The Battery That Made Me Cry
I’m looking at a YouTube video and getting a bit teary. It’s not about a cute puppy or a blind beggar who plays the violin. It’s about a battery. A big white battery you put on the wall of your garage. The inventor says it’s like a beautiful piece of sculpture.
Really? Art is subjective I suppose, for sculpture give me Bernini any day of the week.
The inventor is Elon Musk of course, the electric car, space x, PayPal inventor guy that Tony Stark from Ironman is supposedly modeled after. I never really got that and as Elon began his presentation I got it even less. I’d never heard him speak before. For one thing he laugh/giggles a lot. For another he sounded nervous and uncomfortable and he kept rolling his shoulder like he was trying to get his jacket to fit better. All of which added up to him looking nothing like Tony Stark and a lot like a normal human being which endeared him to me no end. Here’s how his presentation went. I’ll let you know when I got teary.
1. We’re screwed if we keep going the way we are.
Elon, we’re on first name terms now, started off by talking about energy and how it’s produced. He trotted out the Keeling curve, you know the one Al Gore scared the pants off us with in An Inconvenient Truth. The one about CO2 emissions in the atmosphere. The one Al needed a ladder to point to the top of because it was so off the chart. The, we’re-screwed-if-we-keep-going-like-this, curve. So far, so been there Elon. Tear factor zero.
2. Solar power is great, and tiny!
Most people, me included, have no clue how many solar panels it takes to power a light bulb, forget about powering a city, or country. The shocking thing, for me again, is how little land it would take. Elon was talking about America so in his example the amount of land area needed to get rid of all fossil fuel electricity generation in America was the size of a couple of counties in Texas. In Irish terms that would be about the size of County Kerry. For the whole of America.
And the great thing is most of the land area will be on roof tops. So no redevelopment or land acquisition or the usual pain for pleasure trade off. It will hurt now but be better in the long run kind of thing.
3. The sun doesn’t shine at night.
Stating the obvious I know but it highlights the main problem with solar power. Plus the the peak demands for electricity are usually morning and evening. You know, the times when the sun is not around so much.
4. Batteries are great, and even tinier!
To even out the supply and keep the lights on at night we need batteries. Elon asked a similar question about how much land area it would take for enough batteries for the whole of America. I had less of a clue. Turns out it’s tiny. Really tiny. Remember those few counties in Texas, they are the blue square in the diagram above. The batteries are the black dot in the center. Tiny. It looks like about about the size of 8 city blocks to me.
For the whole of America.
5. Existing batteries suck.
A couple of months ago I was looking into getting a domestic windmill. Where we live is pretty windy and I thought it was worth investigating. Finding a domestic wind turbine was relatively easy. There are loads on ebay. What I hadn’t counted on was the complexity of setting up the batteries. I naively thought there would be a cable from the windmill and you would just, sort of, plug that into the batteries. It was way more complicated. I won’t bore you with the details. The video above is where I jumped ship.
6. Powerwall. Not just in white.
Then Elon built up to introducing what he called the missing piece. The lights went dark. The music rose. The central video screen slowly rotated to reveal a big white box on the wall. A hundred smart phones were held aloft in the kind of display you’d expect for a Bon Jovi ballad not a big white box on a wall. Tear factor still zero. Elon told us it was called the Tesla Powerwall and it was a battery like no other. Here’s why.
- For a start it has the out-of-the-box connectivity I had originally thought possible. All the thermo, inverter, regulator, AC/DC stuff is built into it.
- It is designed to hang on the wall so you won’t need a battery room. Sounds silly now but prior to this you actually did need a battery room.
- He told the crowd that if there is a power cut from say, an ice storm, you would always have power from your powerwall. I thought this was poetic because ice storms and weather related power outages are becoming more common world wide as a result of continuing climate change. So not only is the powerwall helping to reduce CO2 emissions and so help reduce climate change, it is also there to help with the consequences of climate change.
