntelligence Economic Update, I covered the following indicators:
    • Private sector employment rose by 169,000 from March to April
    • Productivity fell 1.9 percent in 1Q 2015 as unit labor costs rose 5.0 percent
    • Service sector economy grew stronger in April
    • Durable goods orders in March report largest increase in eight months
    Want to advertise in the newsletter and reach over 130,000 readers? Contact National Sales Manager Nick Cosan at nkosan@penpubinc.com.

    Tuesday, May 5, 2015

    BuilderBytes' MetroIntelligence Economic Update for 5/5/15

    Please click here to see the edition of BuilderBytes for 5/5/15 on the Web.

    In this issue of the MetroIntelligence Economic Update, I covered the following indicators:
    • Construction spending dipped in March but 1Q 2015 still up year-over-year
    • Manufacturing sector growth expanded to more industries in April
    • Consumer sentiment slowed sharply in April; personal consumption expected to rise 3% in 2015
    Want to advertise in the newsletter and reach over 130,000 readers? Contact National Sales Manager Nick Cosan at nkosan@penpubinc.com.

    Friday, May 1, 2015

    BuilderBytes' MetroIntelligence Economic Update for 5/1/15


    Please click here to see the edition of BuilderBytes for 5/1/15 on the Web.

    In this issue of the MetroIntelligence Economic Update, I covered the following indicators:
    • Personal income remained mostly flat in March as consumer spending inched up
    • Chicago Business Barometer bounced back strongly in April
    • Initial unemployment claims fall by 34,000 in latest report to lowest level since April 2000
    • Federal Reserve decides to keep interest rates at current levels due to temporarily weakened economy
    Want to advertise in the newsletter and reach over 130,000 readers? Contact National Sales Manager Nick Cosan at nkosan@penpubinc.com.