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Electric car maker BYD to charge into home energy

Chinese battery company plans to parlay the growth of electric vehicles into home energy systems that include car charging, solar panels, and batteries.

CAMBRIDGE, Mass.--Chinese battery manufacturer BYD, which is readying a line of all-electric vehicles, plans to introduce a home energy suite that includes solar panels and batteries.

BYD, which gained prominence in the U.S. when Warren Buffet invested in the company, plans to start testing its all-electric e6 sedan in the U.S. later this year, said Michael Austin, vice president of BYD America.

High-volume auto battery manufacturing helps the company's entry into home energy products by bringing costs down, he said here on Monday at the Lux Executive Summit during a panel on energy storage. BYD plans to supply solar panels, battery packs, car charging pedestals, efficient LED lighting, and inverters to manage energy flow within a home, Austin said.

From electric cars to home storage: China's BYD's e6 all-electric sedan. BYD

"The vehicle market is driving scale for the energy market and we're already well below $500 per kilowatt-hour (for batteries)," he said. BYD electric cars will have a range of about 250 miles, he added.

Two weeks ago, BYD announced a partnership with KB Homes to build a low-energy home in Lancaster, Calif., which is equipped with solar panels and batteries and costs about the same as comparable new homes, according to Austin. BYD America plans to offer similar systems elsewhere in the world. In the U.S. it will target communities where homeowners can finance energy-efficiency investments through property taxes over 20 years.

So far, many of these property assessed clean energy financing (PACE) programs have run out of money, but Austin said BYD expects it can work when backed by commercial banks. The company plans to introduce its home energy line in China this year, he added.

The 15-year-old company started out making batteries and other components for consumer electronics, such as cell phones. Now, as many companies push into electric vehicles, BYD advertises battery prices significantly lower than other companies, which it expects will drive adoption of all-electric cars.

During the panel discussion, Lux analysts projected that auto battery pack costs will decline from about $900 per kilowatt-hour to about $500 per kilowatt-hour in the next 10 years, which is a target that many auto companies say is necessary to make electric vehicles more accessible.

BYD's manufacturing costs and battery technology allow it to achieve that level now, Austin said. One downside of iron phosphate battery chemistry, compared to lithium ion, is that battery packs cannot store as much energy per volume, he said.

BYD has also designed grid storage units that can store power made at off-peak times for local distribution. An 800-kilowatt system, which fits into a tractor trailer, costs $450,000, Austin said.

BYD is relatively new to the U.S. market, so even though its stated prices are low, it's hard to compare its actual products to other manufacturers, one analyst said.

Another company that plans to offer a full suite of home energy is Panasonic, which makes batteries, LED lighting, and home energy management systems. It also has a majority stake in solar panel maker Sanyo.