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Has Elon Musk cracked the renewable energy conundrum? Our new Technology columnist investigates the serial entrepreneur's latest offering

Technology

Young professionals working at desks in an office

Elon Musk, perhaps the world’s best-known serial tech entrepreneur, has spent the last 15 years creating an empire that has vertically integrated the sustainable energy and transport market and now he is on the verge of bringing it to the masses.

Today, you or I could visit Tesla’s website and order everything necessary to completely and reliably remove ourselves from the national power grid. This includes solar panels complete with full installation, a large lithium battery to store the energy (the Powerwall) and a fashionable electric car to get around in. The entire cost of this? Around $82,000.

Tesla House, with solar panels, Powerwall and electric car

The Tesla House: complete with (well-camouflaged) solar roof tiles, Powerwall and Tesla car (image from Tesla.com)

While this may sound like a lot of money, it is marginally more expensive than traditional roof tiles and the equivalent gasoline powered cars. Tesla’s estimation is that once the savings from zero-cost electricity are factored in, their product breaks even when compared to conventional methods. Roofs usually need replacing every 25–35 years so significant take up for the solar panels is expected as people’s existing roofs reach the end of their utility. This could be further accelerated through subsidies.

  The total cost of the Tesla solution
Solar roof tiles c.$40,000
Powerwall $7,000
Tesla Model 3 car $35,000
Total $82,000

To make this all possible, Musk has taken extraordinary steps to minimise the cost of production using vertical integration and heavy automation in the production of his roof tiles and cars. This has included creating the world’s largest single-use building (up to 10 million square feet at completion) in Nevada to ramp up the production of the lithium-ion batteries used in his products. At normal speed, batteries passing along the factory’s production line move so fast that they are only visible to the naked eye with strobe lights.

Aerial view of the Tesla Gigafactory in Nevada

The Tesla Gigafactory in Nevada: circa 10 million square feet producing more lithium-ion batteries than the rest of the world’s supply combined (image from Tesla.com)

Vision aside, Musk’s real skill appears to be his ability to marry technical genius with commercial savviness (much akin to the fictional Tony Stark – minus the witty one-liners). He has the intellectual capacity to grasp complex topics and yet the business acumen and emotional intelligence to attract the capital required to fund these ideas. His self-expressed hope, alongside making us an interplanetary species, is to make a lasting impact on reducing carbon emissions and he has positioned himself well to do that. While it’s true that household emissions make up a relatively small portion of global carbon emissions, he is providing a convenient and well-designed eco-solution for consumers and empowering them to become more educated on the topic.

Technology

About Neil Sarkhel

Neil Sarkhel

Neil Sarkhel is on the investment team at Newcore Capital, a private equity fund manager targeting real estate that is resilient to the deflationary effects of technology and the internet. Prior to Newcore, Neil was on the investment team at Brockton Capital and the real estate transactions team at Goldman Sachs. Neil holds a Bachelor's in Real Estate Finance from Cass Business School and a Master's in Real Estate Finance from the University of Cambridge.

Articles by Neil Sarkhel

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