Tesla Motors is staffing up for its new stationary-storage unit that will make battery packs and help founder Elon Musk expand beyond electric vehicles into providing energy for homes, businesses and utilities.
The electric-car maker currently lists 78 open jobs on its website for the storage team, including chief counsel, several engineers, an installation project manager, and a regulatory and policy advocate.
"The business unit will be a multi-billion dollar per year one in the near term and the fast-growing team is adding top team members for engineering, business and sales," according to Tesla's job description for one of the roles. Khobi Brooklyn, a spokeswoman for the Palo Alto, California-based company, declined to elaborate and said via email that Tesla plans to share more information about its energy-storage plans in the next few months.
Energy innovation has been fundamental to Tesla's success from its early days selling battery packs to Toyota Motor and Daimler AG, to the construction of the world's largest battery factory near Reno, Nevada. When the site reaches full production in 2020, it will more than double the world's supply of versatile and powerful lithium-ion batteries, Tesla has said. Beyond allowing for production of a more affordable electric car, the batteries will provide backup power for homes and businesses and eventually meet wholesale energy demands.
By 2020, the annual global investment for stationary-grid energy storage is expected to be $5.1 billion, more than 17 times higher than investments in 2013, according to a June 2014 report from Bloomberg New Energy Finance.
Tesla's growth in the market has been more visible in company filings and presentations.
The company's most recent 10-K included "stationary energy storage systems," as well as electric cars in the list of products that it designs, develops and manufactures. Mateo Jaramillo, Tesla's director of Powertrain Business Development, gave a presentation called "Tesla and the Giga-Scale Grid Storage Effort" at an energy-storage conference in San Diego this week and is scheduled to speak at the Energy Thought Summit in Austin, Texas, later this month.
In June, Chief Executive Officer Musk is billed as the featured speaker at the Edison Electric Institute's annual convention, in New Orleans, a gathering attended by the top US utility executives.
Making batteries for stationary-storage devices may prove to be easier and faster than making cars.
"The battery business, while still in its infancy, could ultimately be a better business, as it could generate higher margin and require less ongoing spending," said Ben Kallo, an analyst with Robert W. Baird & Co. "The market is less competitive."
Tesla sold 31,655 cars in 2014 and is forecasting deliveries of 55,000 this year, including the Model X, an oft- delayed sport-utility vehicle it plans to introduce this summer.
Key to Tesla's efforts to drive down battery costs in order to make a $35,000, mass-market electric car is its planned "gigafactory." The facility, which should be in production by early next year, will initially provide packs for Model S and Model X vehicles, according to Tesla's most recent annual report.
Tesla's push into energy storage will pit it against battery makers such as LG Chem, Samsung Electronics and Saft Groupe.
Last month, Musk told analysts that Tesla plans to debut a battery for use in people's homes and production may start "in about six months or so." The company already offers residential energy-storage units to select customers through SolarCity, the company that lists Musk as its chairman and biggest shareholder. And Tesla's Fremont, California, factory is already making larger stationary-storage systems for businesses and utility clients, with several yet-to-be announced installations in the field.
Tesla and Oncor Electric Delivery, owner of the largest power-line network in Texas, have discussed a $2 billion investment in stationary battery storage to solve the challenge of fluctuating output from solar and wind.
Combining solar panels with large, efficient batteries could allow some homeowners circumvent buying electricity from utilities and provide back-up power in natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy.
"Tesla is driving as fast as we can into this space," said Chief Technology Officer J.B. Straubel, referring to the storage push during a keynote address at the Energy Storage Symposium sponsored by Joint Venture Silicon Valley last spring.
"I see us more as an energy innovation company at our core than even a car company."