Silicon Valley superstar Elon Musk announced the release of the Tesla Powerwall home battery to the rapturous delight of tech journalists and Musk-o-philes everywhere. On offer: a 7-kilowatt energy storage device for $3,000 and a 10-kilowatt unit for $3,500.
Now industry watchers are debating whether the Powerwall, which is made to store electricity when it’s cheap and release it when it’s costly, is inexpensive enough to disrupt consumer energy markets. But it’s certainly cheap enough for military buyers. Would it be useful?
Futurist and energy watcher Ramez Naam compared the electricity delivered by Powerwall to the stuff that comes out of your average power outlet. He found that the battery could deliver a kilowatt-hour for 35 cents. “That compares to average grid electricity prices in the US of 12 cents/kWh, and peak California prices on a time-of-use plan of around 28 cents/kWh,” he wrote. But when the battery is paired with a renewable, carbon-neutral energy source like wind or solar, it’s potentially much better for the environment. Naam later calculated that the numbers become much more attractive for the Powerwall over a decade’s use, if the battery can live up to warranty claims.
The calculus is different for the military, particularly for ground units that don’t have to worry about going off the grid…because they’re already there, operating from remote bases in places like Afghanistan.
Forward operating bases, often staffed by the most elite fighters that any nation ever produced, represent the spear tip of American foreign policy. During U.S.-led operations in Afghanistan, getting generator fuel to those bases was no easy or safe affair. In 2011, a Marine Corps report noted that the service was operating more than 100 forward bases, each of which consumed at least 300 gallons of diesel fuel daily — for a whopping total of more than 200,000 gallons of fuel every day. Most of that was trucked in overland, at great cost in time, money, and resources, and at great risk to troops and civilian contractors. “According to U.S. Transportation Command (USTRANSCOM), ground convoys were attacked 1,100 times in 2010-12, and that may not count movements of fuel at the tactical level, from forward operating bases to patrol bases,” another 2011 DoD document said. “In addition to these attacks, the terrain, weather, and political concerns also have been a challenge for supply lines.”