Elon Musk: Solar Really Is The Future For Electric Cars

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Solar Panels by Flickr user Chandra Marsono

Solar Panels by Flickr user Chandra Marsono

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Electric cars are only as green as the means by which they get their power.

While producing zero local emissions and propelled using efficient electric motors, ideally that electricity would be from a renewable source, rather than by burning fossil fuels or even using nuclear.

That's not always possible, but as far as Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk is concerned, our best option for clean energy is shining down on our heads: Solar power.

Speaking at the National Clean Energy Summit in Las Vegas, NV (via PVTech), Musk told the gathered audience that sustainable energy was a necessity for the future--the alternative being massive economic collapse.

"Chemical experiment"

Discussing the release of carbon dioxide from burning hydrocarbons, Musk said, "We're essentially running this massive chemical experiment on the oceans and atmosphere.

"Why are we running this massive chemical experiment on our oceans and atmosphere when we know we're going to have to find an alternative anyway?"

Musk proposes that by taking a relatively small section of the U.S, such as a 100 miles by 100 miles section of the desert in Nevada or Utah, carpeting it in high-efficiency solar cells could supply power for the entire United States.

Whether states would want such a massive array in their back yards is open to debate, but provided efficiency is high enough and cost low enough, Musk sees it as the ideal way to go.


His views aren't without vested interest--Musk is chairman at SolarCity, one of the country's largest solar installers, having installed 28,000 photovoltaic systems since 2006. Big corporations like WalMart and Google have already bought in to SolarCity, either as customers or as investors.

Musk also understands that better batteries are required to store the energy generated by solar power.

"You can put solar panels at point of use... We need to pair that with energy storage in order to have 24 hour a day power. How to lower cost for batteries for grid storage is going to be important as well."

With individual solar panels on individual buildings, such massive arrays as suggested by Musk may not even be necessary--but the concept is still the same--the more solar we have, the cleaner our energy will be.

And by cleaning up the energy used to power electric cars, the old "yeah, but where does the electricity come from?" argument would quickly become a thing of the past.


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Comments (23)
  1. http://new.livestream.com/accounts/1206539/events/1034074/videos/2562327

    here the video

  2. Home solar with an electric car is a no-brainer. It works beautifully for us. All the electrcity we need is on a small section of our roof. The hand-wringing and consternation about energy could be cured if people would step outside and feel the energy of the sun on thier thick heads...

  3. I think power is still too cheap to really get people converted to solar, and then not everyone can install them such as apartment dwellers, renters, people who move a lot. Oh, and people in general are really stupid.

    I just installed an array on my roof and looking forward to buying a Tesla Model S after a year or two of production to make sure all the bugs are ironed out :-)

    The roof panels work great and I will have them paid off in no time.

  4. The only way you will have them paid of in no time is if your electric rate is high (over .20/kwh) or if you got local subsidies on top of the federal credit. Here, in my lovely backward state of PA, ROI on a cheap-per-watt system is still 9-10 years. By cheap I mean installer-provided $4.50/watt. Used to be much more than that.

  5. ...and looking forward to buying a Tesla Model S after a year or two of production to make sure all the bugs are ironed out:-)

    That's too bad. The economics of solar are so much better when replacing gasoline than in replacing utility supplied electric power.

  6. More than half of the thick-headed world lives on less than $2/day. Half of our population would go bankrupt if they got a serious disease. Owning an array is still a no brainer for a few.

  7. You mean like the ones reading this? With a net connected device? With high speed connection?

  8. For those who have never personally been close to a solar power system, let me just say that it is underwhelming and also very cool. It is underwhelming because it doesn't look like much, there are very few components (panel and inverter), and zero moving components (dead silent).

    It is so cool because compared to other ways of producing electricity (e.g. generators) it is amazingly simple.

    Yes, cost is an issue, but still it is really cool.

  9. as always. Elon is compelling and i am with him! every hour of every day, enough energy from the Sun hits the Earth to power the ENTIRE world for a year. but that requires capturing and converting 100% of that solar energy which aint gonna happen. in fact, one percent wont happen either, but the point is; the power is abundant way beyond our relatively puny needs.

    its kinda funny because i did my high school physics project on the exact same thing (35 years ago) and I penciled it out to a 40 year payback (which i found out later was wrong...) but now we have MUCH cheaper panels that are much more efficient.

    the only thing stopping us is the monumental obstacle of Big Oil, Big Coal and Big PUD. that is a lot. all i can say is GOOOO ELON!

  10. Solar energy has the potential to be a real revolutionary game changer. Not only for us here in the US but in every country. The production of low cost PV panels that can easily be installed is of paramount importance. If Elon can help in bringing this about, it will have an even far greater impact than just for recharging electric cars.
    Yes, there are people right now charging their cars from solar PV panels! We just need the cost brought down so it is affordable to a larger group.

