From repurposed batteries to solar power systems, EV makers drive positive vibes home

American electric vehicle (EV) manufacturers Rivian and Tesla continue to display its commitment to provide power for communities and cost-friendly home solar power systems, respectively. By being producers of EVs, it’s not surprising to know that these builders would extend their respective core technology and business to the community and even to homes.

Electric adventure vehicle maker Rivian helmed a project last year to utilize its second-life batteries in a solar microgrid initiative with the Honnold Foundation. Since the system was initially expected to be launched this year, it would be timely to bring this up to keep hopes high despite the current global pandemic.

The goal is to support energy independence and the adoption of renewable power generation. The project will be established in the town of Adjuntas, Puerto Rico, marking the EV maker’s first steps in its broad plan to utilize second-life batteries for a wide variety of applications.

The Honnold Foundation, for its part, envisions a world where all people have equal access to opportunity and live in balance with the environment. In essence, the foundation funds solar power initiatives that are helping tackle global energy inequality through environmentally sound means. 

Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe and elite climber Alex Honnold discussed the project via a live show in Denver, Colorado, last year. The company is using 135kWh battery packs from its development vehicles to support the project.

Rivian has designed its pack, module, and battery management system to seamlessly transition from vehicle energy storage to stationary energy storage at the end of their vehicle life. The battery module’s thin design enables second-life applications that are space-efficient and customizable, important for environments with existing infrastructure.

“Second-life batteries are a big enabler to accelerating widespread adoption of renewable energy, and it’s exciting to envision this system contributing importantly to a community. This project allows us to model a customized energy storage solution that takes into account space constraints, disaster resiliency and energy independence,” said Scaringe.

Adjuntas, meantime, is a city situated in midwestern Puerto Rico with a population of 20,000. Hurricane Maria severely impacted it in 2017. With climate change increasing the frequency and severity of storms, Adjuntas NGO Casa Pueblo has sought to collaborate on rugged, affordable sources of community power. Casa Pueblo is a non-profit environmental watchdog community-based organization that promotes, through voluntary participation of individuals and groups, the protection of the environment. Its mission is to explore, enjoy, and protect the wild places in Puerto Rico, as well as practice and promote the responsible use of the land’s ecosystems and resources; to educate and enlist others to protect and restore the quality of the natural and human environment, and use all lawful means to carry out these objectives.

The Honnold Foundation and Rivian battery engineers visited Casa Pueblo earlier in 2019 and met with community leaders, and designed a site-specific system that will power many of the businesses located in the Adjuntas town square. In power-loss scenarios, the downtown solar microgrid will allow Adjuntas residents access to electricity for core businesses. By offsetting day-to-day electric bills, the system also brings down high commercial energy costs, which are twice the national average in Puerto Rico. 

Lowest price for solar homes

Tesla, on the other hand, is not only promoting EV models. The company also happens to sell sustainable home energy products—from solar roof, panels, to even “Powerwall” equipment, to name a few. But its recent move to introduce the lowest-ever cost to go solar in the United States may well be notable in its little way. According to Tesla, its average system size is now a third less expensive than the industry average, and it has recently introduced a lowest-price guarantee.

Tesla's solar panel price chart

With the new pricing, an average customer buying an extensive system in California, for example, will make their money back in only six years by reducing their electric bill, ultimately making an average of $88,000 over the system’s lifetime. In the case of New Mexico, that same system will average $55,000 over its lifetime, and in Vermont, it will be about $47,000. All systems, in all states, generate more value than ever when purchased with cash or financed with a solar loan. Savings will vary based on state laws and local utility rates. Tesla is also offering low-cost subscription solar for a fixed monthly payment in six states that can be canceled anytime.

The new pricing is made possible by several simple improvements to a decades-old industry. Moreover, ordering and installing solar are now more comfortable by moving to fixed sizes that customers can order—no need to spend hours in consultations reviewing old utility bills. More than 80% of Tesla’s customers move forward with the standard size recommended on the website, and the move to a digital experience helped cut sales and marketing costs by 64%.

These savings were used to make solar more affordable for customers and build software that improves the experience of going solar. Tesla’s internal software platform now automates solar panel placement for energy optimization on a roof, significantly reducing the time needed to design a new system. The company also continues to invest in core technologies that raise the efficiency of its solar systems. That includes new premium panels with higher power and efficiency and integrated software and hardware that reduces the cost of solar interconnection and makes pairing solar with Powerwall easier than ever. (News and photo sources by Rivian and Tesla)