Tesla Powerwall: Why the Solar Battery Is Hard to Get for Homeowners

Tesla faces a number of issues.

Customers looking to buy battery storage for their solar energy systems are overwhelmingly asking for the Tesla Powerwall, but only a small fraction of solar firms actually offer the product, according to a survey of more than 870 American solar installers. The finding reveals a major mismatch between what people want and what companies are offering.

“The Tesla Powerwall is a genuinely good option for consumers considering energy storage, and that quality is part of the reason why so many consumers are asking solar installers for it,” Nick Liberati, communication manager for EnergySage, a solar energy system price comparison site operating in over 30 states, tells Inverse. “However, it’s Tesla’s overall brand recognition and luxury appeal that really sets the Powerwall apart from other battery competitors.”

A Tesla Powerwall as it appears on the side of a residential home in this photo on the Tesla website. This is what consumers want, but a survey of solar customers shows that most solar installers can't offer it.
A Tesla Powerwall as it appears on the side of a residential home in this photo on the Tesla website. This is what consumers want, but a survey of solar customers shows that most solar installers can't offer it.

The Powerwall is a core component of Tesla’s solar business, which emerged after it subsumed SolarCity in 2016. Batteries enable solar panels to store up energy for use throughout the day. Tesla uses the Powerwall to supplement both its panels and the blend-in Solar Roof tiles.

Amanda Tobler, one of the first owners, told Inverse that consumers can track the system via a smartphone app. Tesla’s business-focused Powerpack has also made headlines, with the Hornsdale project in South Australia ranking as the world’s largest lithium-ion battery at the time of its completion.

EnergySage published its annual solar installer survey in February, and the results are surprising. Around 56 percent of installers reported that when their customers want a home battery storage system they ask for the Tesla Powerwall, though just 12 percent of installers carry and quote the product.

Tesla also ranked as the second most-requested brand from consumers with 42 percent asking about the firm, three percentage points behind LG and two ahead of SolarEdge.

Tesla is an anomaly in the solar market.
Tesla is an anomaly in the solar market.

Liberati suggested three reasons why more installers perhaps aren’t supplying the Powerwall.

The first reason could be a lack of supply on Tesla’s end. The firm’s chief technology officer JB Straubel said in an October 2018 earnings call that “we have had a period” where cell supply was tight for the Tesla Model 3, the company’s cheapest-ever electric car that underwent a major production ramp-up. This supply issue did not constrain the Model 3 in a significant way, but Straubel did note that “the impact was largely felt on the energy products, and that still is somewhat tight.”

The Tesla Model 3.
The Tesla Model 3: the main culprit?

A second reason could be that a difficult certification process is causing installers to look elsewhere.

“Unfortunately, we do not have any insight into whether or not Tesla will be adjusting its certification program to try and onboard more installers,” Liberati says. “Based on our survey finding that nearly three times as many solar installers quote and install the LG Chem RESU versus the Tesla Powerwall (32 percent vs. 12 percent), we would estimate that LG does not impose as many installer certification conditions as Tesla does.”

A third reason could be something more straightforward: Tesla offers its own solar installation services, so installers are not too keen on the idea as it may wind up promoting a competitor.

While the constraints could come from a number of sources, Liberati says that installers surveyed expressed frustration that other solar firms aren’t publicizing their brand as effectively as automaker Tesla and home appliances maker LG. One survey respondent said:

“There is very little brand recognition out there. The least available equipment (Tesla) has the best brand recognition. Advertising and marketing by solar manufactures is practically non-existent. Compare this to automobile manufacturers who advertise 7 ads per hour on prime-time.”

Tesla faces a number of competitors with products similar to the Powerwall, which for $6,700 before installation, allows users to store up to 13.5 kilowatt-hours. LG’s Chem RESU can store anywhere between 2.9 and 12.4 kilowatt-hours at a price of around $6,000 to $7,000. Pika Energy’s Harbor Smart Battery, on the other hand, offers up to 17.1 kilowatt-hours with prices including installation ranging up to $20,000.

Without installers supplying the Powerwall, Tesla could lose out on consumers who want one, but who are forced by constraints to look elsewhere.

Update 3/4 9 a.m. Eastern time: An earlier version of this story stated that “Installers report that consumers ask for the Tesla Powerwall 56 percent of the time.” It has since been clarified.

Media via Tesla, EnergySage, Inverse