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Tesla expands Powerwall-to-grid program to cover most of California

Utility companies are offering $2 per kWh for power stored in battery tech

More Tesla Powerwall owners in California are getting the option to help fight blackouts – and get paid for it – as thecompany expands its virtual power plant (VPP) program to new areas of the Golden State. 

Trialed last year with multiple California electricity companies and rolled out in Pacific Gas and Electric's (PG&E) service area in July, the program will see Powerwall owners paid $2 for every incremental kilowatt-hour of energy they provide during power company-specified "load management events." 

Now, with an expansion into Southern California Edison's (SCE) coverage area, Tesla's VPP program has almost the entire state's electrical grid covered, that is if Powerwall users actually sign up. 

SCE seems to think at least some Powerwall owners are game and is expecting 3,000 customers to sign up for the program, which the company said could reduce energy needs by 10 to 15 megawatts, enough to power 11,250 homes, SCE said. 

PG&E didn't provide particular estimates, but said that if all eligible Powerwall owners participated in its program, the available megawatts "would be equivalent to the energy generated by a small power plant."

Tesla Powerwall owners in PG&E's coverage area or SCE's zone are eligible to join the program if they receive service from one of the two aforementioned companies, have a residential account, aren't enrolled in any conflicting demand response or VPP program, and have a valid Rule 21 interconnection agreement, which governs the sale of energy from homeowners back to the grid. 

A taste of the all-electric future

As the US introduces more renewable energy sources with variable outputs like wind and solar, distributed energy resources (DERs) like grid-connected Powerwalls are likely to become central to energy infrastructure.

DERs can include any sort of residential power – solar panels, heat pumps, batteries or EVs with vehicle-to-grid capabilities – as well as commercial energy plants. In the case of grid-scale renewables, this equates to more acreage for less power, which makes supplementing with residential energy all the more important. 

DER networks can vary in composition and reliance on residential power generation; in the case of the PG&E program, Tesla Powerwalls are scheduled to automatically add energy to the grid from 4 to 9pm in May through October when demand is especially high.

According to the US Department of Energy, DERs have the potential to help agencies meet energy mandates, save money, lower electricity consumption and reduce environmental damage. The Environmental Protection Agency says distributed energy generation is also ideal for capturing energy that would otherwise be wasted, and reduces line loss suffered when power is transmitted over long distances. 

Whether lithium-ion batteries, like those at the heart of Powerwalls, are the best technology to install at thousands of homes is up for debate. They're prone to fire and explosion, even weeks after damage occurs, and when ignited can burn for days. Solar panels – which feed energy to Tesla's batteries – aren't immune to safety concerns either.

Still, rising energy costs, climate change, and a recent White House call to modernize the grid with clean energy DERs may prove a more critical reason to install distributed resources around the US, be they made by Tesla or not. ®

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