- The powerwall will allow people to live off grid if they want. Make and store your own electricity
- You can link powerwalls together. Up to 9 in total giving you 90 kilowatt hours. I don’t know how much that is but Elon seemed to think that was a lot.
- The powerwall will make it easier for people in remote parts of the world to get power. Once people start using powerwalls we won’t need ugly power cables and pylons anymore. If that sounds far fetched just think about mobile phones. In most developing countries, mobile phones have effectively leapfrogged the need for land lines.
- It only costs $3,500 USD.
I wasn’t teary but I was bloody interested.
7. Tesla Powerpack.
The powerwall is fine for domestic to small business type of applications. For bigger installations Elon told us we needed something bigger. He then revealed the Tesla Powerpack.
This is the powerpack. An even bigger, less interesting, white box. It is taller than Elon and he’s tall. The nifty thing about the powerpack is that you can link as many of them together as you like. They are designed for infinite linking.
8. Power numbers.
This is when it got really interesting. Elon started talking figures. Okay he’d been talking figures throughout the whole presentation and most of them made me sleepy but not these ones.
“How many powerpacks would it take to transition America to sustainable energy?”
160 million powerpacks to transition America to sustainable energy.
While I was turning this over and trying to figure out if that was a lot or not,
“How many powerpacks would it take to transition the world to sustainable energy?”
Even deader silence 900 million powerpacks. 900 million powerpacks to transition the world to sustainable energy. Is that all? I thought it would be in the billions. And a billion is a lot. I read somewhere that a million seconds would be 12 days whereas a billion seconds would be 31 years. So 900 million is not so much, right? Before I could answer myself,
“How many powerpacks would it take to transition all transport, all electricity generation, and all heating worldwide to sustainable energy?”
Jesus, Elon I don’t know, that’s got to be in the trillions!
Turns out no.
It’s 2 billion.
2 billion power packs to transition all transport, all electricity generation, and all heating worldwide to sustainable energy.
Okay it’s not trillions but it is still billions. That’s still a lot. 62 years if we were talking seconds. That’s a lot of powerpacks or anythings to make.
Turns out no.
To put it in context Elon told us that there are currently 2 billion cars and trucks on the road in the world right now.
Okay, so we’ve already made 2 billion somethings, but that must have taken ages, I mean we’ve been making cars for ages.
Turns out no.
We make 100 million new cars and trucks every year. Which means that every 20 years the 2 billion cars and trucks worldwide gets refreshed.
9. Get the tissues ready.
Elon finished up with some emotional body blows, for me at least. He said that Tesla couldn’t make 2 billion powerpacks. Other companies would need to start making them. With this in mind Tesla’s first battery factory, Gigafactory1, is itself a Tesla product. Granted, it’s a really big product, but Tesla are making it a product so it can be replicated around the world.
He went on to say that Tesla’s ongoing policy of making all it’s designs open source would apply to everything he had talked about so far. The powerwall, the powerpack and even the Gigafactory designs are all freely available.
Pass me the tissues because that is so beautiful. Open source speaks right to my heart. It’s the geeky equivalent of sharing your treats with the other kids in the playground. It is basic human kindness on a huge scale. Elon has to know that living your true nature as a loving human being is what makes you happy, not money.
Instead of just scaring the pants off us with climate change warnings he was saying in a very humble way, “eh, I’ve figured out how we can stop this.” He wasn’t just talking about solutions he was putting them into practice.
Then he showed us the possible future keeling curve.
That’s it on the right. It basically rolls over and goes flat. Zero CO2 emission. It means we could stop the growth of CO2 emissions within the next 20 years or sooner if we want. It’s all possible.
While I know Elon will make a lot of money from all this, I don’t begrudge him a penny of it. He has given a true gift to humanity and for that I am grateful.
Tear factor ten.
He finished by saying,
“It’s something we must do, we can do, and we will do.”
I couldn’t agree more. Love you man.
I think I need a lie down now.
Here is the video of his presentation.