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SolarCity has signed an agreement to acquire Silevo (solarcity.com)
162 points by ph0rque on June 17, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 45 comments

> SolarCity was founded to accelerate mass adoption of sustainable energy. The sun, that highly convenient and free fusion reactor in the sky, radiates more energy to the Earth in a few hours than the entire human population consumes from all sources in a year. This means that solar panels, paired with batteries to enable power at night, can produce several orders of magnitude more electricity than is consumed by the entirety of human civilization.

Elon shining through here.

There is little doubt that SolarCity will be a huge deal.

There’s a non-sequiter in that statement: the authors jump directly from “the sun emits an enormous amount of energy” to “it is feasible to capture and store several orders of magnitude more electricity than is currently consumed by human civilization using only solar panels and batteries.” That is a huge, huge leap.

It's a huge, huge leap of multiplying the wattage of a solar panel by the number of solar panels manufactured and installed.

Looks like it would take less than 1% of the land area of the earth to satisfy the electricity consumption of humanity many times over:


It doesn't seem like much of a leap to propose covering 1% of the world with buildings or roads or farms, so solar panels should seem the same.

I've heard this suggested before, but seriously, 5.1 million square kilometers of solar panels? Seems to me that we're a long way off from that kind of undertaking.

The link is showing 2,000 square kilometers now.

If you plug in a more reasonable value for watts (efficiency, night), it's still tens of thousands of square kilometers, not millions.

Aka less than 1% of 1% of land is enough for solar at today's energy use levels using 20% efficient panels. More reolistically wind and hydro are unlikely to be completly replaced by solar any time soon.

PS: Most homes can meet there total energy needs and have room left on there roof which says something about energy density.

You are confusing “energy use” with “electricity use.” Things like natural gas heating (especially if you live somewhere with really cold winters), gasoline for ground transportation, and jet fuel for air travel, as well as all the different ways these inputs go into, e.g., growing the food we eat and manufacturing household items, form a very large part of the average person in a developed country’s energy use.

Home != People otherwise I would have said People.

Anyway, Solar is actually great for home heating and hot water needs and solar hot water is generally more cost effective to install than rooftop eletric solar. Oddly enough installing solar pool heaters are cheap and fairly common even though they cover a fairly small window over the course of a year.

PS: Rooftop solar ~20% efficient rooftop home heating ~90% efficient.

Quite interesting, particularly considering Elons name is there. Elon was quite adamant in talking about SolarCity that they concentrate on the consumer-facing business, not producing solar cells, which as he explained is just slightly refined pure silicon with connectors slapped on, very much a commodity business where state actors like China are essentially subsidizing the West for buying solar panels in a bid to crush solar panel competition. So he didn't want to get into that.

Maybe, as with the Gigafactory, he sees an opportunity here.

Here is Elon saying making solar panels is a bad idea:


He isn't saying making solar panels is a bad idea. Rather, he is pointing out that, at the time of the interview, solar adoption in the US was limited by installation capacity, not production and management capacity. SolarCity has been working very hard an effectively on installing and managing rooftop solar systems, so it is possible that they are not limited on the production side, or that they have enough volume on the installation side to justify vertical integration.

True. And yet, it's also a very Elon move: vertical integration, making a big bet on growth, and doing so domestically in spite of theoretically lower-cost foreign production. (You can see all those factors in Tesla and SpaceX.)

Perhaps the Silveo technology convinced him that solar cells are not always commodity. And then he went with his usual instinct.

in vertically integrated business, even 2 times difference in the price of some basic parts/materials may not matter if that is just a fraction of the total price of the resulting product/service. If you own the high margin exit point like installation of the solar systems, you may be more worried about quality and the performance of the parts, stability of supply, etc... - the factors which can significantly affect your downstream high-margin part of the pipeline.

Add to that that Musk is going to own battery component of the solar systems as well.

It's been recently reported that China will not be able to side step tariffs anymore.


Silevo seems already have industry grade panels at 21% efficiency. That's quite a lot in home/utility panels: http://sroeco.com/solar/most-efficient-solar-panels (13 - 17%)

I can't find easily the price/W, but assuming they can produce panels at similar cost that's going to be huge.

Hmmm I might be wrong but I think that's a very specific test... they're only comparing 200W panels. SunPower make 20-21% efficient panels already.

The current efficiency record for research panels is around 44.7% [1] but commercial companies are above 22% (Sanyo, Panasonic, etc) [2]

[1] https://renooble.com/blog/2013/11/solar-panel-efficiency-new... [2] https://renooble.com/blog/wp-content/uploads/2013/11/nrel_ef...

