When Elon Musk announced Tesla’s Powerwall home battery in April, many Canadians likely pondered whether a $3,500 pod stuck on the inside of their garage might merit the investment.
Musk’s sales pitch avoided the warm and fuzzy altruism usually harnessed to sell solar technology to middle class home owners.
His insight has been to coat the normally guilt-flavoured pill associated with composting and generally doing the right thing in favour of re-framing forward-looking technology to appeal to people’s need to display their unique status.
Musk has very craftily held out the promise of “independence from the utility grid” as the upshot for installing the Powerwall, skewing his pitch towards people typically immune to the charms of electric cars and environmentalism. Nobody wants to go off the grid for environmental reasons. People want to go off the grid because it sounds badass.
People will buy a Powerwall for the same reasons that they buy a pick-up truck or a boat. To impress the neighbours.
Even so, there are practical concerns for buying in to Musk’s Powerwall future.
Among the many challenges faced by Canadians considering the maturity of the solar energy market, one of the biggest is our climate. Is there even enough sunshine available where you live to pop some popcorn in the evening, never mind to power your entire house or charge your electric car?
Most Canadians, proud as they are of calling a frozen hellscape home, would probably say no.
Helpfully, Natural Resources Canada has provided an online resource guide, including a map, intended to help homeowners decide whether to pull the trigger on home solar installation.
The map colour codes the regions of Canada by either their photovoltaic potential or their mean daily global insolation, the amount of solar radiation received per day, broken down in Megajoules per square meter and kilowatt-hours per square meter.
This is the kind of map where we learn a few things about Canada that we already know, like that B.C., while very beautiful, basically has the climate of Belgium with its incessant, almost existentially horrible rainy season. Buyer beware, the “Sunshine Coast” is sunshiney in name only, similar to the way that “Greenland” was misleadingly named to purposely lure potential settlers into thinking, “Hey, let’s go to Greenland. It sounds nice.” Cruelly misnamed Greenland made short work of those people.
Southern Saskatchewan, by contrast, is right in the map’s hot zone, making it one of the most potentially friendly solar environments in Canada.
Strangely, though, there’s no campaign afoot to rechristen Regina “the Sunshine City”, which only proves that names are more symbolic than literal. Sunshine must be a state of mind.
One of the other knocks against installing solar panels is their fixed nature, or their inability to bend like a flower all day long to get the most out of the daylight.
Leave it to a 23-year-old Calgarian ex-Princeton student to come up with the solution to that problem.
After developing the incredibly low-tech and low-cost SunSaluter, a device that increases solar energy output by up to 40% by using mere gravity to angle solar panels towards the sun as it travels across the sky, Eden Full received a Thiel Fellowship to commercialize her invention.
Peter Thiel, an original member of the PayPal mafia along with Elon Musk, organized his fellowship to offer promising students $100,000 to drop out of school and pursue world-altering technological solutions to real-world problems.
So, in consultation with the Natural Resources Canada maps, you ought to have a pretty good idea whether going off the grid with the help of SunSaluter solar-tracking technology and a Powerwall battery might be worth the investment.