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The Secret Tesla Motors Master Plan (2006) (teslamotors.com)
363 points by mactitan 1787 days ago | hide | past | web | favorite | 186 comments

When I ordered my Tesla S I also needed to get a 240V charger installed in my garage. Tesla sends you over to SolarCity for that and they can install it for you. This also gives them the perfect opportunity to offer you solar panels as well since they can show you, based on your electricity bill and the number of miles you are going to drive, how much it is going to save you.

Long story short, bought a Tesla S from Tesla, a outlet installation from SolarCity and now have also signed up for 8.8Kw solar panel system for my house.

The vertical integration of his investments is awesome. I just hope he somehow integrates in SpaceX ... maybe solar microwave power from orbit?

I'm picking up my S tomorrow morning. When I reserved, I submitted the information for SolarCity to contact me, but they never did, even after I sent an e-mail to their sales address. I went ahead and got my local electrician to do the install for me.

I didn't know about the home Solar leases, that makes it more of a shame about the disconnect in customer service because I would have liked to investigate that option.

EDIT: Just tried to fill out their form for solar consultation and got an e-mail that they don't have service in my area. Maybe that was why they didn't get back to me.

Having tied sales is pretty bad.

Having tied sales that drops the ball for an essential component ('B') of service 'A' because they can't sell you component 'C' is terrible.

At a minimum Tesla should know where SolarCity has installers or SolarCity should pass you on to a competitor that does serve your area.

Elon pretty emphatically isn't a believer in orbital solar generation as a way to power planetary infrastructure.

More here: http://www.popularmechanics.com/how-to/blog/elon-musk-on-spa...

We're not naming the Dyson Sphere after him, then. ;)


Well, clearly not!

But I don't think his objection is using solar power for space-based infrastructure. Quite the contrary! (Dragon is solar-powered, but could fairly easily do everything except maybe long-duration Dragonlab missions on batteries if Elon really didn't like solar). I think the objection is to the complexities and transmission losses of beaming orbital solar power back to Earth.

Of course, if you start moving your energy-intensive industries out of the gravity well...

I don't think he needs to worry about that, he's concerned with nuts, bolts and engineering not with science fiction.

You believe humans won't build one around this star?

No, we won't. The machines that make us extinct will, however.

We will come up with a solution that's little more elegant long before we have the means to build one of those.

Yes, I believe we will not. Materials science is a bitch, you can fantasize all you want but in the end if you can't build it it doesn't matter much.

SpaceX could throw in kinetic bombardment to clear traffic ahead of you during jams.

I never quite understood how orbital kinetic bombardment was supposed to make sense.

I mean, say you have a satellite in orbit with a ton of nice depleted uranium or tungsten rods to skewer things with. Standard "spears from heaven" setup or whatever.

It can't just "drop" them, if it lets go they will just stay in orbit. No, it has to fire them 'backwards' fast enough for the rod to deorbit itself and then the satellite has to apply some orbit correcting thrust. In order to keep it accurate you basically need to construct a full reentry vehicle around the thing, both to guide it through the atmosphere and to just rocket it away from the satellite fast enough and accurate enough. Before you know it your DU spear becomes so complex that you may as well just make a proper MIRV system with real warheads out of it and be done with it. Get the most bang for your buck that way.

You may find the book "The Moon is a Harsh Mistress" by Robert Heinlein to be interesting. The main weapon in the battle between the Earth and Moon was shipping containers full of rock. These were launched by catapult to specific targets. Throwing rocks in a high tech fashion.

You're supposed to use the satelite to aim them and then shoot them from the ground and let them ballistically smash your target. It takes about twice as long but it's really sufficient to smash anything the size of a warship.

Seems like half the cars on the road are SUVs, so that should be big enough.

You don't use spears. You use rocks. And you drop them in so that they impact on the spot you want in the first place, rather than adjusting their route multiple times.

"Kinetic bombardment" == throw shit from space. </jargon police>

This is like what some people say about investing, you need money to make money.

To be green and to save money you need money to buy an electric car, charger and solar panels to save money and be green.

Except for a practically limitless number of other ways to save money while being more environmentally friendly. For example, buying flour in bulk and making your own bread regularly, or repairing holes in clothes rather than buying new, or, y'know, not living 40 miles from your place of work while commuting by car.

Minor point but there's a reason that lots more people don't make their own. Read and a lot of it comes down to time. If 15 mins to 3 hours to make bread is worth less to you than the 2-3$ for a loaf of bread then good for you; otherwise it doesn't make much sense.

And it you get a breadmaking machine then I would argue that it's likely to be less environmentally friendly: a small oven is less efficient than a large one; plus the resources to make an electronic item vs centralised distribution.

I really don't see how making your own bread can be argued to be both environmentally friendly and cheaper, but am happy to be enlightened

When I was coming up with quick examples earlier, I was thinking more of packaging than energy costs, and most store-bought bread is wrapped in non-recyclable plastic. I do wish we had the tools and information to make better calculations of these kinds of trade-offs. I could also contend that the quality of fresh homemade bread beats the crap out of what $2 gets you at Safeway.

But the point I'm most interested in discussing is the idea of maximizing the economic value of your time. In some cases this can be a useful heuristic, but the trick is knowing where and where not to apply it. If you were to apply that line of reasoning to every moment of your life, I doubt that the results would be satisfactory. Personally I'm more of a Gross National Happiness type. Of course, you're welcome to prove me wrong too :)

Just in terms of power efficiency, I doubt baking your own bread is a win (I earned my spending money in high school baking bread from scratch). It takes maybe fifteen minutes (aside from waiting) to make bread dough and shape it into loaves when you're experienced, so time isn't such a big factor.

Making your own bread can be much tastier than store bought loaves. Especially if you catch your own sourdough, and the alternative is buying British bread.

I'm certainly not against baking your own bread, I just doubt it's beneficial to the environment. A good naighborhood bakery is probably an all round win.

Environmentally, baking your own bread might still beat eating meat.

And if the energy to heat your oven comes from a clean source, you are good.

But it would still be more efficient to bake more bread at once using clean energy.

