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musk-straubel.jpg.crop_display.jpg Martin Rosenberg

Musk to Utilities: Brace Yourself

Elon Musk, the entrepreneurial visionary developing new modes of transport on earth and in space, ventured into the lion’s den of utility executives today and told them to brace for change.

Musk said that the growth of electric transport will accelerate, contributing towards a doubling of electric utility demand in the long term. About one-third of all electric power will come from distributed generation, including growing amounts of solar generation, according to Musk.

Musk, the head of Tesla and SpaceX, spoke at the annual meeting of the Edison Electric Institute in New Orleans.

His hosts acknowledged that their industry is not noted for embracing disruption. But Musk politely countered, “I am not a fan of disruption for its own sake … unless it results in something substantially better.”

Martin Rosenberg

Elon Musk


Speaking softly and slowly, frequently looking towards the ceiling as he fashioned his ideas into pronouncements, Musk told the energy executives that every square meter of earth gets 1 gigawatt of solar energy. In fact, he said, if you took a typical nuclear plant and the area that surrounds it for security and covered it with solar modules, the solar would out-produce the nuclear plant, Musk said.

“It’s not arguing against solar power,” he said. “It gives you an idea how much solar hits the ground.”

JB Straubel, Tesla chief technology officer, who also addressed EEI, said his company is ramping up production of energy storage batteries – and the price of the technology is poised to plunge. Tesla is building a $5 billion battery plant in Nevada.

Until now, battery storage technology development was driven by the need to power electronic devices like laptops and cell phones, Straubel said. Now that production is gearing up dramatically to serve autos and utilities, economies of scale will drive down the cost of energy storage.

Tesla expects the cost of storage will be $100 per kilowatt hour by the end of this decade.

Musk said there will be some use of Tesla’s recently announced Powerwall batteries as backup power in the event of disruptions by storms.

But 80-90 percent of the batteries will be used for energy storage to improve the grid.

“Use it with existing infrastructure and get really dense with storage and you get some real exciting applications,” Musk said. Less resources will be squandered gearing up for peak demand, he said

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