All solar; all the time

imagesCan a sentence including the words “solar” and “Tesla” make sense. Cars can not run on solar roof panels, but such a sentence would make sense if it also includes Elon Musk who is the CEO of both his eponymous car company and of Solar City which is responsible for a quarter of America’s residential solar panel installations and which just announced the acquisition of high efficiency cell manufacturer Silevo for             $ 200MM. Musk believes that prices of solar panels are coming down fast enough to disrupt the entire electric utility industry. His vision is backed up by his proposal to build an enormous battery plant in Nevada which is integral to providing solar energy around the clock. So, when solar energy provides enough power to become a major factor for electric utilities, Tesla cars would run on solar energy!

Is solar a realistic large scale source of electric energy? A Tunisian company, Nur Energy, together with British investors, is developing a 2000MW export project that will generate solar power on the North African coast, which will be delivered by high voltage direct curren underwater cable across the Mediterranean to Italy and from there via underground cable inland and to other countries. Its capacity is large enough to serve 2.5 million households.

In another development, Abengoa Solar, a Spanish firm which uses solar panels to heat circulating oil or molten salt to generate high pressure steam at supercritical pressure, claims that its technology is already competitive with natural gas-based power plants. The company completed a 280 mw plant in Arizona and is building other plants in the Middle East and elsewhere. (A somewhat similar plant, Ivanpah, in California, has had problems with bird kills as they fly into hot mirrors.)

Back to Elon Musk, there has been speculation that Musk will sell Tesla to Apple, which has already announced serious intention to get into the automobile business, as electronics for cars are now a top research goal in Silicon Valley. Musk, as owner of both solar energy and battery companies, is also deeply involved in developing space travel rocketships for private parties. ( A successful test launch was just announced today) A sale to or joint venture with Apple would seem to make a lot of sense for this century’s leading inventor and entrepreneur who, like the rest of us, has only 24 hours each day to move his many visions forward. Musk has been in discussions with Apple and has hired a number of Apple employees, but the companies may be far from entering any kind of agreement.

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