>or, y'know, not living 40 miles from your place of work while commuting by car.

In most American places, it's illegal to build sufficiently dense housing to make it plausible for most people to live within walking or biking distance of their place of work (see Matt Yglesias's book The Rent is Too Damn High for more on this subject). While I agree with your point about not living 40 miles from your workplace, it's simply not possible in most of the U.S. for most people to commute by a means other than cars.

This is only true for certain values of most, and even if it is, has nothing to do with the point that it is possible to arrange one's life so that a car isn't necessary. I won't deny that there are many potential obstacles to the sort of widespread societal change you seem to have assumed I was advocating. Mostly I just wanted to make the point that there are plenty of cheaper ways to be "more green" (than an unknown baseline of green-ness) than buying a Tesla vehicle & installing solar panels at one's home. We all get to make choices with positive or negative consequences for the environment, and not all of them are choices about what or which thing to buy.

So what you're saying is that people choose to live in locations with elected representatives that carry out their will, and yet, it has nothing to do with choice?

Perhaps road funding should only be paid out of gas and car taxes, and the federal government should stop subsidizing people's choices with other people's money, and then perhaps more people would choose to live closer to work.

I.e. you advocate the following?: make road funding as local an affair as possible. Even interstate highways should never go above the level of a few states collaborating.

Can you believe that in Germany you even get a tax rebate for living further away from work?

Rather, the residents of cities should recognize the wider consequences of the policies that they chose, and vote accordingly.

If only America was a democracy, then these laws could be changed.

> or, y'know, not living 40 miles from your place of work while commuting by car.

That's pretty funny since recently here in south eastern Canada we're being reamed up the ass by our current federal government for lack of jobs.

The government is demanding people find work even if it is an hour away which would be roughly 100km (62 miles).

Using leisure time to being more environmentally friendly and living more healthy.

Peddling to work takes longer. But I get exercise. The cave man diet takes quite a bit of effort. But it tastes damned good, is quality time with friends and family, keeps my money in the local economy (farmers markets vs big box grocers) and improves my health.

It just depends what a person chooses to optimize in their lives. When I was working more, it was not feasible to do the cave man diet or home remodeling.

> Peddling to work takes longer.

For me it's actually faster. Due to heavy traffic at rush hours.

A Tesla Model S and solar power is a great combo. Congrats!

How do you like your Model S so far? Does it meet your expectations?

It is like driving around the original iPhone. Most of the awesome features of the car could be in any car, Tesla was just the first ones to really do it. As for driving performance it has been amazing. Much faster and more comfortable than my old 911. My biggest commute though is just from Los Altos to SF. One day I forgot to plug it in and it was no big deal but decided I didn't want that to happen again so I wrote an app for it using their undocumented API for the car that notifies me if I forget.


That's kind of scary. The original iPhone was a pretty awful phone by any objective measure (speaking as someone who has owned one of every model and seen them improve steadily over the years.)

Hindsight is 20/20. My first impression, upon beholding an iPhone in summer 2007, was that it had been dropped to us from the heavens by some benevolent, spacefaring race.

That was my first impression, too. My second impression was wow, this thing isn't a very good phone.

Note that Model S is not a first-generation car. It came after the Roadster. So it's more like an iPhone 3GS, which was a very solid phone.

Neither was the 286, the 486, or the Nvidia GTX 280 if you are always going to look at tech like that. It was amazing and a huge advancement when it was produced. You can't look back and say "oh that sucks" 5-6 years later.

I don't know about the Nvidia example, but both the 286 and 486 were damn nice boxes in their day, if you could afford them. The 286 was much better than the XTs, especially once the clock speeds ramped up. And the 486DX was a big win over having to pair a 386DX with a slow, expensive Weitek or 80387 chip.

How is the original iPhone different? It was a nice damn phone back in 2007, a huge step up from the smartphones of the time.

It was a revolutionary device, but it had poor ergonomics, terrible acoustics, lackluster RF performance, tons of bugs, and numerous omitted features that were already standard in run-of-the-mill feature phones. And although it wasn't the hardware's fault, its exclusive carrier was universally acknowledged to be the worst in the US. Using the original iPhone to make calls was like using a shortwave radio from the 1920s -- a lot of unlikely things had to work just right before you could get through.

All of these things got better, of course, and at an impressive rate. Tesla seems to be on the same path, thankfully.

486s were fantastic machines on Day One in all respects except price. I don't know where s/he got the idea they weren't. The original IBM AT I didn't have direct experience with.

How did it have "poor ergonomics"? "Tons" of bugs? Can you name a few? Omitted features..like a keyboard? So it was "only" available on a top 2 carrier? I'd ont remember calling being substantial worse than other phones at the time. I still get occasional drops. I think you missed this one pretty badly.

I think my biggest ergonomic complaint was the earpiece speaker aperture. If I didn't hold it within about 0.001 degree of the sweet spot, I couldn't hear what the caller was saying. (I could go off on a rant about how there was a very good reason why telephones fed a small sample of the caller's voice back to the earpiece as a sidetone for 100 years, but it would apply to all cell phones, not just the iPhone.)

I was (and am) fine with no physical keyboard, but omitting a GPS chip was just plain goofy, considering how nice the Maps application was. Others were complaining about the first iPhone's lack of cut and paste functionality relative to some other phones, the inability to replace the battery or add external storage, the inability to use third-party applications, and the substandard camera.

Bug-wise, if you could get Safari to avoid crashing back to the desktop for more than 30 seconds at a time, you were way ahead of me.

All of this stuff got better in the next generation. It was Apple's dedication to fixing the phone's shortcomings that really made me a dedicated iPhone user.

Hindsight bias. These didn't become complains until many months after launch. What phones had GPS, cut & paste (?) or a Maps application at the time? Except for BB and maybe Bada, the other "smart" phones only offered primitive low-res Java apps. The Nokia N series was the only one with decent cameras, everyone else had VGA 640x480 toys.

I also bought a 1st gen iPod touch on the week it was released and never had any serious issues with Safari other than browser compatibility.

