Posts Tagged ‘Batteries’

Powerwall: Assessment of degradation of storage capacity after 8 months

November 9, 2021

Friends, it is now 8 months (235 days) since we installed the Tesla Powerwall domestic battery (link).

And one of the questions I am most commonly asked concerns its likely lifetime.

All batteries degrade over time, even Tesla’s, but the practical question is “How much degradation occurs and over what period?

By chance last night (8th/9th November) I had the opportunity to assess this degradation and, in case you are short of time and need to do something more important than read this blog, my estimate is that the battery degradation so far is immeasurably small.

For those of you still with me, allow me explain how I made the measurement and what the results suggest regarding the battery lifetime.

Powerwall Control

The Powerwall battery is apparently controlled by an ‘App’ on my phone.

The ‘Tesla App’ has pleasing – almost compulsively enticing – graphics showing power flowing to and fro from the grid; the battery; our house; and the solar panels. It’s a really engaging interface. It also allows detailed data to be downloaded for analysis.

Click image for a larger version. Screenshots from the Tesla ‘App’ showing the charging and discharging of the battery, its state of charge, and the overall operation of the battery system.

However, I say the battery is ‘apparently’ controlled by the App because in reality the battery is controlled and monitored 24/7 over the internet by Tesla. And Tesla give me only limited control via the App.

Currently the battery is set to ‘Time-Based Control‘ which charges the battery from solar PV when available or cheap rate electricity if required.

And Tesla make the choice about how much charge to take overnight based on it’s estimate for how much solar power will be available the following day.

I don’t have the algorithm it uses, but it seems to do a fair job.

The reason I consent to this egregious interference with my liberty is that in return for ceding control, Tesla promised that the battery would retain 80% of its specified 13.5 kWh capacity (i.e. 10.8 kWh) in 10 years time i.e. after a nominal 3650 partial charge cycles.

I think this is a guarantee worth having and so I submit to the Tesla-Brain.

In fact since I bought the Powerwall I believe this guarantee has been degraded to 70% after 10 years – which suggests it really is quite a tough specification.

Expected Battery Degradation

Various reports on the web, and Tesla’s 2020 environmental impact report, indicate that Tesla car batteries seem to retain around 90% of their range after 200,000 miles (320,000 km).

Click image to see a larger version. Excerpt from Tesla’s 2020 Environmental Impact Report showing roughly 10% reduction in EV range after 200,000 miles.

It’s hard to know how that colossal range would translate into the 3650 partial charge and discharge cycles of a domestic battery over 10 years.

In part it depends strongly on the range of the charge-discharge cycles. Charging and discharging over the middle of a battery’s range – between say 10% and 90% – is relatively benign. But rapidly charging and discharging from 0% to 100% degrades battery capacity. This is why Tesla want to have control over the battery.

My thought when I bought the battery, was that domestic service would be generally less stressful than service in a motor car. Why?

  • The Powerwall has it’s own re-circulating fluid temperature control and does not need to operate in the climate extremes of a car battery.
  • A Tesla car battery is about 4 times larger than a Powerwall’s 13.5 kWh, but the maximum EV discharging rates – which can affect battery life – are up to 25 times higher than the Powerwall’s transient maximum of 7 kW.

Other reports (link) suggest that Powerwall degradation might be considerably faster than for EV’s.

However, the general pattern of battery degradation (reflected in the figure above) is that the greatest rate of degradation is at the start of the service life of the battery.

If my Powerwall were to degrade linearly to 80% capacity over 10 years (120 months) then after 8 months I might expect to see 0.18 kWh decrease in capacity. Small, but possibly detectable.

What did I measure?

By chance last night the battery ran out just before midnight, so I knew it had zero ‘state of charge’.

Additionally the Tesla-Brain decided to fully charge the battery over the four hours of cheap rate (5p/kWh) electricity starting at 00:30. So I was able to observe a full charge from empty.

The graphs below (using data downloaded via ‘the App’) show what happened. Note the data only have a time-resolution of 5 minutes.

Click image for a larger version. Graph showing the charging of the battery from 00:30 at approximately 3.6 kW and the discharging of the battery after 04:30 at approximately 300 W to meet domestic demand.

Using the charging rate and the time I can work out the ‘state of charge’ of the battery and compare this with the specified capacity.

Pleasingly, the maximum state of charge appeared to correspond closely with the initially specified capacity.

Click image for a larger version. Graph showing the calculate ‘state of charge’ of the battery during charging from 00:30 to 04:30. Within the (considerable) uncertainties of this measurement, the maximum state of charge is closely in line with its specified original capacity.

Interestingly, while the battery was charging, the Tesla control circuitry also used cheap-rate electricity to run the dishwasher and top up the domestic hot water using the heat pump.

Click image for a larger version. Graph showing the household demand from midnight to 06:00. The battery was charging in the background during these high power events.

Conclusions

First of all, some caveats:

  • All these measurements are self-reported by the Powerwall, and so should rightly be subject to sceptical interpretation.
  • The data have limited resolution both in power and time.

However, when I have been able to check the reported values against independent measurements – e.g. for estimates of the energy reaped from the solar panels each day – I have found them in close agreement at the level of 0.1 kWh.

So taking these measurements at face value, I find no detectable degradation in battery capacity after 8 months or 235 days.

  • If the battery capacity were degrading linearly over time to 80% of initial capacity after 8 years I would have expected to see 0.18 kWh decline in capacity.
  • If the battery capacity were degrading faster than linearly – as it plausibly might – then I would have expected to see perhaps 0.3 kWh or 0.4 kWh degradation.

