Tesla is asking volunteers to participate in a program that will stitch their Powerwall batteries into a virtual power plant in order to demonstrate that it can provide a reliable flow of electrical power to the Texas grid. This could be especially useful in blackout scenarios triggered by bad weather or demand surges. This is not the first initiative of its kind for Tesla, though. In July last year, Tesla announced a similar program for residents of California, asking them to essentially lease their Tesla Powerwall to stabilize the California power grid and enable residents to tap into the reserve power of a battery network during electrical outages.
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The idea was that the Powerwall batteries will discharge during peak hours after notifying users in the afternoon, diverting that residual power to the power grid. Of course, users had the option to increase the backup reserve level to limit the extent of power discharged from the battery and ensure that they had enough juice left in the tank to power their own home in case of an unpredictable power outage. There was no compensation or reward in place, except a vague assurance of net-zero impact on the bill. Tesla is now taking the next step towards making inroads in the power supply industry by leveraging its network of Powerwall batteries in other states.
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The next target is Texas, where Tesla is trying to convince the state that home battery installations can provide valuable energy backups to the grid to enhance its capacity and ensure that residents face fewer difficulties due to supply uncertainties. The Elon Musk-led company aims to convince the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the body in charge of the state’s independent power supply grid, that the home battery installations can prove to be a reliable backup when cold snaps or excess demand lead to long outages. Currently, ERCOT doesn’t accept individual contributions from batteries to the central grid. The idea is not novel though, as homeowners in multiple regions across the world can sell excess power to the state-run power grids in exchange for electricity bill rebates or direct compensation. Israel and the United Kingdom are countries where users can sell excess power back to grid managers for good rates. Tesla’s program doesn’t include any such proposal, at least in the demonstration phase, but there’s a token monetary gift for participation.
Creating A More Resilient Power Grid
According to Tesla’s official release, Powerwall owners signing up for the program will get $40 in the form of a Tesla gift card if they participate in 80 percent or more of the tests. But do keep in mind that the gift card is the “sole compensation for participation and for costs incurred related to your participation, including any increased energy charges.” As part of the test, Tesla will automatically configure and discharge the Powerwall bank to provide residual power to the grid, and that means Tesla can power up or draw energy at any given time. However, the company assures users it won’t drain the power pack entirely, leaving a minimum of 20 percent juice after every test round of its planned virtual power plant system.
Those willing to participate in the program towards “creating a more resilient grid and accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy” can do so using the Tesla mobile app, which is also the destination for backing out at one’s own will. Tesla’s intentions are noble, especially in the context of the Texas power grid, which has been susceptible to frequent outages caused by weather extremities and demand spikes. Of course, it definitely helps that the program will draw more commercial interest toward Tesla’s Powerwall installation and its benefits. It remains to be seen whether Tesla’s virtual power plant demonstration proves to be a success, and more importantly if it can convince ERCOT to change its stance and allow homeowners to sell excess power back to the grid.