I paid $4000 for a 486 system in January 1990. It had a massive 40MB hard drive, and awesome Hercules card graphics.

Too bad I can't downvote you. The first iPhone was awesome comparing to the 2nd best, namely, Nokia with its Symbian OS. I had both at the time. God, the iPhone was light years ahead.

OK, I will stop digressing. This is not a thread about iPhone.

Yes, because it's very frustrating when Someone is Wrong on the Internet and you're impotent to do anything about it. I know the feeling. :)

So help me reach 500 karma so I can downvote the heck out of it. :)




I meant advanced, but mostly a collection technology and software that any car company might have put together but the incumbents didn't do it. Like the 17" central console screen, a screen for a dashboard, internet access, google maps and navigation, etc.

Anything looks terrible when you look back from the future a sufficient ways ahead. Holes in the ground with ice cut from frozen lakes was a pretty awful refrigerator, but it was a hell of a lot better than the alternatives available at the time.

It's funny how often objective measures are irrelevant in The Real World.

You did not actually expect a 911 to be comfortable, did you? Also, I'll happily take it :)

Oh, the 911 is comfortable enough to be your commuting car but it is 13 years old so it doesn't have all the niceties. I guess I would compare the Tesla to the current Panamera.

The Panamera and the 911 are entirely different beasts. Plenty of people do not consider the Panamera and the Cayenne to be true to Porsches legacy.

I know which I'd rather have.

If it weren't for the maintenance costs and the fuel consumption I'd happily trade my golf for a 911. I'm pretty sure we'd also have the first Porsche with a towing hook for the trailer full of stuff we normally carry along ;)

Can you share some info about the solar panel system? I assume it must be about 60m^2 of panels?

Are you paying for it outright or on a plan where you pay based on electricity generated?

I'm prepaying the 20 year lease. Looks like that is pretty close to the best option if you can afford the upfront cost. About around 60m^2 — 35 TRINA SOLAR # TSM-245PC05 panels. Basically they guarantee a certain output and pay you if they miss.

> signed up for 8.8Kw solar panel system for my house

How much power does it generate in a day? Will be enough to fully charge a Telsa?

You wouldn't charge the car directly from the panels. Sell the solar electricity to utility during the day and get a plan for off-peak power (which are often 1/2 or 2/3 of normal rates) to charge your car while you sleep.

(Thats not saying you couldn't charge the car through your solar panels in a pressing case of zombie apocalypse. Inverters for home solar installations output the same AC power as a normal power outlet)

However, without a grid feed to synchronize to, your grid-tied inverters will be useless. You'd need battery backup and a second set of DC inverters to accomplish the off-grid scenario you're referring to.

That depends on the inverters. Plenty of inverters can operate in 'island mode' for off-grid applications.

You will have to have a lock-out installed that needs to be engaged before island mode will work if you are normally grid-tied. To avoid you hurting people or trying to power the nation in case of a black-out.

On a good clear mid-summer day that solar panel can probably generate approximately the right amount of electricity to fully charge your Tesla (assuming you got the 40kWh battery pack for it.)

I've got the 85 Kwh battery pack. The car uses about 300-400 Wh per mile.

Musk's plan in a way serves as a reminder for those of us that tend to overestimate the role luck plays in the personal journey towards entrepreneurial success.

While generally HN users are open minded, no small number have derided the notion that others (perhaps far less capable than Musk), are capable of having a meaningful vision.

Of course having a justified belief and plan is a different approach to the lean startup philosophy. Lean effectively aligns more with the randomness worldview and iteration with an impartiality (or even celebration in some cases) of failure. Whereas OTOH, the visionary approach usually has more confidence in a self-directed path.

Those with this visionary quality (in varying levels of ability), can arrogantly dismiss others too, with behavior that is equally cringe worthy. Moreover, it would be hard to objectively and meaningfully argue either approach is universally "better".

However, perhaps the most significant indiscretion, is not in picking a side that works for you, but rather failing to see that two sides exist at all.

Musk's plan in a way serves as a reminder for those of us that tend to overestimate the role luck plays in the personal journey towards entrepreneurial success.

I agree that Elon's results with Tesla and Space X are not principally (or even much) based on luck, but this is (at least in part) because he has the resources to finance his visions directly and can use his tech-celebrity status to help bring them to fruition.

How did he get into this enviable position? It's largely due to the sale PayPal to eBay, of course—and, as those in the know will tell you, luck was a big factor in PayPal's success.

His lucky play was PayPal's acquisition by eBay (and Zip2's by AltaVista prior to that). Getting that cash infusion enabled his subsequent ventures. There were many ventures competing with both.

That's not to say that Musk wasn't directed and didn't capitalize exceptionally well on his successes. But luck most definitely played a role.

August 2, 2006

The Secret Tesla Motors Master Plan (just between you and me)

From 2006. Nice to know they are still sticking with it :-)

I would have appreciated seeing "(2006)" appended to the HN title.

They've followed the plan well. I'd also like to point out a lesser known article from 7 years ago: http://money.cnn.com/magazines/business2/business2_archive/2...

The New Power Play

The Investor: Elon Musk, co-founder, PayPal

What he's backed: SpaceX, Tesla Motors

What he wants now: As Musk's two most recent investments - in a space rocket and an all-electric sports car - suggest, the 35-year-old entrepreneur likes to think big. So he's intrigued by the promise of a next-generation battery called an ultracapacitor, capable of powering everything from cars to tractors. Unlike chemical batteries, ultracapacitors store energy as an electrical field between a pair of conducting plates. Theoretically, they can be charged in less than a second rather than hours, be recharged repeatedly without sacrificing performance, and far outlast anything now on the market.

"I am convinced that the long-term solution to our energy needs lies with capacitors," Musk says. "You can't beat them for power, and they kick ass on any chemical battery."

Musk would know: He was doing Ph.D. work at Stanford on high-energy capacitors before he helped get PayPal off the ground. At least one startup, EEStor in Texas, and a larger company, Maxwell Technologies in California, are working on ultracapacitors. Yet Musk believes a university-based research group has an equal shot at a commercial breakthrough, since universities are where the most promising research is bubbling up. "The challenge is one of materials science, not money," Musk says.

