Where the sun don’t shine

Elon Musk. Inventor. Pioneer. Oddball entrepreneur. International man of mystery. He made online transactions mainstream with Paypal. He’s brought electric cars into mass production and into the public consciousness through Tesla. He’s aiming to make space travel cheaper and more accessible to the common man with SpaceX. He’s envisioned high-speed mass transit with the Hyperloop. Basically, he’s the real-world version of Tony Stark, or Ironman for non-Marvel fans.

So what’s the next side project for someone who has his fingers in everything? The answer is harnessing solar power better than anyone does today. Obviously.

Image credit: thedailybeast.com
Photovoltaic technology is not new. The pros and cons of operating households off this renewable source are well documented: when it’s sunny, awesome; you can even sell your surplus power back into the grid. When its not, your house is no better than any other fossil-fuelled abode. Sometimes the sun shines when you don’t need any power at all. The key with solar is balancing the fairly constant demand, with an inconsistent and uncontrollable supply.

Enter Elon Musk and his other other side project, Solar City. Using the battery technology from Tesla Motors as a base, he is planning on creating a power storage unit for the solar-powered home. The most immediate problem this solves is the ability to keep using solar power even on clouded days, and long into the night too. Once storage technology becomes advanced enough, we may even see a surge in grid-independent homes.

This could herald the death of utility companies. While there are buy-back schemes for excess solar-generated power, customers could soon be viewed as competition by utilities if they are able to generate enough of their own power. This is especially true if the utility operates a buy-back scheme for excess solar.

Utilities could potentially take the tricky route of using their customers as both suppliers and consumers, though the economic balancing would be immensely tricky. The transition from centralised production of power to communal, decentralised production would be tough for old-school utilities to manage as well. However, my (rather basic) understanding would be this: if the utility no longer needs to supply the power, then their costs of production would be virtually nil. Instead, they can and should focus their efforts on the proper distribution of all the solar power being fed into the grid.

Changing winds are upon us though, and the message is clear: face the new dawn, or be left where the sun don’t shine.

Full article: http://www.theverge.com/2015/2/13/8033691/why-teslas-battery-for-your-home-should-terrify-utilities


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