Greater efficiency comes with higher costs.

The maximum theoretical efficiency of solar panels is about 85% of incident sunlight based on the physics of the photoelectric effect. I've been learning about efficiency and cost, and was told recently that many large-scale installations in unsecured location use 9% efficient thin-film technology simply due to cost. Having your 20%-40% high-value panels stolen doesn't net you benefit.

And you're still working against other constraints: a maximum insolation at Earth's surface of around 1 kW/m^2, the local insolation rate (great tool from NREL for mapping that within the US: http://maps.nrel.gov/prospector), panel spacing (you net about 55% area fill rate at 36 degrees latitude based on panel angle and avoiding overlap), inverter efficiency (about 90%), capacity factor (amount of time you're receiving full sunlight), and more. By the time you account for all of this, you're down to about 30W of that 1 kW you can actually deliver (time-averaged -- peak is closer to 97W). And if you want to allow for storage, you've got even more losses. Plants start looking pretty effective at 1-3% solar conversion rates, especially when you figure they build themselves at the same time.

More on net solar potential: http://www.reddit.com/r/dredmorbius/comments/28cvgv/calculat...

Somewhat interesting that this occurs weeks after the tariff increase on subsidized Chinese solar panels. I wonder how closely those two events are aligned beyond mere coincidence.

I found Elon's secret business plan!


good move. Tesla gigafactory would produce 50 GWh battery storage, they themselves need huge volumes of solar panels for their ever expanding charging stations network

The 35% U.S. federal subsidies for solar energy are due to expire in 2016. That's an important consideration.

Nice coup for New York and its rebranding strategy. Doesn't Sanyo have a big facility upstate?

Unfortunately, in all of this, we never see a discussion about individual ownership and transfer of excess SREC's.

Stock jumped 16% after that was released.

I have a small amount of roof space so want to buy efficient panels.

Focus on cost, not efficiency, really.

There's plenty of space for solar energy all told, on a net-metering or grid basis. Unless you've got an absolutely compelling need to generate the maximum amount of energy from a minimum space and/or weight (say: you're building a satellite or space probe), just seek to keep $/kW as low as possible over the anticipated life of your panels.

This is one of the companies with Elon Musk helping drive the vision. They're going to go far.

What keeps them from installing their system in every states or even Canada?

Take a step back.

With 1GW of solar capacity production in NY by 2017, 50GWh of battery production in the southwest by 2020, Tesla's and SpaceX's manufacturing facilities in CA, Elon's distributed clean generation, storage and transportation empire is concentrated in the USA.

All of these companies are becoming increasingly in control of their supply and distribution channels.

What's next, is Musk going to use SpaceX to mine asteroids for their metals to build increasingly inexpensive clean transportation, batteries and solar hardware back here on earth?

What did Dune say? "He who controls the Spice controls the Universe?" Carbon-based energy sources will not last forever, and even if they outlast us, using them will be catastrophic to the environment.

Elon is positioning himself as the provider of plentiful, clean energy generation and storage to the world (not to mention the provider of mobility and space transport). Is it too early to compare him to Rockefeller?

>What did Dune say? "He who controls the Spice controls the Universe?" Carbon-based energy sources will not last forever, and even if they outlast us, using them will be catastrophic to the environment.

That presupposes nothing can ever be done about the CO2 offset.

>Is it too early to compare him to Rockefeller?

That would be an insult to him. Standard Oil did some of the shadiest anti-competitive stuff that resulted in many of the laws to protect against monopolies today. I assume you've seen the famous octopus drawing[1]? That didn't become popular because people thought Standard Oil was giving a warm hug to society.

The patent release alone shows his intentions are much difference from Rockefeller's.

1. http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Standard_oil_octopus_...

I don't think you're giving Rockefeller enough credit. He learned a lesson from the Pennsylvania oil fields and their destructive competition, i.e. competition isn't always good. By monopolizing the oil industry, he actually lowered the cost of oil for consumers something like 10x, while at the same time standardizing its quality.

Right now companies like Uber and Lyft are breaking the law providing their services. If the cabbies win their fight, should the founders of both companies be demonized? You could call what they do shady, and the same goes for Airbnb.

Further, if the daughter of a medallion owner that was put out of business by Uber came to write the definitive biography of Garrett Camp, do you think it would be unbiased?

That's what happened with Rockefeller.

A great read is Titan, which follows his rise to the "Titan" he was. He was a genius with engineering (re-designing physical oil barrels), operations, finance, scale, industrialization, almost everything.

He is credited with creating modern medicinal research (though he detested it himself), and all around, was a highly unique character in history.