The team to pull this off, he says, would need expertise in materials science, applied physics, and manufacturing. Musk wants to see a prototype that can power something small, like a boom box. "Make one and show me that it works," Musk says. "Then tell me what's wrong with it and how it can be fixed."

What he'll invest: $4 million over two years for a working prototype

Send your pitch to: mbb@spacex.com. -- M.V.C.

> the second model will be a sporty four door family car at roughly half the $89k price point of the Tesla Roadster and the third model will be even more affordable

Tesla cars so far have definitely been luxury cars. If they keep going downmarket into the mainstream, I wonder if they'll want to create a separate brand for their mainstream stuff, a la acura/honda, toyota/lexus, and infiniti/nissan.

If they do, the low-end brand should be "Edison".

Not sure why they would. They don't have a luxury brand identity to protect, like Mercedes or BMW, and they aren't trying to move upmarket, like Toyota or Honda. As best I can tell, the game plan has always been widespread appeal. "Luxury" was just a segment that made sense to pass through, as they tried to work costs down.

Acura, Lexus, and Infiniti were attempts by perceived-downscale brands to brand "up". It doesn't make sense for a brand like Tesla to brand "down".

Don't you think it would help in protecting the perceived exclusivity of the Tesla brand? I don't think it'd be a good move overall, but I could see some justifications based on potential brand dilution.

I don't see a reason why they should implement the brand dilution that has caused so much pain for the other car manufacturers.

Musk is an idealist; he sees himself spearheading an EV revolution of sorts, and you can't have a revolution without appealing to the masses.

Can anyone point me toward Musk's reasoning about why solar will beat out wind power in the long term? I know he owns a solar company, but why did he choose that over wind?

(I'm aware of the basic pros and cons of both. I'm really just looking for Musk's thinking.)

There's a recent talk here where Musk discusses what he thinks of the future of energy, though I don't think he goes into wind vs. solar specifically (he does explain in the Q&A at the end why he doesn't think biofuels make sense).


I could not find him comapring solar and wind, either.

On the risk that you already considered all of these, here are some reasons I can think of:

http://www.withouthotair.com/c4/page_32.shtml gives 2W/m^2 for wind and http://www.withouthotair.com/c6/page_39.shtml gives 22W/m^2 for photovoltaic.

Yes, there are places where you can get much more energy from wind per m^2, but you can get that photovoltaic output almost everywhere.

It also is easier to start a solar business than one based on wind power. With solar, you can start small and scale up. With wind, you almost have to start with huge structures, as they have better ROI (higher = faster wind = way more energy). Building such larger structures means that you no longer operate in the B2C market. He may not like that.

Also, he may not like having to spend effort and time getting building permission for those structures.

He may also think photovoltaics will get cheaper faster than wind.

Finally, it might be just a personal preference. To me, wind has more of a blue collar feel than photovoltaics (someone will get his hands greasy operating a wind farm). That does not make me dislike it, but might have swung the choice for him.

> 2W/m^2 for wind and ... 22W/m^2 for photovoltaic.

This is a misleading number for my point that wind is denser than solar. For solar, the 22W/m^2 is spread out evenly an area, and you must put something (either photovoltaic or a mirror) to collect it. For wind, you only need a single turbine to effectively cover a relatively large area. The density number comes from the fact that, by virtue of how winds are generated and blow, you can't just stick a second turbine right next to the first one. From a cost per kWh perspective, the important number is more like the number of watts generated by single turbine with a 1 meter x 1 meter footprint.

Misleading in one sense, but revealing in another.

That 10MW wind turbine on your 10,000m^2 of land will only get to that output by using wind blowing into it from other land.

So, if your neighbor builds another such turbine on his land, your output will drop.

So, you will have to pay your neighbors for not building such a turbine on their land. In that sense, you really need that area to get that output.

Having said that, ROI of wind turbines seems to be way better than that for photovoltaics, in almost every aspect. https://sites.google.com/site/anatomyofglobalclimatechangevj..., for example, gives you about 6 months to recover the energy investment of building a wind mill and 3 years for photovoltaics.

> So, if your neighbor builds another such turbine on his land, your output will drop.

This is not an important effect. The optimal spacing for wind turbines is 5-15 times the rotor diameter, and the largest turbines are 75ft in diameter, giving a largest spacing of roughly ~ 1/4 mi. In the rare cases that this is an issue, property liens can handle the conflict.

The largest turbines are more like 300ft in diameter (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_turbine_design#Turbine_siz...)

Also, the effect is important. At 1/4 mile distance, you can only place about 20 or so on a square mile of land. Looking at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wind_turbine#Horizontal_axis_wi..., that gives you less than 18MW peak power.

That same square mile has 2M plus m^2. So, you would need only 10W per m^2 peak solar power to beat that wind turbine.

Yes, there is lots of hand waiving here. For example, I am assuming equal duty cycle; that will vary with location. The crux still is that there is way less wind power than solar per m^2.

Is he actually rooting for photovoltaics? I personally have a number of issues specifically with photovoltaics that I do not have with many other types of solar. IMO any kind of solar "plant" shouldn't be using photovoltaics.

Could you explain why?

The alternatives seem simpler, specifically solar thermal collectors[1] where they can be used in conjunction with steam turbines and molten salt heat storage.

The most obvious disadvantage is that energy collection ability drops sharply on clouded days and it relies entirely on clear skies.

[1] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solar_heating

I don't understand how a solar thermal collector is in any way simpler than a photovoltaic array. Actually, it seems more complex to me. Again, could you explain?

They are simpler than photovoltaics in the sense that a mechanic can repair them. I like them because they:

- Use simple materials, not a bunch of rare earth metals that the USA doesn't have

- Will last as long as you maintain them (to my knowledge) unlike solar panels

- Have better efficiency compared to solar panels

You are right that they are not as "simple" as slapping a panel on a flat surface and wiring it up. Clearly, they are not suited for installation on houses. However, power plants have always used more sophisticated systems because they can handle the tradeoffs to reap the rewards.

