Elon Musk’s renewable master plan

Did you know that the sun in the sky is a giant fusion reactor? Well, Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, a company that manufactures electric cars and which boasts a solar roof panel division, revealed during a National Governors Association meeting with over 30 state governors the acreage of land required to power the whole country using solar energy.

“If you wanted to power the entire United States with solar panels, it would take a fairly small corner of Nevada or Texas or Utah; you only need about 100 miles by 100 miles of solar panels to power the entire United States,” Elon Musk said at the event in Rhode Island. “The batteries you need to store the energy, so you have 24/7 power, is 1 mile by 1 mile. One square mile.”

He indicated that it’s “a little square on the U.S. map, and then there’s a little pixel inside there, and that’s the size of the Battery Park that you need to support that. Real tiny.”

Elon Musk shared his vision for renewables saying it included heavy reliance on efficient storage of energy from the sun through solar panels. However, the Tesla CEO said he would prefer that the solar PV panels be manufactured by Tesla so as to fully meet the high demand for power in various sectors including transportation, heating and electricity.

Today, around 10 percent of all energy in the United States is generated by renewable sources.

#1 Integrate rooftop solar panels with utility-scale solar plants

According to Musk, America’s solar future will involve solar panels mounted on a house in the country’s suburbs, and utility-sized solar that can cover needs in other parts of the country. Recently, Tesla announced it would set up a huge solar-powered battery to provide help to the power-hungry South Australia.

Elon Musk is looking forward to a day when Tesla’s Powerpack—a utility-sized product that features several fields of solar panels and car-sized batteries will be fully utilized.

#2 Utilize other energy sources during the transition

According to the Tesla CEO, more power sources would be brought on board in order to ensure a sustainably smooth transition. “We’ll need to be a combination of utility-scale solar and rooftop solar, combined with wind, geothermal, hydro, probably some nuclear for a while, in order to transition to a sustainable situation,” Musk explained.

#3 Create state-of-the-art infrastructure and localize energy generation

Localizing power by installing solar panels on a rooftop would go a long way in reducing huge infrastructure such as power lines.

“People do not like transmission lines going through their neighborhood. They really don’t like that, and I agree,” Musk noted.

“Rooftop solar, utility solar; that’s really going to be a solution from the physics standpoint,” he said. “I can really see another way to really do it.”

So, why is solar power the most preferred technique of energy generation? Musk explains that humans have depended on the sun for as long they have been in existence. This is still the case to date.

“The Earth is almost entirely solar-powered today, in the sense that the sun is the only thing that keeps us from being at the temperature of cosmic background radiation, which is 3 degrees above absolute-zero,” he said. “If it wasn’t for the sun, we’d be a frozen, dark ice ball. The amount of energy that reaches us from the sun is tremendous. It’s the 99 percent-plus of all energy that Earth has.”

And for sure, the sun is a huge energy ball and more often, “people talk about fusion and all that, but the sun is a giant fusion reactor in the sky. It’s really reliable. It comes up every day. If it doesn’t, we’ve got bigger problems.”

Going solar means zero fossil fuels

The Governor of South Dakota, Dennis Daugaard sort to know exactly why Mr. Musk believes that electric vehicles have a great future despite the lower gasoline prices. (Musk foresees Tesla vehicles running off power generated by solar PV panels that will recharge a car’s battery. Ultimately, it’s all about the sun.)

After stating that “there’s no question whatsoever that all transport — with the ironic exception of rockets — will go fully electric,” Musk further explained the “big challenge” facing electric cars which have to compete with gasoline-powered vehicles: In essence, pollution from gasoline-powered vehicles negatively impacts nearly everything…..except the price of gas.

“There’s an unpriced externality in the cost of fossil fuels,” Musk stated. “The unpriced externality is the probability-weighted harm of changing the chemical constituency of the atmosphere and oceans. Since it is not captured in the price of gasoline, it does not drive the right behavior. It’d be like if tossing out garbage was just free, and there was no penalty, and you could do it as much as you want. The streets would be full of garbage. We’ve regulated a lot of other things, like sulfur emissions and nitrous oxide emissions; it’s done a lot of good on that front.”

Interestingly, Elon Musk said he feels pity for the more established oil companies founded centuries ago at a time when there was little if any indication that several generations down the road; their logos would be rendered villainous.

“They worked really hard to create those companies,” Musk said. “They feel like they are being attacked on moral grounds. And it is true that we cannot instantaneously change to a sustainable situation.”

He then closed with a caveat: “But then those guys will also fight pretty hard to slow down the change, and that’s really what I think is morally wrong.”

The Author

I took an interest in the Australian energy sector close to ten years ago and since then have monitored the trends, technologies and direction of the Australian Energy Market. I was drawn to the Australian solar market in 2008 and since then have worked heavily in the field. I am partnered with national and international solar energy companies, from manufacturers of solar panel and inverter technology, online software developers that introduce tools to quote, monitor and manage solar power systems and media organisations who like myself, closely monitor the solar and renewable energy sector.