The launch of Tesla Energy and their new PowerWall batteries is a significant moment that will change our relationship with energy. Maybe not immediately, but this is the seed of a major shift in the landscape.
This residential level battery, and the copycat technology that inevitably follows it from others, will shift the balance of power in the energy business. It will increase the relevance of renewables and turn energy consumers like you and me into potential consumer/producers of energy.
At the moment it's pretty hard to be in the energy production business unless you're a giant energy company. Renewables are great until the sun goes down or the wind stops. And costs aside, most people aren't going to switch to an energy solution that doesn't meet their needs 24/7/365. By allowing people to store energy in their homes Power Wall will help make renewables more viable, and thus start to make it more attractive for homeowners to get into the energy production business. Done right, you could even be selling the excess energy you've made to your neighbors or back to the grid. And batteries are the key.
The larger trend: Power is shifting to individuals
Over the last decade we have seen technology shift the balance of power from institutions and corporations back to individuals. Of course, there are counter trends that continue to concentrate power in these organizations, but technology is certainly helping to balance things out a bit. I would argue that web 2.0/blogging, 3D printing, MOOCs, and batteries are turning us into publishers, manufacturers, educators, and energy barons.
A decade ago, if you wanted to have a voice you had to study journalism, work at a crappy local paper for several years, work your way up to become a writer for a prestigious publication and only then you could be truly heard by the masses. Now the infrastructure and tools exist for anyone to start a blog, record a podcast, create potentially viral videos, and BROADCAST to the world.
Over the next decade local manufacturing technology like 3D printers combined with continually improving design tools will make it possible for people to create their own stuff. I wrote about this scenario in a previous post with a science fiction prototype I wrote on the first mega corporation with one employee.
To get an education you used to have to pay top dollar to get trained by an institution. Now MOOCs give people access to education in exciting new ways. Check out Coursera, KhanAcademy, and even Lynda.com for goodness sake. In some ways education has never been more expensive (if you want to go to a university) but never more accessible (if you use the Internet to get it).
A fisherman in Indonesia with a cheap smartphone now has real-time access to important information like the true market value of the fish he is selling to a corporate buyer.
The empowerment of the individual inevitably also has a flipside. The same technology that empowers the poor Indonesian fisherman is used by ISIS to spread terror around the globe.
Back to Elon's battery
Yes, Tesla Energy's battery isn't a panacea, and the initial price point ($3000 for a 7kWh battery and 10 kWh battery) isn't going to make this cheap for everyone, as this Fortune piece complains. But it's the start of a revolution in energy that will have important consequences for us all. On a planet that's choking with carbon dioxide anything that helps accelerate the needed shift towards local, renewable energy production has to be a good thing.
Power to the people.