This is a bit like saying a vacuum tube TV is simpler than an LCD one because a mechanic can repair it. It's a myopic view.

Are you sure a thermal solar installation will last as long as photovoltaics? Any plant with the efficiency gains you describe has gimballing mirrors, highly thermally cycled metals, steam circuits, and freakin' turbines among other mechanical contraptions all over the place. I see a whole lot of disadvantages compared to a completely solid-state, arbitrarily scalable panel that lasts (conservatively) 50 years.

I realize some places might get really neat solutions out of thermal solar, but I just don't see how it's anything more than a niche. By contrast, photovoltaics have the prerequisites to take over the entire market from the bottom up. They are our future.

Solar panels are nice in that if one fails, you just replace it. That's also why they are not nice; all the upsides and downsides of a disposable unit-based system.

I'm curious where you are getting this "conservative" estimate of 50 years. I typically hear 20 years, 40 years tops.

photovoltaics might be the future, but they aren't the today as best I can tell. They are inefficient, and much like the Prius batteries people like to talk about, are pretty environment-unfriendly to manufacture.

I would speculate (but don't know) that concentration of the heat energy to power a more conventional steam generation plant would be more efficient, at least beyond a certain scale. The best photovoltaic panels are about 20% efficient under optimal conditions.

They are also closer to the consumer, negating a big chunk of the transmission losses.

Also, while thermal electric plants may be more efficient at large scale, I'm not sure how that works at small scale, or if there is a difference in how much capacity they lose in cloudy weather compared to photovoltaics. Actually, I wonder what the ratio of installed photovoltaics to thermals is per region and generator scale.

Thanks much.

I believe I remember him pointing out, of all the things that need energy on earth, most of them use the sun as their source either directly or indirectly. Plants are obvious, and animals rely on plants. While products of evolution aren't perfect, they can often be a useful guide.

Wind is really an indirect result of solar energy as well -- solar energy creating different pressures in the atmosphere, which produce wind.

You are incorrect in stating that most things use the sun for energy. In fact, everything uses solar energy in one way or another.

Bacteria that live on nutrients emitted from deep sea hydrothermal vents do not use solar energy. Some theorize this is where life on Earth originated.


Doesn't that energy ultimately come from tidal forces in the Earth's interior that wouldn't exist if there weren't a Sun to orbit?

Earth's spin is due to asymmetry in the accretion of matter during planet formation. The dust and gas that would form the planet was orbiting the center of the nebula before either the sun or planets formed out of it; interstellar nebula begin rotating and flattening before they form a proto-star. If you could pop the sun out of existence, hydrothermal vents would continue feeding bacteria with absolutely no solar energy until the planet eventually shed too much its internal heat (from its initial formation, also not from the sun).

There is nuclear energy transformations inside planets that creates lots of energy:


Geothermal and nuclear are basically the only forms of energy that are not ultimately solar-derived.

Edit: I guess you could throw tidal in there as well.

Well, it depends on how far back you want to go. All elements come from nuclear reactions in suns/stars which occur partly due to gravity. Some elements are unstable making them radioactive, some of which we use for nuclear fission. Big chunks of stars form planets and the associated geothermal energy. So, solar reactions and gravity account for all energy either directly or indirectly. Gravity is also the cause of tidal energy.

Those don't count as we can't access them directly. The idea with solar is we can access it directly, but we are using indirect methods.


Well, you could say the supernova that created our radioactive heavy elements billions of years ago were once "suns". But that power didn't come from our sun.

360 by 360 degrees of solar energy spilling off into space, near enough.

He also owns a rocket company. Coincidence?

You just blew my goddamn mind.

He's thinking so long term, he's planning to corner the market on space-based solar after he's converted the world to run on electric power.

Kardashev 2 or bust.

He isn't in the electric car business. He's on the empire business.

Besides Musk's viewpoint, I'd argue some simple math. There is vastly more potential power being emanated from the sun every second than there is in the prevailing winds on Earth's surface. The atmosphere being in differing states of high and low pressure is caused by multiple factors, but heating from the sun is one of them. In the long term, almost all of our power is derived from the sun (with exceptions like geothermal, even hydro is dependent on the water cycle being driven by solar heating) anyway - might as well go directly to the source.

I just easily see the entire planet being powered by some terrestrial satellite grid of solar panels in a few centuries. Capture it in space, transport it to surface via a space elevator or something, maximum efficiency. Would probably also slow global warming since significantly less heat by that point would be reaching the surface (given the size of an artificial ring belt of solar panels we would need to run everything by then!)

As I said elsewhere, I believe there is much more wind and solar energy each than humanity's power demands. It's not a question of total energy, it's a question of cost. And my intuition says that wind would be cheaper because it is of higher density. And in fact wind is significantly cheaper in the current situation where renewable sector is so small that variability and storage isn't an issue.

Wind technology seems quite a bit closer to the best possible implementation than solar, so I would expect more improvement in solar pricing than wind pricing.

If solar improves enough, the capital increments become people going to home depot to buy a 1 kW panel.

If you are capturing energy in space, and channeling it to the ground somehow, how have you reduced net energy reaching the surface of the earth?

The energy is in a different form which won't necessarily raise the temperature of the earth as much as the sunlight hitting the earth would have. Not to mention the hydrocarbon based energy sources replaced by the clean electricity wouldn't be contributing further damage to the environment.

When that energy which has been beamed down from space is used, it WILL give off heat.

Long term, climate management will be necessary regardless.

Wind is far too variable. Even if you have a very well sited wind-farm it could potentially be weeks or months when the effective power output is zero. This is ruinously impractical as a base load power system, whereas solar is far, far more predictable (even with weather variation). The big problem that solar has is storage, which hasn't been worked out yet and probably raises the cost by anywhere from a factor of 2 up to an order of magnitude.

Seems like you could easily diversify away most of the wind risk by building wind turbines in many locations and just moving the power (with loss). Also, whatever the cost of solving the storage issue for solar also solves the wind issue, unless storage is only possible over some intermediate time scale. My understanding is that most of the plausible storage mechanisms (pressure, gravitational potential) can store essentially indefinitely, although maybe total capacity is an issue.

