Meet the company vying to take on Tesla in clean energy

October 16, 2017

Tesla isn't the only automaker vying to claim your rooftop as well as your garage. 

 

Mercedes-Benz now wants to sell you a full "ecosystem" of clean energy services, including solar panels that charge battery packs, which in turn charge electric vehicles — or at least let you store daytime solar power for nighttime use.

The German automaker on Thursday became the newest player in the growing U.S. market for home batteries through a collaboration with Vivint Solar, a leading U.S. residential rooftop solar installer.

 

SEE ALSO: How Elon Musk plans to make Tesla Motors a clean energy powerhouse

The partnership will allow both companies to compete with similar offerings from Elon Musk's Tesla, which acquired rooftop installer Solar City last year, as well as Sunrun, LG Chem, and other clean energy firms.

Energy storage systems are rapidly spreading in the United States as the prices of both lithium-ion batteries and solar photovoltaic panels steadily plummet. Deployments of these set-ups totaled 336 megawatt-hours in 2016, double the amount deployed in 2015, GTM Research and the Energy Storage Association reported in March.

 

Still, they're not exactly cheap. 

The Mercedes-Vivint systems will cost between $5,000 and $13,000 to fully install. The systems are made up of 2.5-kilowatt-hour batteries — each the size of a mini-fridge — that can be combined in systems up to 20 kilowatt hours. That's about enough to run a typical refrigerator for a week.

Boris von Bormann, chief executive of Mercedes-Benz Energy Americas, said the new venture presents two big opportunities for the automaker.

Home energy storage opens up an entirely new market for the company's battery technology, which it originally developed to power its line of electric vehicles. Mercedes began selling its batteries in Europe and South Africa this year and will offer them in the U.S. through Vivint this summer, starting in California.

 

The second advantage is that energy storage gives electric vehicle owners a more convenient way to charge their cars at home. With solar panels charging the batteries, owners won't have to worry about racking up high utility bills or overloading the electric grid. Plus, they can avoid using electricity from coal or natural gas.

 

Mercedes said it plans to release 10 new electric vehicles by 2022. If would-be car buyers don't have to fret about how they'll charge the car batteries, they might be more inclined to give these models a chance.

"An energy storage system will allow you to have an electric vehicle and self-produce that electricity for the electric vehicle," von Bormann said in an interview. He noted the company will soon launch other "add-on offerings" to further ease customers' transition from internal combustion engine to electric car.

 

"We're looking at ... the whole ecosystem that a future electric vehicle driver will experience," he said.

 

Electric car owners aren't the only target audience for these new storage systems. Homeowners who have rooftop solar panels — or want to get them — would also benefit by having round-the-clock renewable energy.

 

"It solves a great problem and need for our customers, where they'll produce power during the day, and now they can consume it in the evening hours," David Bywater, CEO of Vivint Solar, said in an interview.

The new collaboration "is allowing us to expand our reach," he added.

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