If you’re a regular reader of this blog, we’re guessing you’re already interested in home battery technology. However, it’s quite possible that you’ve held off on actually buying a home battery storage system for your home. That’s because such systems tend to be pretty pricey — at least, that’s a widely held belief.
In reality, many homeowners already find solar battery storage a cost-effective investment for their homes, and forthcoming improvements to battery technology could make similar products even more affordable in the near future. Batteries play a critical role in the viability of net-zero homes.
As more players enter the battery game, the competition they create pushes even the most established names to improve their products. It should therefore come as no surprise that big names in home battery storage like Tesla and IBM are planning upgrades to their existing tech.
Keep reading to see what the latest battery technology spells for these businesses, and how you can take advantage of the new products they’ll likely be offering soon.
Battery Power in the 2010s: a Brief Summary
The last ten years were transformative for battery technology. Batteries already powered our phones and laptops in 2010, but 2015 brought the rise of the first Tesla Powerwall and by the end of the decade an 85% decline in prices for lithium-ion batteries set the stage for an explosion of affordable electric vehicles and home energy storage systems.
Here’s a quick look at how some of the best-known battery technology evolved during that period:
The Evolution of the Tesla Powerwall
The original Tesla Powerwall was hailed as a revolutionary product when it was first released, but it didn’t take long for the company to improve on its own design.
The Powerwall 2 was released a year and a half later, with double the storage capacity of its predecessor (13.5 kWh compared to 6.4 for the Powerwall 1). It also featured a built-in inverter, remote management of solar panels via the Tesla App, easy wall and floor mounting capabilities, and new liquid cooling technology designed to help the system perform better across various temperatures.
With all those improvements taking place in such a short time, it’s expected that the next version of the Powerwall will be an even greater step forward.
A Competitive Market Emerges
Tesla wasn’t the only company making battery storage systems during the last decade. Companies like LG Chem, Sonnen, and even Mercedes-Benz got in on the action — all to various degrees of success.
Still, even the companies that struggled to compete with Tesla played a vital part in increasing the global production of battery storage systems, which has been a contributing factor in reducing their cost over the last several years.
The Cost of Early Battery Storage Systems
If the next generation of battery storage products is going to be even more affordable for everyday consumers, it won’t be enough for production to keep increasing — the technology itself will have to improve. Most lithium-ion batteries are manufactured using cobalt, a pricey metal found largely in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) and Zambia. This contributes to both the sale prices of lithium-ion battery products and the overall human cost of manufacturing them, since many of the mines from which cobalt is sourced employ highly controversial labour practices.
Fortunately, many of the world’s leading battery providers are leaning away from cobalt in an effort to make their products cheaper and more socially responsible.
Upcoming Improvements to Solar Batteries
No More Cobalt for Tesla
The actual battery cells in the Tesla Powerwall 1 and Powerwall 2 are supplied by Panasonic, who announced in 2018 that they planned to develop cobalt-free batteries as soon as possible. They’re not the only ones, either — in fact, many battery manufacturers are following their lead as Cobalt prices spike amidst increased global demand for battery storage systems.
Numerous researchers are looking into the possibilities of combining iron with phosphorous or manganese to create cathodes, while others are examining solid-state options that would remove the need for cobalt but require additional lithium.
IBM’s Seawater Solution
One of the most exciting new innovations in battery technology is currently in development in IBM. Announced in the final few days of 2019, their new design completely eliminates the need for expensive cobalt, relying instead on materials that can be extracted from seawater. Not only is this expected to alleviate the humanitarian problems with cobalt mining; it’s likely to result in significantly cheaper battery storage products for consumers as well. But the best news is still to come: according to the company, their seawater batteries will also offer improvements in charge time and energy efficiency — potentially disrupting the entire battery storage industry.
It’s Not Too Late to be an Early Solar Battery Investor
Time will tell when it comes to seeing exactly how these new discoveries will be implemented in future battery storage products. In any case, though, the potential to create more affordable, more sustainable, and more effective battery storage systems certainly exists, and that’s reason enough to get excited. If you’ve been toying with the idea of switching to an electric vehicle, buying a solar battery system for your home, or taking your office off the grid with battery storage technology, make sure to keep your eyes peeled for new developments in the next year or two.
There are big changes coming down the pike, and that means big opportunities for those who stay ready for them.