Without more info, I really don't think it's clear cut.

You'd think so but that's not the case. Sometimes there isn't enough wind power in an entire continent to provide power, and this could potentially last for days, even weeks. It's simply not practical to use wind power as base load power.

If you look at the Netherlands, for example, you'll see that the way they've always used wind power is for pumping water (draining the polders). And there it doesn't much matter what the instantaneous amount of wind power available is, or even if the windmills are stagnant for a while. All that matters is that over a long period of time you end up with around the same amount of average power produced, and that's what wind power is good at. Potentially it would make sense to use wind turbines for powering specific sorts of activities that didn't rely on low latency of power production and could be automated (perhaps water desalination, for example). But using it as base power is a far more troublesome prospect than using solar.

> Sometimes there isn't enough wind power in an entire continent to provide power, and this could potentially last for days, even weeks.

Do you have a reference you could link me to?

Also, any reason to think this can't be solved by pumped-storage hydroelectricity?


The world uses ~2,000 GW and has ~100 GW of PSH capacity. Scaling up by a factor of 20 would be expensive because the low hanging fruit has been taken, but it really doesn't seem that bad if it means our base generators are half (or less) as expensive. See, for example, this take in Scientific American:


Hell, even storing it in batteries isn't that expensive:


($44 million for 36 MW, which is added to the typical costs of wind turbines of ~$2 million per MW.)

There is much, much more solar energy than wind energy for us to harvest.

I believe there is much more wind and solar energy each than humanity's power demands. It's not a question of total energy, it's a question of cost.

This. The energy output of the Sun is legit ridonculous.

Something along the lines of 1 or 2 all the energy ever consumed by humans since forevers per second.

Is that the total output of the sun or just the energy from the Sun that reaches Earth?

Nothing builds credibility like doing what you said you would. =)

Especially on this scale.

"Without giving away too much, I can say that the second model will be a sporty four door family car at roughly half the $89k price point of the Tesla Roadster."

A Model S for $45K? Where do I sign? The average selling price of a Model S is probably more like $90K.

Accounting for some tax breaks you could have gotten the lowest-end model for ~$50k, which, I think, is close enough. The price on their website starts at $52,400 (taking the tax break into account).

The Model S Performance starts at $87,400. However, this is a very special top-of-the-line car, comparable to an AMG or M model from Mercedes or BMW respectively. This is definitely not the average car or the average price.

Of course, just like its German rivals, the price does go up with some options. But if you just want a nice electric car, the options are, well, optional. (Although I wouldn't pass up the tech package if I could afford it :P.)

And it's not like the standard equipment is weak--the well-publicized gigantic touchscreen comes standard, for example.

Anyhow, basically you can get one for a bit over $50k; the price only goes up if you want a longer range and some nice options.

You forgot one thing. Tack on 7 years of inflation and you're at nearly 52K.

$52,000 in 2006 is worth $58,991.30 now.

$52,000 now was worth $45,658.39 in 2006.



I was using the Bureau of Labor Statistics Consumer Price Index

Not only does the cheapest Model S have half the range of the more expensive versions, apparently you won't be able to charge it at Superchargers either, and of course it's also not available yet. (Oh, and none of the prices include the home charger required to charge it in a reasonable amount of time.)

Oh, and none of the prices include the home charger required to charge it in a reasonable amount of time.

The car has a built in charger that can add 31 miles of range per hour off a standard 240V outlet. The base model has 160 miles of range, so a charge all the way from zero to full should only take a little over 5 hours. Seems reasonable enough to me.

You can already get a Model S for $50k something, but with fewer options and about half the range.

Also, the 40 KWh ("160 mile") version--that is, the ~$50k version--was not actually available within the first batch of manufactured cars. It may be available now; I'm not sure.

During the first few months, reservation holders who planned to purchase a 40 KWh car were told they would need to wait longer.

That situation would drive the average selling price upward. Once the manufacture of the 40 KWh cars starts (and perhaps it has already started), and once the relatively wealthy early adopters have purchased their well-equipped models, the average selling price should trend downward.

On day one of iPhone 6 availability, are more 64 GB or 32 GB models going to be sold? 64 GB obviously. Microsoft was correctly criticized for not understanding that most Surface Pro early adopters wanted the 128 GB model.

Similarly, if you see a Model S on the road today (and I've seen about 15 so far here in Los Angeles) odds are very good it will be a Performance-spec car. Around 10 of the 15 I've seen have been Performance. And when the Mercedes W212 E-Class hit the streets, if I recall correctly the very first one I saw in the wild was an E63. Early adopters buy top-of-the-line.

The cheapest 2013 Model S is $60K. The price was raised last year. This works out to be 5% inflation per year since 2006--however, at this point I suspect the fatter margin on the pricier models are subsidizing this $60K version.

The price of a Roadster was $109K when introduced in 2008.

And after the $7,500 federal tax credit, you arrive at $52,400, which is the figure listed on the Tesla Motors site. Whether you want to count "out the door" price or the total price after your tax refund is up for debate.

Interestingly, those numbers now fit the Model X, which supposedly will be a sporty four-door family car that starts at $52k: http://www.teslamotors.com/modelx

> However, let’s assume for the moment that the electricity is generated from a hydrocarbon source like natural gas, the most popular fuel for new US power plants in recent years.

Above statement is mostly true in state of California where natural gas generates one third of its total power (source: http://energyalmanac.ca.gov/electricity/total_system_power.h...)

Not so true national wide. According to US Energy Administration, the energy sources and percent share of total for electricity generation in 2011. Note the the combined renewable energy sources is below 10% still in 2011.

• Coal 42%

• Natural Gas 25%

• Nuclear 19%

• Hydropower 8%

• Other Renewable 5%

• Biomass 1.38%

• Geothermal 0.41%

• Solar 0.04%

• Wind 2.92%

• Petroleum 1%

• Other Gases < 1%

(source: http://www.eia.gov/tools/faqs/faq.cfm?id=427&t=3)

Coal is still the king.

