(3 minute read)
“More power from the sun hits the Earth in a single hour than humanity uses in an entire year.” (Tech Insider) Capturing solar energy is silent, plentiful and produces zero carbon emissions — the outlook is bright.
Solar panel technology was developed in the late 1950’s and used prominently in NASA spacecrafts, but at a very large price tag. Since then, solar cell technology continues to become more efficient and more affordable. Companies like SolarCity are working towards a future of clean energy, brought to customers for less than the price of burning fossil fuels. The recent merger of SolarCity and Tesla, announced on August 1st, could disrupt the energy industry and promote more sustainable communities.
The idea behind the merger is that the solar panel arrays of SolarCity can generate the power stores for the Tesla Powerwall, a home battery that stores excess energy generated by a solar panels, essentially providing off-the-grid energy stores and promoting the use of solar energy. Elon Musk, founder of both Tesla and SolarCity, said in a recent conference call with analysts, “This is really all part of solving the sustainable energy problem. That’s why we’re all doing this — is to try to accelerate the advent of a sustainable energy world.”
Another benefit of merging the two companies is streamlining manufacturing, sales and service costs by an estimated $150 million, generating savings which will be passed on to customers. A further effort towards attainable clean energy is to bring down the cost of electric batteries. Tesla is building a 5.8 million square foot ‘gigafactory’ in the desert outside of Reno, Nevada to mass-manufacture the lithium ion battery cells, driving down cost by over 30%. The size of this facility is massive. So massive that you can fit more than 95 football fields inside. On top of that, Musk plans for the gigafactory to produce all the energy it needs through solar panels and geothermal and wind power. Why go to these lengths? According to Musk, “Tesla is about helping solve the consumption of energy in a sustainable manner, but you need the production of energy in a sustainable manner.”
An example of Musk's vision comes in the form of a new development in Melbourne, Australia. YarraBend is the name of the 40.8 acre site and it is offering 60 homes built standard with the Tesla Powerwall, inverters and a solar panel setup. The Powerwall decreases the homeowner's reliance on the electrical grid at night when costs are more expensive. Could this be the beginning of widespread sustainable energy?
With such efforts, the question of sustainable energy is not how, but when. The technology is there and constantly improving and becoming more powerful. At the same time, costs are rapidly coming down. And when packaged together, solar panels and home batteries become more attractive for widespread use. With the Tesla-SolarCity merger, perhaps the biggest barriers to adoption, such as cost, will decrease and the instances of sustainable communities will rise. Looking to the future, the outlook is full of power and potential.
We’ve heard of sustainable, clean technology for years. Solar panels are not new to us. Neither are electric cars. How many Teslas do you see everyday on the road? This is a direct result of sustainable energy becoming more practical. The more practical, the cheaper and more widespread it becomes.
So, why would we not embrace these technologies?