Five questions for Elon Musk about Tesla's battery business plan

Five questions for Elon Musk about Tesla's battery business plan
A new Tesla Motors showroom in Salt Lake City is shown. The automaker will detail plans Thursday night for selling batteries for energy storage to residential and commercial customers. (Rick Bowmer / Associated Press)

Tesla Motors Chief Executive Elon Musk plans to launch the electric car market into a new product line -- batteries for home and business energy storage.

That would allow users, for instance, to charge batteries at night -- when energy rates are cheap -- and use the power during peak hours in the daytime.


The billionaire entrepreneur will provide details of the plan before hundreds of invited guests at the Tesla design studio in Hawthorne on Thursday night.

Already, Tesla has been dabbling in energy storage, providing batteries for some Walmart stores and others. Musk is expected to ramp up the program, in part to make more use of the giant battery factory that Tesla is building near Reno, which will also supply batteries to Tesla cars.

We discussed the battery strategy with industry analyst Thilo Koslowski, vice president and automotive practice leader at Gartner Inc., who follows Musk and Tesla closely. Here are five questions he thinks Musk should answer Thursday night.

1. How much will it cost?

What's the value for customers? How will they make a return on their investment in the equipment?

2. Who will buy this?

Is this primarily for people or businesses that have solar systems, and need a way to store the power they create? Will the batteries be useful for people who don't own solar panels or electric cars?

3. How will Musk use stationary batteries -- as opposed to the ones that power Tesla cars -- to knit his companies together?

Musk also is the chairman of SolarCity and has worked with the solar energy provider to place Tesla batteries in some locations. Is this a Tesla product, or a Solar City product, or both? Will there be co-branding?

Will owners of Tesla cars or Solar City panels get any particular perks from this product?

4. How will Musk sell energy storage?

Consumers are often confused by the different purchase and lease options offered by solar energy companies. Explaining energy storage in batteries adds another layer of potential confusion.

"This entire space has suffered for a long time because it has been so difficult for consumers to understand what it is about, and what the business case is for the products," Koslowski said.

5. How will Musk leverage the Tesla name?


Tesla can make the concept of a home battery much more appealing to mainstream consumers than other companies because it is an innovative brand that is becoming widely known and respected.

How will Musk use that reputation to sell energy storage?

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