Big, bulky, black smoke spewing machines. That’s what most transport ships are today. Responsible for at least 4% of total greenhouse gas emissions, these diesel gobblers have long stayed under the radar of entrepreneurs and regulators alike. But times are changing.
Elon Musk has been in the spotlight a number of times on my blog now, and once again he succeeded in creating a good portion of buzz in the cleantech world which I cannot let go unnoticed. Yesterday the Silicon Valley entrepreneur announced that Tesla is now taking online orders worldwide for their latest disruptive technology: the solar roof. Seen by Elon as the third leg of the stool of a sustainable energy future, next to Tesla’s Powerwall and electric car, first installations in the US follow later this year, while worldwide rollout begins in 2018.
Solar roof can be ordered for almost any country. Deployment this year in the US and overseas next year.
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) May 10, 2017
If he wasn’t already, Elon Musk is rapidly becoming the rock star of all technology addicts. You might think that spending tons of his personal fortune to found electrical car company Tesla and aerospace company SpaceX would be enough, but Musk wouldn’t be Musk if he wasn’t always working on something new and exciting.
Back in 2013 he published a 57-page long white paper with the proposal of Hyperloop Alpha, a futuristic transport system that should bring people in no time from LA to San Fransisco at a speed of 700 miles per hour (more than 1100 km/h). He later admitted that it was the terrible LA traffic that brought him to think about a revolutionary new way of transportation.
The white-paper was not a business proposal, Musk rather threw the idea in the tech community in the hope someone would start doing something with it. Despite the fact that many people were quite skeptical about the idea, two start-ups have started to work on their own version of the Hyperloop.
Short of figuring out real teleportation, which would of course be awesome (someone please do this), the only option for super fast travel is to build a tube over or under the ground that contains a special environment. — Elon Musk
This is more or less the idea. The Hyperloop is a new high-speed ground transport system that consists of a tube on (earthquake resistant) pylons that connects two major cities. A pod is racing at a speed of more than 700 miles per hour through the tube, reducing the duration of a trip from for example LA to San Fransisco to just 30 minutes. In order to reach such high speeds, the tube would be at under-pressure to reduce friction with the air. The pod would be floating on an air cushion and be accelerated by magnetic induction. The whole system is supposed to be driven by solar panels on the top of the tube. Pretty neat, huh?
With a price tag of 6 billion dollars, the system would be cheaper than the high speed train that is currently being built on the track Musk had in mind in his original proposal.
The whole idea remained a bit under the radar of the larger public, until SpaceX announced a Hyperloop pod design competition for students last summer. The reaction was huge. Within one week, no less than 700 entries were submitted and this number grew to 1 751 by the time the registration closed the 15th of September.
A few weeks ago, 123 selected teams got the chance to present their designs at Texas A&M University. The stakes were high: the best implementations won a test ride of their pod on the (still under-construction) test track near the SpaceX’s headquarters. MIT ran away with the first price, a team from TU Delft in the Netherlands were next runner-up. In total twenty-two teams are awarded a test trip next summer to try-out their design.
With this competition the Hyperloop comes a bit closer to reality. “The public wants something new,” Musk told the participants at the end of the competition. “And you’re going to give it to them.”
Will we be travelling in from Amsterdam to Paris in no time soon? Well, probably not. The competition is in the first place an opportunity for engineering students to show off what they got and stimulate the discussion on future transportation. Musk didn’t promise to invest in one of the ideas, although he hinted that it was not unlikely to happen in the future. “There are a lot of crazy ideas out there, but when ideas are associated with someone like Elon Musk it feels like, OK, this is something,” told Anshuman Kumar, leader of the Hyperloop team at Carnegie Mellon University to Bloomberg. So who knows… Elon Musk never stops surprising us. And this time he has the next generation of engineers on board!
Busy times for Tesla Motors’ CEO Elon Musk. Last week he presented Model X, the companies latest feat of engineering. With a range of 250 miles (around 400 kilometers), speeding up to 100 km/h in less than 4 seconds and falcon wing doors that give the car a Back to the Future allure, Musk fulfilled the boldest expectations of enthusiasts around the world. Being the safest SUV ever built — thanks to i.a. the batteries in the floor that lower the centre of mass and improve the balance — it even offers a bioweapon defense mode. Yes, you read that correct: a bioweapon defense mode. Just in case of a nuclear attack, you know.
There are many advantages of driving electric, but one that will probably attract dads and moms is the Model X’s large storage space and the easy access to the back seats. The electric motor takes up much less space than a classical combustion engine, making room for a trunk in the front of the car. And thanks to the falcon wings, it’s much easier to reach the back seats and install a child’s seat and reach the third row.
Yet, if Elon Musk really wants to target families with this SUV, he might be faced with disappointment. Price indicators predict a hole of 75 000$ (68 000 euro) in the family’s budget for the cheapest version of the car. Are families willing and able to put that amount of money on the table? Elon Musk founded Tesla Motors to make electric vehicles available for the large public. Nor the Model X, nor the Model S — a full-electric sedan starting from 71 000$ launched in 2012 — fulfill this promise.
But Elon Musk is fighting on many frontiers at the same time. His company SolarCity, which offers all-in-one solar energy solutions for residents and businesses, announced earlier this week that they developed the world’s most efficient rooftop panels in production. A third-party certification testing provider noted down an efficiency of 22.04%. The previous record holder was producer SunPower with an efficiency of 21.5%. SolarCities’ panels would also perform better in high temperatures than competitors. Overall, the company promises a price reduction of 20 eurocents per watt, making solar energy even more competitive than it already is.
Last Thursday, Elon Musk presented the heavily-anticipated Powerwall – Tesla’s scalable battery which Musk believes could revolutionize the way we consume, produce and store energy. The largest barriers today for solar and wind power are the well-known villains: sun doesn’t shine 24 hours a day, nor does the wind blow whenever we would like it to. For years, scientists and engineers are searching furiously for a solution to store renewable energy to match electricity production from renewable sources with electricity demand at every given moment. Batteries, hydrogen storage, compressed air storage… many scenarios are being investigated at the moment and no-one found a decent cost-effective solution, yet. And then came Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla, SpaceX and other ambitious companies. No surprise his keynote last Thursday has been followed with enormous interest.
The Powerwall is a lithium-ion battery starting from 7kWh at 3000$, but is infinitely scalable which means it both targets families and companies. Musk believes Powerwall makes it possible to go off-grid, which means families or companies become fully self-sufficient via a combination of renewable energy generation and storage with one or more Powerwall devices. But what is the real innovation behind the Powerwall? That’s a bit unclear up till now. Besides the fact the battery is cheap thanks to the Gigafactory that will build them, it is still good’ol lithium-ion technology. And going off-grid is easier said than done. Keeping a local grid at the right frequency (50Hz in Europe, 60Hz in US) is not easy. It is vital though for correct operation of computers, domestic electronics as well as industrial machines. For now, it seems people are willing to give it a try: 5 days after Musk’s keynote he announced they reached a total of 38 000 pre-orders.