Within 10 years, every SolarCity system will come with batteries from Tesla's Gigafactory

SolarCity solar panel installation
Promo image SolarCity

This is potentially world-changing

The Musk Industrial Complex (MIC -- we need acronyms for everything in this modern world, right?) apparently never sleeps. Elon Musk and his cousin Lyndon Rive, who respectively are CEOs of Tesla Motors and SolarCity (while Musk is also chairman of SolarCity and its biggest shareholder), recently spoke at a private conference in New York City and expanded a bit on their world domination plans for clean energy (both the production - solar - and consumption of it - electric cars).

The most newsworthy thing that was said, in my opinion, was the following, as reported by the Wall Street Journal:

"Thanks to the economies of scale that will come from Tesla's gigafactory, within 10 years every solar system that SolarCity sells will come with a battery-storage system, says Mr. Rive, and it will still produce energy cheaper than what is available from the local utility company."

Every solar system. This means that by then, they expect both the solar system and the batteries to be cheaper together than just getting power from the grid when the sun isn't shining. The implied economics are pretty world-changing because if that's the case, solar power will no only help shave off the daytime energy demand peak (like in Queensland, Australia, where solar is squeezing out the profits form coal power), but it'll also reduce demand for traditional sources like coal, natural gas, nuclear, etc.

Tesla battery energy storage© Tesla

And not only does Elon Musk want SolarCity (with Silevo's technology) to make cheap and efficient solar panels that "look cool", but he says that the battery storage that people will have at home should also look good.

Musk's description of such a home storage device makes it sound a bit like what a Tesla Model S battery looks like (above on the left, but without the wheels and suspension, of course), except that the large flat pack of batteries, which would be about 4 inches thick, could be mounted on a wall in a garage, not taking much space while adding a bit of sci-fi flair to a home.

SolarCity and Silevo slideSolarCity/Promo image

Another interesting fact from the presentation: A country that switched entirely to electric cars would about double its electricity consumption, says Musk. This means that there's a huge opportunity for solar power to keep growing rapidly, and it will if it becomes the low-cost source of energy and grid storage becomes more common. A doubling of electricity demand might sound bad until you consider what the trade-off is: Oil demand would plummet. And electric cars can be charged when the impact on the grid is smallest, such as during the day on a sunny day when solar panels are producing more than is needed, or at night when the grid has huge excess capacity anyway. It doesn't mean a doubling of the number of power stations, far from it.

So how big is the solar power opportunity ahead?

SolarCity's revenue has been growing 100% a year since its founding in 2006, and Mr. Rive says his goal is to maintain that pace for as long as possible. [...] "America's solar energy generating capacity has grown at around 40% a year, says Mr. Rive. "So if you just do the math, at 40% growth in 10 years time that's 170 gigawatts a year," says Mr. Rive. That's equivalent to the electricity consumption of about 5 million homes, which is still "not that much," he says, when compared with overall demand for electricity. "It's almost an infinite market in our lifetimes."

That sounds pretty big, right?

The reason why this all works is because solar power is falling rapidly in price:

Price of solar power graph© BNEF

And batteries are getting more affordable too, with a big jump in affordability planned when the Tesla Gigafactory is fully operational (that factory alone is expected to cut prices by about 1/3 and produce as many lithium-ion cells as the whole world does now).

Of course, when one company has success doing something, others follow, so Tesla and SolarCity won't be alone doing this.

SolarCity solar installers photoFlickr/CC BY-ND 2.0


Tags: Electric Cars | Electric Vehicles | Solar Energy | Solar Power | Solar Technology


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