This would then change the calculation. Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fossil-fuel_power_station) says that the efficiency for a coal powered generator is only 33%, as opposed to 56-60% of a combined cycle gas powered generator. Based on the above data, if one assumes only hydro carbons are used, for power production, that would give 37% natural gas and 63% coal. Then, the average efficiency is 33.63+60.37= 43%. So, the over all efficiency would be 1.14*43/60=.817 km/MJ, which now doesn't look that impressive. Also, I am not sure if the calculation accounts for transportation loss involved in getting the coal and oil to the power plant.

Given that the next contender, the Prius, has three times the CO2 emissions of the Roadster, I think theres plenty wiggle room for the energy source here.

I understand there has been a sharp rise in natural gas (and a corresponding drop in coal and nuclear) in the past two years, since fracking took off. (I wouldn't be surprised if coal is still at the top though.)

If we could effectively get the oil out of ground in CA (total four hundred billion barrels, that's half of oil in all of Saudi Arabia), it may completely change the game. http://money.cnn.com/2013/01/14/news/economy/california-oil-...

Yes natural gas overtook coal as the leading source of electricity in the USA. The transition was in 2012.

I am rooting for Tesla, but if they are counting on a "solar electric economy," that makes me worry. Let's target something practical, like a nuclear/natural gas/solar electric economy.

Tesla doesn't depend on the whole solar economy to be successful. It mostly depends on its own solar-based superchargers, and those have nothing to do with the health of the solar economy. Whether solar energy will be 50% of US energy production, or just stay at 5%, it will be irrelevant for Tesla cars, as they will still get free charging from its own solar superchargers.

The charging may be free, but they definitely have a cost to Tesla. I wonder by what margin the electrical cost savings will offset the investment and expenses associated with the charging stations?

I agree it presents quite a few challenges, and with the tech today it's hard to see solar as viable. However, from what I understand of Mr. Musk's plan, I agree with his idea that almost all energy on Earth came from the sun (and in the case of hydrocarbons all of it), and so the most efficient way to capture that energy should be directly. Nuclear and geothermal aside, nearly every other form of energy capture we do is indirect and represents a huge waste.

The alternate, hand-wavy argument that comes to the opposite conclusion is this: The Earth gets 10^17 Watts from the sun. This power is at it's most diffuse when it initially strikes the Earth as sunlight. After initially striking the Earth, this power transferred into the air, ocean, and land in complicated ways that result in very strong concentrations in some areas (e.g. high winds). Intuitively, it should be easiest and cheapest to go to those places and harvest the energy where it is dense, rather than where it is diffuse. After all, we are not anywhere near tapping into the total energy flux from the sun. It's not a matter of efficiency (sun's ray/usable power) as much as cost. Much better to go and harvest at a place where the energy is 10 times denser than sunlight, even if there were all sorts of losses along the way.

Sustainability has to come into it though. In some mediums this is less of a concern (wind perhaps), but it's paramount when it comes to hydrocarbons. The "cost" right now on sourcing energy from oil and coal does not reflect the true "price" when you take things like pollution into account. This needs to be quantified for all forms of energy collection and extraction in order to have a true representation of value/efficiency. Then solar starts to make a lot more sense.

Yes of course. From context, we are restricting our attention to renewables.

I don't see Tesla as counting on it directly. They would like to see it happen, but all they need to fuel their cars is a source of electricity. If for some reason utility-scale solar power is never practical, that doesn't really impede anything they are trying to do with their vehicles.

Elon is the Chairman of SolarCity, "the leading residential solar provider in the U.S." http://www.solarcity.com/media-center/elon-musk.aspx

Nuclear regulation is a bear to work through.

The lower third of the United States, particularly the southwest, could migrate toward a more solar-based economy today, economically, without the red tape or regulation around handling radioactive fuel.

It isn't as ambitious or forward-thinking, but it is also vastly easier to get started.

Read the whole thing, I'll bet you'll be satisfied with his answers regarding that. The way he's discussing it, EVs are an immediate win for efficiency with the option (not requirement) of being solar-sustainable.

I find it very practical. The best solar panels are 40% efficient, they are very very expensive today but it is a real possibility that someone someway could get this level of efficiency in the future cheaply.

You get over 1000W/m2 of sun radiation so you could get over 400W/m2.

probably it does not look like much but given that plants are 1% efficient, and most radiation escapes earth it really is. You could absorb sun's energy and then use that energy to grow plants!! in a much more efficient way(inside buildings, under the surface).

Once you plug an 85kwh battery pack into your house, suddenly solar starts looking a lot more feasible. That's at least a day worth of storage.

Storage is only part of the problem, and not one of the most important parts either IMO if you are not cutting off from the grid.

On a society wide scale? We only need as much solar power as is taken up by rooftops if we have effective storage. Once you start reaching 25% penetration of electric cars hooked to the grid, it's compensation for base load.

I am a huge fan of Elon and have a lot of faith in anything he's involve in.

I am interested, however, in how this reconciles with the Innovator's Dilemma. He's starting at the top of the market and working his way down.

My possible explanation (assuming he will be successful) is:

There isn't enough of an existing market to be disrupted for the Innovator's Dilemma to apply. What I would be worried about here is the other electric cars that ARE on the market are on the lower end (comparatively. The Leaf is $23,000 vs Tesla @ $52,000).

Nissan is working on using cheaper tech, and then will find ways to improve that cheaper tech versus Tesla using expensive tech and finding ways to make it cheaper.


The Innovator's Dilemma doesn't say you have to start at a "low end" and work up. That's just how it was for the computer storage industry (the example in the book) in the second half of the twentieth century.

It says that you have to start with a new market - i.e a set of people who want to buy your product who are different fundamentally from the existing market.

Plenty of innovations are rolled out starting at the high end. An obvious example is the iPhone (which changed the smartphone market from business/hobbiest to consumer, and which began doing that with rich consumers).

