Tesla setting up ‘solar neighbourhood’ in 10,000 home Texas residential development

Tesla Solar Roof and Powerwall energy storage unit installed at a customer's house. Image: Courtesy of Tesla, Inc.

Tesla Energy has begun an initiative to install its V3 solar roof tiles and Powerwall 2 residential battery storage systems for what has been dubbed a “solar neighbourhood” at homes in a new development in Austin, Texas.

The electric vehicle (EV) and sustainable energy company has partnered with global asset management group Brookfield Asset Management and real estate developer Dacra to deploy complete home energy systems at Easton Park. The residential community is currently under construction and could number as many as 10,000 homes in total when complete.

Installations already began in June at a “sampling” of homes, with that first sample phase to be used to inform product integration for the design of further installations across the development and possibly at other sites too. The technology is meant to cover the homes’ daily energy needs and reduce demands on the local grid, as well as providing backup power in the event of grid power outages.

Brookfield Residential’s Easton Park consists of a number of different master-planned communities, each built around parks and green spaces. Tesla’s solar neighbourhood has been provisionally called SunHouse, with homes to be designed and marketed separately to homes in other neighbourhoods of the development.

Brookfield’s real estate CEO Brian Kingston said that the homes will answer a growing demand for energy security as well as residents’ desire to live sustainably, while Dacra CEO Craig Robins said that “the goal is to establish that fully-sustainable neighbourhoods are not only viable, but the best practical and economic choice”.

“The feedback we get from the solar and battery products used in this community will impact how we develop and launch new products,” Tesla CEO Elon Musk said.

For Tesla, which has encountered some well-documented challenges with the rollout of its sleek, building-integrated solar roof tiles, the project — and others like it — could provide the opportunity to get some scale behind its installations. One of the major pain points has reportedly been the need to highly customise the design of solar systems and roofing to meet the different sizes and designs of different houses, whereas deployment across houses of similar style and size on one plot could potentially reduce the time and cost associated with installation.  

Other battery storage providers such as Shell-owned Sonnen meanwhile have partnered with developers of new-build residential communities to put their systems into large numbers of houses, including projects where systems have been interconnected, aggregating their capabilities and capacity into virtual power plants (VPPs). There are a few similar projects dotted around the US and the world, such as the first "smart neighbourhood" in the US state of Georgia, created through a partnership between utility Georgia Power and homebuilder Pulte Homes which is aiming to create a net zero energy community

Back at the SunHouse project in Austin, Brookfield has a renewable energy business division, and it will integrate a solar programme across the entire Easton Park community while Tesla Energy will oversee the homes’ energy systems. The community will also feature EV charging points at each house, as well as across the development.

“The City of Austin is excited for the arrival of these affordable options to housing powered by renewable energy. I am excited for the Tesla, Brookfield, and Dacra partnership’s approach to sustainable energy and housing as an example of the out-of-box thinking that continues to make our community a beacon of innovation for the rest of the country and world,” Austin’s Mayor Steve Adler said.

That need for energy security Brian Kingston mentioned is at the forefront of many peoples’ thinking when it comes to Texas and the wider US. Texas notably suffered a severe energy crisis induced by unexpectedly harsh cold weather in February. Last week in a Guest Blog for this site, Wayne Muncaster of demand response platform provider GridBeyond advocated for the widespread roll-out of distributed energy resources — chief among them being battery storage technologies — to add flexibility and reliability to electricity networks in the ERCOT service area which covers most of the state.

Incidentally, in other Tesla news, a court case is scheduled to begin today in Delaware over whether or not CEO Musk used his control of the company to influence a decision in favour of taking over SolarCity in 2016, the solar installer and leasing group which his cousins Lyndon and Peter Rive were chief executives at.

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