Energy Storage: Product or Feature?

It’s a question that doesn’t get much attention. It should… because it’s critical to the way that storage will generate traction and installed base over the next 10 years.

During my time at iHeartRadio, we asked the same product vs. feature question about custom radio (dynamic playlisting like Pandora) and mood playlists (like Songza). Turns out, both are less natural as freestanding products, and more naturally features of a larger music offering like those offered by iHeartRadio, Apple Music and Spotify. To wit, Songza was swallowed by Google to become part of Google Music. Pandora is rumored to be working on a full on-demand service offering to build around it’s current stand-alone core.

Turning from music to renewables, I’ll assert that energy storage is similar. Like dynamic playlisting, storage is really more a feature than a product. Like disk drives, keyboards or batteries a PC. Wheels to a car. Artist radio to a music service. Yes, you can offer them separately for a number of reasons, but most people will buy them when they buy a larger product.

Energy storage fits the same bill. We will see that it does a better job as an awesomeness engine in an incredible product, than as a stand-alone ware at the proverbial store. I’m willing to bet that we see that play out with residential storage. There may be some traction, but eventually just having a battery laying around the house will fail to generate much enthusiasm, unless it’s what makes something else incredible.

It’s a driving reason behind the Tesla / Solar City merger. Tesla batteries and Solar City are better as key features in a combo “home energy” product than separate as separate products. They’re bagels and cream cheese. Alone, interesting. Together, incredible.

That’s why the merger makes product sense. Tesla is about beautiful, storage-anchored, renewable energy products... cars and home clean energy systems. It’s not a mystery. Musk said exactly that in a tweet that was responding to questions about the merger:


For what it’s worth, battery-as-a-core-feature goes beyond cars and home clean energy systems for Tesla. It includes commercial renewable microgrids and utility-scale renewable generation plants as well. Admittedly, I don’t understand why Tesla hasn’t focused on making those two products “look beautiful” to create inspirational and engaging showcases for those customers. That’s a mystery to me, and seems like a missed opportunity, but let’s save that for another day.

Back to the matter at hand. There are two points to make here:

Batteries as stand alone products may prove to be tough putts.

Batteries as stand alone products may prove to be tough putts.The demise of Coda demonstrates that there are challenges for commercial customers. Stem, like Pandora, is demonstrating traction, but it may well hit a wall. On the residential side, similar challenges may emerge for Sonnen and the like, unless they evolve into larger products. Powerwall would likely have run into it, but will now be paired with SolarCity.

Batteries will be the anchor feature of many impactful, broadly-featured products that are yet to come.

Scale energy storage will be an anchor feature of impactful products that are coming, and those products probably won’t be able to deliver on their promise without batteries. Like a car without tires. Like a laptop without its battery.

Short story, energy storage will add superpowers and sexiness to a whole host of incredible new products. Most of those products have not yet been imagined.

New, integrated technology is where we’re focused at Totem. I couldn’t be more excited by the coming, battery-anchored products that will be created to deliver incredible new functionality AND serve as impactful, valuable grid agents to make renewable generation possible at scale.