Did Elon Musk Just Save Us From Fossil Fuels?
A few days ago, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced a new home battery system. Not the sexiest product at first blush – but a closer look shows that this battery has the potential to disrupt the glacial progress of the energy industry. Check out the keynote below to see what I mean.
In other words, this is huge. According to CBC, “Musk is trying to steer his electric car company’s battery technology into homes and businesses as part of an elaborate plan to reshape the power grid with millions of small power plants made of solar panels”. TechCrunch described the move as “a new business arm that is focused on ending our dependence on grid power and switching instead to solar energy.”
What Is Tesla Selling?
During the keynote, Musk announced two new sets of products. First was the Tesla Powerwall home battery. This is a slick looking power pack that can be mounted and stacked (up to 9 deep) on the interior or exterior walls of your home or small business.
There are two models: a $3000 7kWh battery and a $3500 10kWh battery. The portability aspect of the product makes this the perfect solution for bringing power to off-the-grid locations, and also areas whose power access is unstable, with frequent blackouts and brownouts.
Both models are available for pre-order now, and should be shipping late this summer.
The second product is a much larger version of the battery for use in medium-to-large-sized businesses and for utility companies (with 100kWh to 10MWh+ batteries on offer). The largest stores enough power to run a typical US home for nearly a year It’s these batteries that powered the entire conference in which the products were announced.
Why is This Big News?
Despite the fact that the Sun creates ample energy to power the globe, currently we can thank solar power for a measly 0.23% of the energy that the US consumes (globally, that figure is 1%). And according to Tesla, “The US electric power sector alone produces over 2,000 million metric tons of CO2 which is like burning 225 billion gallons of gas. The EPA says it would require 1.6 billion acres of US forest to negate the environmental damage”. This doesn’t lead to rosy predictions for the future , and will lead to more of us breathing air that looks like this.
One of the main reasons our use of sustainable energy is increasing so slowly is the unavailability of suitable batteries to store the power generated. During the launch, Musk stated that current batteries “are expensive, unreliable and bad in every way”. Without affordable and reliable batteries we have two huge problems to solve: power availability at night, and power availability during power outages.
But Why Would I Even Want a Battery?
As Wired points out:
“A house battery will let you be more power independent. If you have solar panels or electricity generated from wind, they don’t always produce the same amount of power. With a battery, you can store this energy during the day (or during wind) and then use it at night.
A house battery will also let you get power from the electric company at night when the rates are lower and then use it during the day. Really, that’s win-win. You win with a lower power bill and the electric company wins with lower demand during the day.”
Once we have batteries that can store a suitable amount of energy, that are not reliant on being plugged into the grid, and that are affordable enough to be distributed on a larger scale, then we’re on the precipice of disrupting the energy industry as a whole. And that’s exactly what Musk is offering.
How Does This Solve The Problem?
Currently, installing a home battery to increase your energy independence is expensive and full of hassles. The (usually lead acid) batteries can be difficult to install, and require routine maintenance. They all need to be hooked up together. They need replacing. They take up too much space. They’re ugly.
Is it a surprise that people opt for a diesel generator over a battery?
Tesla’s lithium ion batteries, however, are touted as being extremely simple to install, completely automated, and require no maintenance. Another win-win.
Along with this:
“Without a home battery, excess solar energy is often sold to the power company and purchased back in the evening. This mismatch adds demand on power plants and increases carbon emissions. Powerwall bridges this gap between renewable energy supply and demand by making your home’s solar energy available to you when you need it.”
But this isn’t all. The vision here isn’t just to have each property with a standalone battery being fuelled entirely by solar power . The vision is to reduce the planet’s overall reliance on fossil fuels by creating localised networks of home batteries (or larger, industrial batteries) that can, as a whole, be seen as a power plant in themselves.
In theory this could see entire villages, towns, cities, and eventually countries be able to generate power in an entirely sustainable, renewable way, totally independent of fossil-fuels, in a way that’s no been possible before.
Granted, the $3000+ price tag may scare some people out of the market for now, but it must be remembered that this is a first iteration of the product. The battery is ‘only’ 92% efficient, and It doesn’t include an AC/DC converter. But, for a piece of kit that’s aiming to save you money within a few years of purchase (investment), it’s very affordable compared to the alternatives.
The main selling point (for now) though, is the prospect of back-up power. Given economies of scale, however, as the technology reduces in price, more and more people will be able to turn their homes and local areas into reliable, independent power plants.
Is this the Solution?
This development is from the guy behind SpaceX: the first private company to successfully launch a rocket into orbit, despite huge opposition. It’s also from the guy who, again against heavy opposition, launched Tesla, the all-electric car company, which is now heavily involved with autonomous vehicles . If anyone can dream big, and accomplish those dreams, it’s Elon Musk. Historically, betting against him hasn’t worked out.
The thing that really makes this development stand out from other sustainable developments is that Musk is allowing anyone to freely use his technology. All of Tesla’s patents are freely available for anyone to use. And this is where the revolutionary part of this project starts to really stand out.
Musk has taken this technology through the boring, slow part of the exponential curve, and now that it’s ready, he’s launching it to an entrepreneurial public to do with what they like.
As stated in the book Bold: How to Go Big, Create Wealth and Impact the World, “The creation of a simple and elegant user interface gives entrepreneurs the ability to harness this new tool to solve problems, start businesses, and most importantly, experiment”.
The gorgeous design and open technology that Musk is offering us is the “simple and elegant user interface” that the sustainable energy industry needs. The barriers to experimentation are at last being removed.
Musk has seen that if entrepreneurs adopt this technology without the burden of paying for the use of those patents, then we could be onto something huge. Be democratizing the technology, he’s hoping to drastically reduce the time it takes to disrupt this market, and create as much of an impact as possible. Not primarily for profit, but for the sake of humanity.
What Does The Future Hold?
If Musk succeeds in distributing 2 billion of these batteries around the globe, we would at last be able to harness enough power from the Sun to power the entire planet. 2 billion is a huge number, but it’s the same number of cars we have on the road, which makes Musk believe that this is indeed possible for humanity to accomplish. All we need to do is connect the dots, and Tesla’s new and future battery technologies could be the most important of those dots to reverse our reliance on non-renewable energy sources without turning to hair-brained ideas of power production .
Do you think this could be the start of a more sustainable energy industry, or are we dreaming too big?
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