  11. The cost will come down when incorporated into and financed with original building construction.

    Connection to the grid, household wiring and meters are expensive. Yet they are not viewed as a separate expense from the residence. Utility companies often take on some of these costs, knowing the home will house paying customers for years to come. In contrast solar is percieved as an expensive add on.

    Setting up a home for solar could result in as little as $150 in costs for new construction. Or $50,000 of retrofitting for existing construction, as part of the balance of system costs for larger homes, even before panels or inverters are considered.

  12. I wonder how many square miles of solar panels are in the US today...

  13. Much, much, much less than relatively un-sunny Germany.

  14. Solar is working great for charging our Leaf, and all of our other needs. It also was free to put on the house (lease), so I'm not sure why people are calling it expensive. In fact our overproduction credits are piling up and canceling out our lease payment. No-brainer! Also, I just got a preview of survey results from Edison, and 39% of electric car owners have put solar on their roofs already - that's a pretty high starting point.

  15. Putting the majority of solar production in one huge farm is a centralized approach which leads to a situation like the one we have now; overproduction at times and severe shortages at others. The alternative of having solar on every rooftop, feeding houses in the neighborhood during overproduction, is much better because it makes the grid appear smaller and less needy to the generating plants - reducing the need for new power plants. Those homes then use power at night when there's plenty of over-capacity in the system. Win win

  16. Elon gets a D+ or a C- / 3.2 (in numbers) for this; not well thought out or expressed. This is having most, if not all, of your eggs in one basket while centralizing it.


  17. True, it must be decentralized, of course. Where will they bomb first (war or terrorism)? Power plants and refineries.

    Put 10 panels on every house with a clear-sky. Now you're doing something. If every home generated 10-12 kWh per day on its own, power plants could be entirely hydro or natural gas. Coal could completely shutdown and Nuclear wouldn't be as-required. We do use too much electricity - so such a program should include a lot of education and incentive for conservation.

  18. Power at night is a big problem of ours. My neighbors down the street don't really have much of an issue with that. They use lanterns. They are Amish. Our major problem is our conveniences that we want, our electronic devices which we think we "need" and having 24-hour access to them. So it is our culture that demands this night-time power. And air conditioning in the evenings too, that's big.

    Where does this leave us in 100 years? Hopefully, we do figure out how to live with less, to go back to the energy demands of the 1970s per-capita. The only way to successully do that is to have everyone participate and not just have political fights about subsidies here, drill there, party-based politics.

  19. Electricity is generated based on demand due to the difficulty in storage. The solar panel preachers on this site are all still tied into the grid, so even though they are proudly rolling back their meters with their panels, they will always have power only because of because they are tied into a power grid that supplies fossil fuel generated electricity. If demand exceeds supply, a blackout occurs. Blackouts due to fossil fuels can be managed. Blackouts due to a reliance on mother nature (solar and wind) cannot be compensated for. Here is a link that pretty much sums up the readership of Green Car Reports:

  20. @Randall: This is your friendly site moderator here. Please watch out with the blanket characterizations of other readers, OK? Robust debate on the merits of the issues is fine, but assertions and generalizations about other readers and discussions of their personal character edge closer to TOS violations. Keep it polite, OK? Thank you.

  21. Everybody is entitled to their own opinions, but they are NOT entitled to their own set of facts. If you haven't noticed by now, I refute or make my points with FACTS, and I cite them. This website is full of people stating baseless opinions or opinions based on falsehoods. Many are too young to remember "Back to the Future", and that link either refreshed the memories of "oldies" or introduced the young-uns to a quote that characterizes much of society today. The baby-boomers have ruined this latest generation by teaching them "what to think", not "how to think". My posting was blunt but not directed at anyone in particular. Consider "Think...McFly...Think!!!" a way of driving home an excellent point without using crudities.

  22. @Randall: The editors of this site are always open to comments that correct anything we get wrong, or add context to facts we cite. Commenters then often embark on other topics, which we're less likely to weigh in on.

    But a prime rule here (and on many, many other sites) is to keep it respectful and keep the debate focused on the topic at hand, not the personal or political attributes of commenters, editors, or groups of people at large.

    Curious to know how old you are, since from your comment about how "baby-boomers have ruined this latest generation," I presume you're not a Boomer?

  23. What happens when the central theme of the article is politics? Is criticism of politics still off limits? It does happen on this site. I am the generation that had baby boomers for teachers. The latest crop have baby boomers as school administrators who advocate ebonics, diversity, "everybody gets a trophy", etc. None of these prepped the latest crop for reality. No...I am not a baby boomer.

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