Tesla doesn’t just make electric cars. It also makes batteries, the kind you can use to power your home. And if you live in Vermont, you’ll need a member of Montpelier, Vt., Local 300 to install it for you.
|Montpelier, Vt., Local 300 members like Jazmine Thompson are training in the latest battery technology from Tesla.
“It’s an exciting opportunity and I’m glad to be a part of it,” said Scott Millette, a journeyman wireman with Peck Electric, a contractor with Green Mountain Power and IBEW signatory. GMP is the area utility that employs Local 300 members and contracted with Peck for the battery installation.
Millette was one of three who were trained in a “train the trainer” course in January at Tesla’s Fremont, California, site on the Powerwall, a lithium ion home battery that can serve as a backup electricity source, something that appeals to Vermonters all too familiar with winter storms and power outages. It can also use electricity generated from solar panels. What’s more, the utility company can tap into this energy source, helping to meet demand during peak hours.
"You can charge it during the middle of the night and dispatch it when prices are the highest and when the grid system needs energy the most. It truly is a revolutionary step forward in terms of how we think about energy delivery," said Green Mountain Power CEO Mary Powell in an interview with WCAX, a local news outlet.
GMP is the first utility in the country offering the battery, according to its press release, and Local 300 members are the only people in New England doing this type of work, said Jeffrey Wimette, Local 300 business manager. And business is booming. About 20 have been installed so far, but the waiting list is 500 customers long.
“Everybody wants them,” Wimette said. “They can’t make them fast enough.”
For those outside of Vermont, the batteries can be purchased, but installation is typically handled by third parties, like Solar City.
There have been off-grid battery backups for years, but those lead-acid versions take up a lot of space and require a lot of maintenance. And they’re not very environmentally friendly. With Tesla, you just install it and it’s good for 10 years, practically maintenance-free. And when the battery is done, Tesla recycles it, Millette said.
The installation takes about two days and involves programming specific to the Powerwall, Millette said. With the programming, customers have options, called power profiles, for how they will use their battery, with a solar array or without for example, and when they will essentially share it with GMP.
“It’s a new technology with a lot of potential,” Wimette said.
The Powerwalls work with an inverter that converts direct current electricity into an alternating current that is used by a customer’s lights, appliances and devices, according to Tesla. The batteries can be charged by solar panels or by the utility, usually at night or during a similar off-peak time. Customers can also use a website portal to see how much energy they’re using and how their battery is performing, Millette said.
The 6.4 kilowatt batteries, which are about the size of a car-top carrier, cost $6,500 and have about four to six hours of storage capability, depending on how it’s used. Next generation versions are expected to be higher kilowatt, with more storage, Millette said.
As with all new technology, there are some bugs to work out, but Millette says most of the customers are pleased.
“We’re addressing the problems as they come up, and I’m confident we’ll have even more happy customers in the future,” Millette said.