Obviously I will re-visit this issue at some point in the future, but the fact that there is no detectable degradation so far suggests that the retained capacity after 10 years may indeed exceed 80%.

Which would be nice.

Battery Day: First Results

March 20, 2021

Me and my new Tesla. This unit contains 13.5 kWh of battery storage along with a climate control system to optimise battery life. We have placed it in the porch so that (when visits are allowed again) everyone who visits will know about it!

Last September, Tesla held their ‘Battery Day‘ during which they unveiled their road map towards cheaper, better, batteries.

Not to be outdone, last Monday VW held their own ‘Battery Day‘ during which they unveiled their road map towards cheaper, better, batteries.

And last Thursday was my own battery day, when Stuart and Jozsef from The Little Green Energy Company came and installed a Tesla Powerwall 2 at Podesta Towers in Teddington. I was (and still am) ridiculously excited.

I am still evaluating it – obviously – but here are a couple of notes.

How it works

The system has two components. An intelligent ‘gateway’ that monitors loads and supplies, and a climate-controlled battery storage unit.

Click for a larger version. The left-hand graphic shows how AC power enters our house, and how DC power generated by solar panels is linked to the grid. When the Solar PV is sufficient ,power is exported to the grid. The right-hand graphic shows how the TESLA ‘gateway’ device monitors the solar PV, domestic loads and battery status and intelligently decides what to do.

The gateway (and the battery) are electrically situated between the electricity meter and all the loads and power sources in the house. So all energy enters or leaves the battery module as AC (alternating current) power.

But its internal batteries must be supplied with DC (direct current).

This makes it ideal for storing power from the AC grid, but less than ideal for storing the DC current generated by solar PV panels.

One might have expected that a device designed to store solar power might intrinsically operate using DC and indeed, some battery systems – positioned between the solar PV and the inverter – do this.

So the choice to place the Powerwall™ where it is, is a compromise between the extra functionality this location offers – it can back up the entire house – and the inefficiency of storing solar PV which is first converted to AC by the inverter, and then re-converted back to DC by the Powerwall. The support document states that the conversion from AC to DC and back to AC has 90% round-trip efficiency.

The photograph below shows the gateway installed under the stairs in our house.

Click for a larger version. The Tesla ‘Gateway’ installed in our house. The unit is positioned in between the electricity meter and all the domestic loads. The black conduit leads under the floor to the battery which is installed in the porch.

Control

The system is controlled by an app which is – frankly – mesmerising. It shows how electrical power flows between:

  • the grid,
  • the battery,
  • our home, and
  • our solar panels

Click for a larger version. Screenshots from the app at various times yesterday.

There is less room to adjust the parameters of the system than I had anticipated. This appears to be because, in exchange for a guarantee that the battery will retain at least 80% capacity (10.8 kWh) after 10 years, one is required to relinquish detailed control to the Tesla Brain.

Through a built in network connection, the device is in constant touch with Tesla who monitor its performance and can detect if it is abused in some way. I am not sure how I feel about that – but then guaranteed long-term performance is certainly worth something.

One feature of this relinquishing of detailed control concerns ‘time-of-use’ tariffs. I anticipate that – especially in winter – I will need to charge the battery overnight on cheap rate electricity.

The system supports this mode of operation but is not yet operational. Apparently it needs to study the patterns of household use for 48 hours before being enabled.

When operational, one gives the system general instructions and then allows it to choose when, and by how much, to charge. There is for example no way to force the battery to charge to 100% on command.

In practice I suspect it will be fine, but at the moment it still feels a little weird.

Performance on Day#1

The simplest way to show how the Powerwall™ works is by looking at the data which the ‘App’ makes available.

The first graph shows the household demand through the day. It’s fascinating to look at this data which has 5 minute and 0.1 kW resolution. The metrologist in me would like more – but in honesty, this is enough to understand what is happening.

Click for a larger graph. See text for details.

Now we can look to see how that demand was met. Overnight, we relied mainly on the grid.

Click for a larger graph. See text for details.

The battery could have supplied this overnight electricity, but it had been set to hold a reserve of 16% of its capacity (~2 kWh) in case we required backup after a power cut. We have lowered that setting now because, thankfully, power cuts are rare in Teddington. The battery drew power from the grid overnight in two short periods to maintain this reserve.

Additionally, at the end of a sunny day in which the solar PV filled the battery, there was brief period where we returned electricity to the grid.

During the day – which was very sunny 🙂 – the household electricity demand was met by the electricity from the solar panels.

Click for a larger graph. See text for details.

Without the battery, most of this 16.91 kWh of electricity would have been sent to the grid. But now only a tiny fraction was returned to the grid, most of it being captured by the battery – see below.

Click for a larger graph. See text for details.

The graph above shows the battery maintaining its reserve charge at night, and then charging from the solar PV during the day. At peaks of household demand, the charging is paused. At around 16:00, the battery was briefly full, and shortly thereafter it began discharging to meet household demand.

As I write this at 1:00 p.m. on the day after the day shown (a rather dull day 😦 ), the battery is 56% full and charging.

The graph below shows all the above curves together.

Click for a larger graph. See text for details.

Overall

The Powerwall system is an object of wonder. It is beautifully engineered and miraculous in its simplicity.

It transforms the utility of the solar PV allowing me (rather than electricity companies) to benefit from the investments I have made.

I will post more about the performance in terms of cost, electricity and carbon dioxide when I have more data.

But for the moment I will just thank Jozsef and Stuart from The Little Green Energy Company for their professionalism and attention to detail. And ‘No’. I am not being paid to say that – quite the opposite!

Stuart and Jozsef from The Little Green Energy Company. You can’t see it, but they assure me they were both smiling. Click for a larger version

 


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