Wednesday, 6 May 2015

Stacking the Deck


A smart man once said, "If you want to make enemies, try to change something."

Earlier this week, Elon Musk (A man that has already earned my respect for some of his business practices) announced a new product: Tesla Powerwall. A solid, commercially available, 10 Kilowatt battery that can run a house on solar power, and maintain a charge overnight. That's always been the great flaw of the solar power system. Nobody can make it work well enough while the sun doesn't shine. The battery has always been the problem, because a battery big enough to do the job is a hazard. Chemicals, acids, hazardous waste. Tesla has now presented a solution to that.

To put that in perspective, Boeing 787's use lithium batteries, and several planes have been grounded due to battery fires and other problems. Imagine having something that'll run the house, mounted on a wall. No special compartments, no acid spraying everywhere.

The great advantage of solar, is that you can break up the production to be on a million rooftops, instead of a single power plant burning fossil fuel. Solar Power with a Powerwall battery is a solution that could fix a great nightmare of the modern age, and everyone gets to be involved.

Think about that for a second. The best things that humanity has done? They all came from crowd-sourcing. To put us on the Moon, the US Government poured a sizable chunk of the budget into the private sector. The whole country was on fire, hungry to make it work, willing to lend a hand. During WW2, the war effort was funded in no small part by the public, buying War Bonds.


But this week, what's really captured the attention of the world, or at least of social media, is the man himself. He wasn't claiming the credit. He was presenting the problem, and offering a solution. He even gave us numbers, with regards to how many batteries were needed, and why that wasn't an insurmountable problem. Everything he said in the video was true.

I remember, during a TED Talk, a speaker once said: "Martin Luther King said 'I have a dream'. Politicians say 'I have a plan." Which one is considered an inspiration in the eyes of history?

That was the feeling that Mr Musk was able to imbue the crowd with in this keynote. It wasn't a demonstration of why he was a billionaire, it was a rallying cry. He flat out offered people his patents for free (No small thing, given that Patent Lawsuits are one of the most profitable businesses in the USA). He gave everyone listening a demonstration of the potential, by switching over the power in the entire building to his own product.

So, this man has presented the world with a problem, suggested a solution, and has asked for help to fix it. He released his own patents, so he doesn't care who gets the profit, and he's done most of the hard work by setting up research, testing, and even production.


I really want to believe he can do it. I've been following solar power and sustainability as a topic longer than most people I know. But if you want to make enemies in the world, try to change something. I really hope Mr Musk has good lawyers, because at some point he'll need them. He's been hit with the apathy factor before: As I said in an earlier post, he tried to keep the patents on an electric car a secret, before his competitors put him out of business. It took ten years to realize that his competitors honestly didn't care about making a more sustainable product.

If this plan of his succeeds, we'll rid the world of a full quarter of the world's greenhouse problem. If it spreads to China and India? There won't be a problem left. All we have to do is make a relatively affordable change... and thus make the power companies largely irrelevant in our lives. Anyone want to lay odds?

I know, I know. My family tells me that I'm too cynical on this topic. Well... this and other topics. But the whole reason this problem wasn't fixed long ago, was because those that stand to gain financially have had the deck stacked for years.

This has the potential to quietly, effortlessly move the world to a solution, and to do it without laws being changed, or governments moving mountains, or lawyers being involved. I really want to believe he can do it.