Various commentators, us included, have long thought that Elon Musk's end game with Tesla was never really to build EVs. Instead, he's creating the world's leading battery and technology supplier for the EV sector and other large industrial sectors which, in the long-term, is almost certainly going to be far more lucrative than flogging Model 3s. His vehicles are test-beds – and very good ones at that – but white label battery technology is the way forward if money is the object.
In the most recent move here in the UK, Tesla applied to the Gas and Electricity Markets Authority for the licence to generate power. Details over and above that are scant-to-non-existent, but we can take a fair guess as to what the application will pertain to.
Tesla's plants are themselves huge generators of energy, the surplus of which can be sold back into the grid on an industrial scale. In South Australia, Tesla is busy creating a 'virtual power plant' by sponsoring a project installing solar panels on 1000 houses, coupled with its Powerwall home storage technology. In sunny South Aus this project doesn't just allow Tesla's technology to generate a huge amount of green energy, by using Powerwall it can store it and feed it back into the grid when it's needed – providing grid balancing which is seen as a key piece in bringing forward smart grid technology.
Alongside this physical infrastructure, Tesla manages the sale of power back into the grid using proprietary software called Autobidder. It autonomously manages the sale of the power, based on numerous factors that can be controlled by whoever is using it. Naturally, it can also be managed manually, but it really is next-level, highly-advanced Bond villain type stuff.
We can pretty much assume that Tesla's application to produce energy in the UK is a move to future-proof any infrastructure it builds here in due course, rather than the start of Musk Industries building huge solar arrays in the Norfolk countryside.
Speaking of Norfolk, an innovative move in re-imagining the way people view car ownership is being developed thanks to a new partnership between Lotus and Centrica – parent company to British Gas. Centrica is already active in forming partnerships with car makers, such as Ford, but the Lotus partnership is very much taking things to the next level.
The project is a micro version of that which Tesla is rolling out, in that the companies are aiming to make the car an extension to the home – utilising vehicle-to-grid technology (V2G) for energy storage, minimising emissions and even generating income. Controlled by smart technology – such as smart chargers, connected home and integrated smartphone connectivity, owners of the new generation of electric Lotus cars, beginning with the Evija, will be able to benefit from the cost and carbon savings the scheme will bring.
Ambitious in its scale for a smallish car maker, the partnership with Centrica is partly driven by Lotus's drive to reach net-zero carbon emissions. CEO of Lotus, Phil Popham, said: “Our journey to net-zero carbon is absolutely lock-in-step with the Vision80 strategy for Lotus – taking us to eighty years of the business in 2028. By then we will have transformed Lotus into a truly global player in the high-performance high-technology sector with a new range of cars that remain true to our fundamental promise of always being ‘For The Drivers’. The difference is the energy and infrastructure that will power and support these products in the future – this new partnership demonstrates the progress being made and the ambition of our vision.”
To start with, Centrica will work with Lotus to minimise the carbon impact of its manufacturing, sales and day-to-day activities of its employees, developing alongside Lotus's journey of becoming an EV manufacturer.
Since January last year, Volkswagen has been an energy supplier over in its native Germany. It set up Elli, part of the VW Group, to develop products and services around connected (smart) energy supply – and it isn't aimed just at VW customers, with people outside of the Group's vehicle customer base able to switch to Elli. However, the company's particular focus is on 100 per cent green energy for EV drivers.
Through Elli, VW is creating a power ecosystem – a word we hear so much in regards to energy, but one which really is key to widespread clean energy use in the future. In Elli's case, it applies to home systems including smart wallboxes with V2G capabilities, solar panels and stationary battery storage like Tesla's project in South Australia. Elli's ecosystem extends to destinations where VW has ownership, such as company car parks, dealerships, chain outlet partners and fleet customers.
Many car manufacturers have established partnerships with energy suppliers and it's worth reading our Guide to EV Energy Tariffs for more background on the subject. The difference with what Tesla is doing is that it will be physically generating power for both domestic use and sale back into the grid. This is a relatively new phenomenon in the EV game. Lotus, too, is expanding its horizons beyond a mere partnership with a supplier. Instead it is looking to create smart systems as a central part of its future brand experience, something it's well placed to achieve thanks to its low volume sales and new entry into the EV market.
All of the above cases are a sign of things to come for a more blended experience between power supply and mobility. Facilitated by the switch to EVs, our relationship between power consumption and driving will become more integrated than ever before in the coming years.