Elon Musk and the Future of Green Energy
Elon Musk and the Future of Green Energy
Although anyone can easily point to the failures of green energy investments over the past decades, such as Solyndra, the green energy industry is fortunately not listening. In the United States last year, 45 percent of new power production came from wind turbines and 34 percent from solar cells. Both of these power sources continue to grow at phenomenal rates worldwide.
The one sticking point for wind and solar is the very limited ability to store that energy when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing. However, the almost legendary, 100-hour work week visionary Elon Musk is working hard to correct that deficiency.
The Tesla Phenomenon
For Musk, successfully doing the impossible (creating a new U.S. car manufacturer, for instance) is already a fait accompli. As his company is not for conventional cars, it produces eco-friendly electric cars that can accelerate from zero to 60 miles per hour in three seconds and have a range well over 200 miles. Tesla Motors has already convinced many that renewable energy is a feasible option nowadays.
Tesla and SolarCity
Elon Musk is also chairman of the board of SolarCity, a company founded by his cousin Lyndon Rive. Combining what he has learned and still needs to accomplish with Tesla, he is making an even more profound influence in how we all produce and use energy. It is the beginning of nothing short of revolutionary for renewable and conventional energy markets.
The basis for this revolution is the new home and business energy storage battery, the Powerwall, announced by Tesla in April this year. Residential models in 10 kwh and 7 kwh packages and much larger models for businesses are a technologically disruptive wedge in an entrenched business model.
SolarCity’s Green Energy Mission
SolarCity is already the largest installer of residential solar systems in the U.S. by an order of magnitude. Its solar installations make money on the equipment and net metering arrangements with the owners. Utilizing Tesla’s new batteries in its systems is a scheme that fits like a glove. The new batteries and control technology allow SolarCity to fine-tune energy revenue sharing with utilities and homeowners alike.
SolarCity is building a $1 billion, 1.2 million square-foot plant in Buffalo, New York to make their own solar panels also. Worldwide production is not enough to fulfill their growth needs and they need manufacturing controls for making new solar cells that promise to be 65 percent more efficient than what exists today.
The Future of Green Energy Storage
High capacity, highly distributed grid storage has been almost a pipe dream until now. Tesla is accelerating it into reality by building a $5 billion battery factory near Reno, Nevada of which 30 percent of its capacity is devoted to these new batteries. The factory is expected to develop a 30 percent reduction in production costs and supply 500,000 Tesla cars by 2020.
Tesla is working also on unique ways to salvage and reuse individual cells within their car and home batteries to further reduce costs. Second-life car batteries can be repurposed into less demanding roles and reduce grid storage costs further.
Effects on Energy Markets
Utility companies are not overly worried today about “grid defectors” and they benefit as much as anyone from increased grid storage capacity, but they take the efforts of Musk and his companies seriously enough to stay engaged.
They recognize that the trend is pointing to a less centralized energy market that is more about distribution than production every year. They are witnessing a gradually shifting role from being the owners of production to being partners and managers of multiple sources of energy and energy storage.
Companies are also taking the news of the revolutionary solar energy market as a model for their own renewable resources. BC Hydro, the Dominion Gas Company, the Fowler Ridge Wind Farm, and many more are starting to offer cleaner energy for their consumers and it is only a matter of time until traditional utility companies (that only offer oil and coal-powered energy) follow their lead.
While others were marking down green energy’s chances and pulling back, Musk kept investing his energy and money into creating the architecture for a vertically integrated, green energy conglomerate. He has doubled and tripled down on his bet and it appears to be paying off.
If things keep looking up for a world that can throw off entrenched interests and sustain itself on renewable energy sources, perhaps Elon Musk might even abandon his plans for colonizing Mars.