Not withstanding him destroying his competition and consolidating the market, with the goal of lowering kerosene (I may have the wrong oil-type here) by 95% as a goal for "giving to the masses."

Still many, many, many despicable acts, but a multi-dimensional man of course.

http://www.amazon.com/Titan-The-Life-John-Rockefeller/dp/140... * While providing abundant new evidence of Rockefeller's misdeeds, Chernow discards the stereotype of the cold-blooded monster to sketch an unforgettably human portrait of a quirky, eccentric original. A devout Baptist and temperance advocate, Rockefeller gave money more generously--his chosen philanthropies included the Rockefeller Foundation, the University of Chicago, and what is today Rockefeller University--than anyone before him. Titan presents a finely nuanced portrait of a fascinating, complex man, synthesizing his public and private lives and disclosing numerous family scandals, tragedies, and misfortunes that have never before come to light.

The only way to offset CO2 in the atmosphere is to:

a) Move carbon-based energy use to renewables

b) If possible, remove CO2 in the atmosphere and storing it in a stable state underground.

Elon is definitely working really fucking hard on the first item. The second item is what I would class as planet-level terraforming, and is going to take more than just Elon (without some sort of additional technological breakthrough).

Also, I was not insulting him by calling him Rockefeller. I was simply saying he's become a titan of industry. You might have a better comparison than I off the cuff.

If possible, remove CO2 in the atmosphere and storing it in a stable state underground [...] what I would class as planet-level terraforming, and is going to take more than just Elon (without some sort of additional technological breakthrough).

We already have nanomachines that work in harmony to do this: tree-and-mushroom networks (among other organisms) known as forests. I wish there was something like http://www.treesforthefuture.org/ but commercial that I could invest in.

> That would be an insult to him. Standard Oil did some of the shadiest anti-competitive stuff that resulted in many of the laws to protect against monopolies today.

That was my first thought as well. I went to Wikipedia to make sure I wasn't missing something, and they paint him in a much more neutral light. I suspect the man, company and time period are complex enough that without a very comprehensive book (or a good professor), that simple statements about how good or bad he was will fail to capture the nuance of it all.

Interestingly, from the time this caricature was published (1904) to the time Standard was ordered to break up (1911) its market share declined from 91 to 64 percent, due mainly to raising competition. By the time, Rockefeller has long retired from Standard's management, but the court-ordered split, due to the increase in the stock value, made him the world's richest man. Looks like being an octopus is not that safe, but owning one is hugely lucrative.

But that was because the Guild navigators needed the spice to fold space, to enable space travel.

Therefore, SpaceX.

(I can imagine Elon in a spice tank, with orange vapours).

(I include the British spelling since he's South African (he's also American and Canadian--do they say vapours in Canada?) Am I off-context enough yet?)

The very abundance and ubiquity of solar energy makes it practically impossible that any Rockefeller could come out of that industry.

We changed the title to the first part of the lede, since it says what the article is about.

Is this the new policy? Should we also post subtitles/ledes instead of titles, if they make the post more informative?

Not a new policy, but what I look at are HTML doc title, article title, top subtitle, and first sentence of the article, in that order. If the latter is significantly better than the article title, we sometimes use it, like we did here.

A good HN title is accurate and neutral (the opposite of misleading and linkbait). Rewriting is bad; it's far better to use words that are already there than to make up words of one's own. Taking words out in order to fit the 80-char limit is ok. Editorializing and spin are right out. Faithfulness to the original content (unless it is misleading or linkbait) is paramount. I think that's about it.

The team @SolarCity and @Tesla continue to push the boundaries . I think this is going to change the landscape :)

I like the section on "Forward-Looking Statements". While I'm sure some will take it as weasel-words to cover his ass (and I suspect if it was absent many of these people would find something -anything- else to critique), I think it's just prudence.

It comforts me to see a big announcement with a caveat, because I feel they are trying to be accurate instead of bombastic.

Forward Looking Statements are a boilerplate disclaimer that publicly traded companies typically include anytime they talk about anything other than historical fact. If they don't include them and their plans change, they are at serious risk of being sued by their shareholders.

See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forward-looking_statement

I assumed as much (the SEC statement in it makes it fairly obvious). I almost threw in a few sentences about how I think if this is because the SEC, it's a very good side effect of informing investors.

I think the effect a statement like this has on normal people reading is to allow the original article to inform and excite while also containing expectations. It can dampen the more excitable of the populace, as well as those who like to set them off.

In all, regardless of why the statement is there, I think the fact that it is present is a good thing. I wasn't exactly assigning credit to Elon for it (the swipe at critics may have made it seem so), just talking in generalities.

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