Tesla’s electricity customers in Houston may help take some pressure off the state’s taxed power grid.
The Austin company, known for its electric vehicles, also provides retail electric services for customers that own its battery, called Powerwall, and said it was offering credits on customers’ bills if they sign up for a program meant to help ease demand on the grid.
Tesla executives said in its quarterly earnings call with investors on Wednesday that the company had begun paying customers in Texas if their Powerwall is connected to an aggregated network of home solar and storage units called a virtual power plant. For those enrolled, Tesla can tap into that aggregated network and send excess electricity from those homes to the grid when electricity demand is high.
Customers who are enrolled in the virtual power plant are notified when their Powerwall is scheduled to discharge electricity to the grid, and then get another push notification when the battery starts sending out power. The Powerwall will discharge to the grid during the scheduled time, but won’t go below a set backup reserve point so the customer would still have enough electricity stored if there was an outage, according to Tesla’s website.
The Tesla Powerwall has a storage capacity of 13.5 kilowatt hours. The average home uses about 30 kilowatt hours per day, according to the U.S. Department of Energy.
The program allows retail electricity providers to aggregate home batteries and solar, and when demand is high, they can offer power from the aggregated homes to the ERCOT grid. For a home device — such as a solar installation paired with battery storage — to qualify it has to generate less than 1 megawatt of electricity and be able to export power back to the grid.
“We expect these credits to lower our median customer’s annual bill by a third and to increase these credits over time as ERCOT expands market access,” a Tesla representative said in the call, referring to the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, which serves as grid operator for around 90 percent of the state.
The Texas Public Utility Commission certified Tesla as a retail electricity provider in November 2021, allowing the company to offer electricity plans to residents in certain parts of the state, including Houston and Dallas.
Tesla, which also sells solar panels and specialty solar roofs, and other retail electric providers are able to offer credits to customers for enrolling in a virtual power plant largely because of a state pilot project that’s expected to expand in the coming years.