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Tesla Battery Looks To Disrupt Home, Office Power Consumption

Tesla Motors' plans to introduce a battery that can be used for home and office energy storage lends credence to a burgeoning industry that is transforming the way we consume power.

lithium-ion batteries from its MINI E demonstration vehicles and through its BMW i ChargeForward Program, which will curtail electric vehicle charging among program participants when power demand is high.

The wholesale energy market in California treats reduction in demand as if it were increased supply and pays the supplier (whoever's saving energy) accordingly. BMW plans to return some of the funds it will receive from PG&E to ChargeForward participants in the form of gift cards.

Aggregating energy consumers and coordinating consumption in conjunction with a demand-response program turns out to be relevant beyond electric car owners, and will become even more significant once batteries become commonplace in homes and businesses.

A startup called Ohmconnect is doing for California utility customers what BMW is doing for ChargeForward participants: It is coordinating energy consumption among its subscribers and rewarding subscribers through PayPal payments.

Devices to Meet the Grid's Demand

Company co-founder Curtis Tongue said in a phone interview with InformationWeek that his company offered "a means to meet the grid's demands and to get consumers to respond to that signal." Sometimes the signal is aimed at machines and directly alters the settings of subscribers' Internet-enabled devices, such as the Nest Thermostat. Sometimes the signal is aimed at subscribers themselves, in the form of a text notification to reduce power consumption for a brief period.

At the moment, the amount of income individuals can generate through Ohmconnect is relatively modest, ranging from $50 to $150 annually, on top of what users save by reducing electricity consumption. Tongue notes that Ohmconnect only has its users reduce energy consumption about 1% of the time, but it does so when the energy value is many times higher than usual. "That's why the earnings we pay out to customers trivialize their bill savings," he said in an email follow-up to our interview.

Such savings could rise as individuals and businesses become more aware of energy consumption, more able to measure it, and better equipped to participate in the energy market as both buyers and sellers.

"Utilities are putting in place the hardware they need to manage the distribution grid much better than before, but the software systems and internal processes to translate all that raw data into actionable intelligence are still very much under development, and will not be commonplace for years," said Wilson. "But assuming that all the right hardware, software, and processes get implemented, a world of possibilities would be opened up by this new information."

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