It makes sense that someone buying an electric vehicle would also want to buy a charging system and get it installed. But how about solar panels, and home battery storage?
Automakers are increasingly wanting to sell all of these products.
Hyundai recently announced the rollout of Hyundai Home, a service to help the company’s customers match up with installers of EV chargers, rooftop solar and battery storage.
In October, General Motors announced GM Energy, which sells a variety of products for homes and businesses, including solar panels.
Those are just two recent examples. In addition, Ford is more than a year into its partnership with Sunrun to sell EV charging, solar panels and other products to customers buying Ford EVs. And Tesla has been combining EVs and rooftop solar for years.
Some of the add-ons are inexpensive compared to the cost of a car. For example, a charger is usually less than $1,000. But rooftop solar and battery storage are big-ticket items, each with costs of more than $10,000 for most households.
This is a fascinating moment. The markets for EVs, rooftop solar and home energy storage are in early stages in much of the country, and there may be room for automakers to assert themselves as major players in selling all of those products.
But we don’t know if customers want to buy home energy products from car companies, or if car companies are going to be any good at selling home products. It doesn’t help that many consumers cringe at the thought of buying a car, which, despite improvements by automakers, sometimes still feels like a hard sell.
Most of the initiatives by automakers are partnerships with companies that have experience selling energy products. So, it won’t be a Ford salesperson making the pitch for solar panels. Instead, Ford is using the process of selling an EV to create a lead for Sunrun to sell home energy products. Sunrun is the largest rooftop solar retailer in the country.
GM is working with SunPower, another large rooftop solar company. Hyundai’s partner is Electrum, a company that matches customers with local contractors.
The exception is Tesla, which already has in-house production and sales of EVs, solar panels and battery storage systems.
Automakers’ movement into home energy products is tied to one of the most intriguing potential features of an EV: the ability to act as a backup battery for a house or even for the grid.
I say “potential” because this capability requires a customer to have a vehicle built to export electricity, and a home power system that is capable of importing the electricity from a vehicle. Few customers have both of those things.
Some EV owners will soon be able to use their vehicles to keep the lights on during power outages, and grid operators will be able to pay customers for the ability to tap into large numbers of EV batteries to provide power to the community at times of high demand.
Hyundai has introduced Hyundai Home as a complement to its Ioniq line of EVs. On an FAQ page, the company explains that “solar energy is still a new and complex space” and customers can spend hours researching different options. “Hyundai Home simplifies this process.”
Initially, Hyundai Home is limited to 16 states: Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, Maine, New Jersey, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Texas, Virginia and Washington.
GM Energy has two versions of its service, Ultium Home for households, and Ultium Commercial for businesses. “Ultium” is the name of the company’s battery system. The upcoming Chevrolet Silverado EV pickup will be among the models built to work with GM Energy products and services.
I asked David Reichmuth, a senior engineer in the clean transportation program for the Union of Concerned Scientists, whether he thinks these initiatives are likely to be successful.
“It is important for the automakers … to just start thinking beyond just the vehicle by itself,” he said. “They do have to think about how these vehicles are going to interact with the grid, how are people going to charge these vehicles and how can they make that an easier process for consumers.”
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So, this move into home energy products sounds like a good idea—a logical extension of what the companies are already doing in the transition to EVs.
But will automakers sell enough of these products to make it worth their while? Reichmuth’s answer—which is refreshing to hear from an expert—is that it’s too early to say. We’ll have a better idea of how this market is taking shape about a year from now.
“The important part is the emergence of the connection of the vehicle and the home,” he said. “That is probably the key from the side of the automakers.”
Other stories about the energy transition to take note of this week:
Regulators Take Major Net Metering Actions in California and Michigan: A bad proposal in California has gotten a little better in the eyes of rooftop solar advocates. And, some of those same advocates are cheering a decision in Michigan that largely rejected the utility DTE’s plan that would have substantially reduced the financial benefits of solar. Erik Anderson of KPBS reports on the reaction to the release of the California proposal, which is a replacement to previous plan that advocates had campaigned against because of new rates and fees that made solar much less attractive. The new proposal, which is still awaiting a vote from utility regulators, is a better deal than the one before it, but it still contains harmful provisions, according to environmental and solar business groups. Among those provisions is a big decrease in the rate that solar owners would receive for excess electricity that they export to the grid. In Michigan, regulators threw out DTE’s plan and instead adopted a plan drafted by regulatory staff that has better rates for solar owners than what DTE had proposed, as Nina Ignaczak reports for Planet Detroit. Taken together, the proposal in California and the decision in Michigan show the growing strength of solar advocates in high-profile regulatory issues.
Biden’s Zero-Emission Government Fleet Starts With the Postal Service: The first of the U.S. Postal Service’s 34,000 zero-emission mail trucks will go into service next year. The vehicles are a big part of meeting the Biden administration’s plan for all government-owned vehicles to be EVs by 2035, as Jacob Bogage reports for The Washington Post. The agency is planning to purchase 85,000 mail trucks, of which about 40 percent will run on electricity. The trucks will be built by Oshkosh Defense of Wisconsin. The share of electric trucks is less than the Biden administration wanted, but four times more than the agency initially planned.
High Demand and Prices for Lithium Send Mines Into Overdrive: Silver Peak, Nevada, which is halfway between Reno and Las Vegas, has long been the sole producer of lithium in the United States. Now the mine is in the process of doubling its output, and facing new rivals as demand for lithium surges, as Camila Domonoske reports for NPR. The new competition is coming from mines proposed in the United States and abroad, and growth by foreign producers. “We’re doing everything in our power to keep up with our customers’ demand, and I know most of our competitors are, too,” said Meredith Bandy, the vice president of investor relations and sustainability at Albemarle, the company that owns Silver Peak. Demand is growing because lithium is an essential ingredient for the lithium-ion batteries that power EVs and battery storage systems.
Elon Musk’s Twitter Politics Add to Pressure on Tesla’s Brand Image: Tesla’s image has suffered in long-running surveys as the company’s CEO has dominated headlines for his purchase of Twitter. Surveys from Morning Consult and YouGov show a rising number of respondents have a negative view of the automaker, as Patrick Coffee and Rebecca Elliott report for The Wall Street Journal. Self-identifying Democrats in particular have increasingly negative views of Tesla, according to Morning Consult. Musk has urged voters to support Republicans in the midterm elections and lifted Donald Trump’s ban from using Twitter. Tesla is a global leader in electric vehicles, but its status is under threat as competitors are making substantial investments in EVs.
Inside Clean Energy is ICN’s weekly bulletin of news and analysis about the energy transition. Send news tips and questions to firstname.lastname@example.org.