When Teslas and other electric vehicles crash, their batteries — whose rare metal-stuffed insides cost thousands to make — often end up gathering dust in automotive centres, even if they’re still in full working order.
Now a London-based startup, Allye, has a plan to repurpose the batteries — and use them to offer cheaper energy to households in the process. Allye estimates that 40k electric vehicle batteries get scrapped every year in the UK.
Allye plans to install them in homes, apartment blocks and on streets. There, consumers could use them to store energy from the grid — for example, in the middle of the night, when energy is cheapest — and deploy it when needed. This, in turn, would help bring household electricity costs down. Owning a battery also means consumers with their own power generation, such as solar panels on their roofs, can store the excess to deploy at peak hours.
The company launched earlier this year and has raised £900k from Elbow Beach Capital and Alpha Future Funds.
The price tag
So why aren’t more people just stealing batteries out of Teslas and using them to save on utility bills? Well, they’re very difficult to install and installation comes with a hefty price tag.
“A home battery will cost you £12k-13k to install. That is way, way out of the realm of many people,” says Jonathan Carrier, founder and CEO of Allye.
“We've got the challenge of this dichotomy between people who can afford new technology that helps them be more sustainable and lower their bills, versus a very large section of society that can't take advantage of that because it's not affordable,” he says.
Allye’s plan is to offer ‘energy storage as a service’. Rather than having to fork out the upfront costs of a battery, consumers will be able to rent one. It will cost £15-20 a month for the battery, but could bring savings of £45 a month — and that’s before consumers plug in additional tech like solar panels or heat pumps.
The company’s first systems will use battery packs from crashed Teslas and, in the future, other models too. Recycling old car batteries brings down the cost of the systems for the consumer, Carrier says, as well as reducing the environmental footprint of manufacturing the systems.
Allye’s plan goes further than individual consumers: it wants to build community batteries too, which means lower upfront costs for individuals. Community batteries sit in apartment blocks or on streets, and residents are allocated a certain storage capacity from the same battery.
Pooling energy across a community also makes for lower electricity costs because there will be some variation in the times people want to use their energy.
The concept of community batteries has a long-standing history in Australia — where batteries are more common because of the high use of solar power in the country — but it’s yet to become commonplace in Europe.
Under Allye’s plan, consumers will be allocated a certain amount of battery capacity per month. When consumers don’t use up their allocated amount, they’ll be able to pool it with their street or apartment block, “gifting” the cheaper energy to others in the community. It would work well, Carrier says, in places with a mix of social and private housing.
Gifting energy would come at no extra cost to the consumer because their battery would take a full charge from the grid even if it’s not ultimately used by them. He likens it to unused mobile phone data, which the consumer pays for even if they don’t use it.
“If you're paying for your battery allowance every month, and you don't use 10-12% of it, you've still made a huge saving by using 90% of the allowance, but that 10% could be given to the community to benefit somebody else,” Carrier says.
It’s most likely to work, he speculates, in what he calls “captive communities” like apartment blocks or housing estates, where people feel part of a small community.
Carrier sees the concept of energy pooling as part of a wider movement within tech. “We're seeing a bigger trend in society, and also within tech, towards localisation,” he says. Another example is Olio, the app that allows neighbours to share food that would otherwise go to waste.
“Sustainability means becoming more local,” Carrier says, “and then it becomes very important to think about community.”