Another way of looking at it... New things can be relatively expensive within their new market - the first PCs were very expensive, they just happened to be cheap compared to Minicomputers. From a product side, they looked like cheap, crap computers. From the market side, they had a totally different market (e.g. individual finance professionals, rather than large corporations).

It's natural as a geek to look just at products. You have to look at both products and markets - they are not just both important, they are the same thing (http://www.flourish.org/blog/?p=371).

Tesla's product is electric cars. It's market is people who want: a) To not have to recharge every day on their commute. b) To have more accessible storage space. c) To have cheap power when gas finally gets more expensive than electricity/batteries

Short term they have been bootstrapping that using a market of people who have longer term motivations (concern about climate change or an energy crisis) which will later go mainstream in the form of c).

It's very very smart.

(2006) on the title please.

Not that he's presumably anywhere near the end of his life - but does Tesla or SpaceX have a contingency plan should something happen to Elon Musk? Don't get me wrong - I absolutely love everything they're doing. It just scares the crap out of me that such a grand movement opposing very powerful forces is led by a single individual. Please tell me there's more brilliant leaders with the same mindset involved in his mission, ready to take the reins should the need ever arise.

I find it incredible how one many seems to be driving such a change in the future of our planet. Considering people have apparently been putting time and money in to this for decades, why are we not seeing more attempts like this? Is it because it's not considered lucrative enough for the capitalist market? Or is Elon just a very good at convincing us (me) he's breaking new ground?

Hybrid vs EV: .56 vs 1.14 km/mj.

Xprise 100 mpg winner seriously considered EV but won with Gas engine. Where's the discrepancy? At least Germany is a good case study in the feasibility Of a solar electric infrastructure. I thought diesel/ hybrid is best bet but it's good musk is here pushing the envelope.

Experimental cars have surpassed the 100km/l (235mpg) barrier a long time ago. That doesn't mean they are anywhere near feasible as a product - no interior finish, exotic body materials, no air-conditioning, electric/hydraulic assistance, electric windows, abs, and all kinds of power-hungry electronics.

Audi is said to be working on a production vehicle, an hybrid, with 260mpg efficiency, but we'll have to wait a little bit to see if it becomes real: http://www.roadandtrack.com/future-cars/spy-shots/caught-tes...

Secret: One of the reasons I want to get a good job is so I can afford a Tesla... Don't tell anyone.

Assuming all observed warming is anthropogenic, the amount of global warming caused by the cumulatie emissions of all of America's cars ever: 1/40th of 1 degree Centigrade.

Richard A. Muller, Nobel Prize in Physics, posted an short article on energy efficiency and pollution in gasoline, hybrid, and pure battery powered cars. Gasoline vs best battery powered car is a factor of 40.The only car has zero pollution is the hydrogen powered.


He might be a nobel prize physicist, but that article is strongly on the fringe side. You can't dismiss electric cars because the power plants produce CO2 and then go on to claim hydrogen is a "clean" technology because burning it does not produce carbon-dioxide.

If you are going to all the trouble of manufacturing hydrogen, why not just manufacture gasoline instead? You lose a little bit of energy efficiency, but only a little bit, and it's a lot easier to handle gasoline (or another liquid fossil fuel) than hydrogen.

Also, that article is from the year 2000. Muller's changed his mind about a number of things. He has a lot of talks on YouTube ("Physics For Future Presidents" is a fun one to listen to in the background) and I don't remember him promoting hydrogen cars.

I like the idea of electric cars, but their dirty secret is not the CO2 from power plants - it's the batteries. They're full of deadly toxins and they don't last very long. What happens to these batteries when they're no longer useful??? I'm still banking on battery technology improving to the point that this disadvantage is far less hazardous to the environment.

Lots of things are toxic. It doesn't mean they poison people. The starter battery in a gasoline car contains enough lead to kill about 1000 people, but it doesn't do it.

Batteries don't transmute. Lead is still lead. Lithium is still lithium. Batteries are about the most perfect recycling case: mass produced, made to exact specifications from very few compounds, easily separated, and are just the right things to turn back into batteries and sell!

Missouri's last lead mine is closing because lead from recycling batteries is so cheap it doesn't pay to mine new lead unless you are also getting some silver or copper and their remaining lead veins are unfortunately too pure.

So electric car batteries get used in cars until their capacity is diminished to an uncomfortable level, then they go serve as stationary storage where the energy density requirement is less demanding for a few more years until they are too worn for even that, at which point they get sold to the recycler and turn into new batteries for cars.

They last very long, the only thing you lose with time is capacity. When the battery reaches a capacity that is no longer useful for use in a car, the battery is sold to utilities. One use case would be to buffer the energy from renewable sources like solar or wind and release it when theres higher demand. Its a low-scale solution to the biggest problem of the energy spot market: charge is highly perishable. Use it or lose it.

This article mystifies me. He is whizzing rough estimations off the top of his head, so that might explain, but…

He omits the dramatic difference in internal combustion efficiency vs. electrical motors, identifies that electric doesn't mean zero emission because of generation sources, but then declares hydrogen to be the hope of zero emission.

Your summary also misses that it is the density of the energy storage that is about a factor of 40, not the system as a whole.

> Gasoline


How rare is lithium for lithium ion batteries? And how recyclable is it?

Should I be buying lithium now to sell it later?

The total lithium content of seawater is very large and is estimated as 230 billion tonnes ... At 20 mg lithium per kg of Earth's crust, lithium is the 25th most abundant element.


How costly is extracting lithium from seawater?

Here is a video documentary by Nat Geo on Tesla, Model S. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qvPosSzUGVI

Elon explains the master plan himself.

A CEO who sticks by the grand plan. This is refreshing.

Total man crush on Elon here. He's like a science fiction author except he makes the spaceships for reals instead of writing about them. Meanwhile a large chunk of the entrepreneurs continue to optimize ad delivery and photo sharing (myself included), just sayin.

Yeah, right. He just wants pollution moved from rich areas, where traffic density is located, to poor areas, where power generating stations are located.

I'm not sure if he "wants" it that way, but that will be an unintended consequence.

It's hard to say anything negative about Elon or Tesla here without getting down-voted.

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