The home battery wars come to NZ, but are we ready to go off the grid?

Panasonic has plans to enter the home battery market, and says it can sell you a unit that will power your entire home or business using little more than solar energy. Sounds good, but with others on the case, including Elon Musk and Mercedes-Benz, who will be first to the plate?

Solar energy-storing batteries that can power an entire home or office seem to be all the rage, at least if Tesla CEO Elon Musk’s unveiling of the company’s Powerwall in late April – and the hundreds of news articles the unveiling generated – is anything to go by.

The Tesla Powerwall launch event in Los Angeles on April 30th, 2015

But Tesla isn’t the only player in the home battery market. Panasonic is also hoping to capture market share, and plans to do so by selling its Home Storage Battery System right here in NZ.

Panasonic NZ Managing Director Stewart Fowler says the batteries will be popular in New Zealand, despite the long, dark winters. He says the batteries plug right into your home’s existing energy supply, and can be charged using energy from solar panels or from the electricity your home is already receiving; in other words, the battery can still work in the middle of July.

Anthony Whiteman, Divisional Manager for Home Appliances at Panasonic, believes it’s a great way to save money on electricity bills since the sun’s energy is 100 per cent renewable and, better yet, tax-free.

“The battery system is designed to release the stored energy once a day and this can be done by either using the in-built smart software, programming the system or via the internet,” he says.

Image: Panasonic home energy storage battery system

Whiteman says Panasonic’s batteries use L-ion technology, which he claims uses less space than a conventional sealed acid battery and lasts more than 10 years.

New Zealand and Australia are the first countries outside of Japan in which Panasonic is marketing the batteries. That’s probably a good thing, since Panasonic and Tesla also have further competition worldwide: Mercedes-Benz has announced plans to begin selling home batteries in Germany later this year through its subsidiary ACCUmotive.

Ok, so all this sounds decently innovative. After all, using batteries to power homes could be one way to reduce emissions and perhaps curtail or even reverse global climate change. But are the batteries the magic bullet greenies have been waiting for?  

One hindrance is the sheer price of such systems.

While Panasonic’s battery system does not yet have a publicised price tag, a 10kWh version of Tesla’s Powerwall starts at US$3,500, with installation costing anywhere from US$5,000 to US$7,140. And that, of course, is assuming your house is Powerwall-compatible in the first place.

“L-ion batteries have been until recently relatively expensive,” says Whiteman. “However, with an increase in manufacturing facilities, this will help bring pricing of an L-ion solution down to a level that makes them affordable.”

Then, of course, there’s debate over whether the system is even practical. Tesla’s record with batteries is not exactly the greatest; in early June, Elon Musk said a battery exchange programme for the company’s Model S electric vehicles had been a failure due to low consumer interest.

Sure, there’s a good chance we all have a battery-powered home in our future, but is the future now?

It is if you’ve got a few thousand dollars lying around and live somewhere other than Southland or the West Coast.