07. 11. 2016

Elon Musk: Personifying The Transition

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I had one of those surreal moments on Wednesday morning last week.

I was up early to clear the usual email backlog, before a hectic visit to Newcastle, before jumping on a plane to Kuala Lumpur, only to be stopped in my well-meaning tracks by a video link to Elon Musk launching Tesla’s new low-carbon breakthrough – this time, solar tiles. It’s a 20-minute film, but even if you’ve only got five minutes, check it out: it’s hysterically funny and brilliantly uplifting all at the same time.

Elon Musk doesn’t really do ‘hysterically funny’. I’m not at all sure that he has much of a sense of humour, and by mega-star standards (think what Steve Jobs was like, for instance), he’s a rubbish presenter. What makes it hysterically funny is that the presentation is on the former set of Desperate Housewives, itself a celebration of everything that is grotesquely over-sized and self-indulgent about the 1% of the 1% of American’s richest and saddest people. (Or so I’m told!)

So there’s Elon Musk (happily stumbling along), set against these obscene mega-mansions, celebrating his utterly brilliant solar tiles – in all sorts of reassuringly European styles, be that French slate or Italian terracotta! The ironies are so mind-bogglingly multi-layered as to have made me burst out laughing in a dangerously serotonin-spiking kind of way.

I particularly love it when Elon Musk says ‘this isn’t rocket science’, knowing that he’s a serious rocket nutcase whose plan B is for humankind to start out all over again on Mars if his solar-driven plan A somehow fails.

For him, that plan A consists of amazing, cost-effective (Tesla) solar tiles, plus amazing, cost-effective (Tesla) batteries, plus amazing, cost-effective (Tesla) electric vehicles. That’s quite some sales pitch he’s developed there!

(I’ve written about the batteries stuff before, but if you’d like a wee glimpse into what it means to get really excited about the totally transformative impact of cheaper and cheaper storage technologies, check out this video of a presentation by Tony Seba.)

So let’s focus for the moment on the solar tiles end of things. Solar tiles are simply solar panels that double up as your roof – and in such an aesthetically pleasing way as to make even the most ‘protectionist’ of nimbies draw breath in admiration.

As it happens, Solar Century got there first, about a year ago. But the great thing about the Tesla tiles (and all the look-alike competitors that will now be jolted into action simply because Elon Musk has gone out and created yet another mainstream market for them) is their price point. Even now, they’re not much more costly than installing a conventional roof.

So if our volume house-builders can get their heads around the difference between north and south (as in which way your roof points!), we should have on our hands a transformative technology reaching a mass market in years, not decades, regardless of whether we buy into the full-on storage plus EV configuration.

He may be blagging it a bit (he sometimes does!), but Elon Musk’s ‘promise’ is that solar tiles will be as cheap, functionally efficient, long-lasting and versatile as any other roofing material on the market WITHIN A FEW YEARS.

With one foot in Desperate Housewives territory, and one foot right out there on the solar frontier, Elon Musk literally (in this little film) personifies the transition between the suicidally-destructive world of consumerist excess driven by fossil fuels, and the ultra-low carbon world that becomes more and more visible by the day.

Bless him – for all his contradictions!
 

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