If the best way to predict the future is to create it, then Elon Musk is probably the man to ask how things are going to be in decades to come.
But until any (or all) of those situations play out, one thing is for sure: we’re going to need to keep producing electricity.
This is where Musk is really creating the future. A future where his company, Tesla, could metaphorically own the power industry in a similar way to how fossil fuel corporations do today.
A report picked up by The Conversation has revealed solar power to be the most popular form of new electricity generation worldwide.
In other words, more solar capacity is being installed than any other electricity generation technology.
The 2016 numbers are as follows:
If this trend continues, it would appear smart to invest in solar power.
Smarter still, though, would be to make it more attractive to the biggest global market there is: the home owning general public.
And that’s exactly what Musk is doing with the development of Tesla’s Solar Roof tiles.
The current crop of home solar panels are often cumbersome and appear as unsightly accessories on a roof.
For the house proud, the benefits that come from generating clean energy are often outweighed by the aesthetics of the panels.
Tesla’s Solar Roof tiles tackle that problem head on. Instead of being an ugly addition to the roof, they are the roof.
In a public show of confidence in the product, Musk and his chief technology officer, Jeffrey B. Straubel, have already installed the tiles on their own homes.
However, if the Solar Roof project is to really take off, it needs to be more than just nice looking.
It has to be priced at a point most can afford, and be at least as durable as a traditional roof tile.
According to Tesla, both of these issues are covered.
At an average of $21.85 per square foot, a roof covered in these tiles works out cheaper than one covered in regular tiles.
And the money saved by the energy they produce means they soon begin to pay for themselves.
On durability, Tesla claims their Solar Roof tiles are the most durable tiles available today, with the tempered glass – said to be three times tougher than slate or asphalt – coming “with a warranty for the lifetime of your house, or infinity, whichever comes first”.
The first batch of Solar Roof tiles sold out in 16 days of pre-orders, with delivery expected to begin later this year.
More will be made available to order in November.
Despite what may appear to be a delayed or fragmented launch, Musk is in this for the long game.
The roofs over our heads won’t change overnight.
“I think eventually almost all houses will have a solar roof,” said the entrepreneur during a May TED conference in Vancouver.
“The thing to consider the timescale to be probably on the order of 40 for 50 years.
“On average, a roof is replaced every 20 to 25 years, but you don’t start replacing all roofs immediately, but eventually, if you were to fast forward to 15 years from now, it will be unusual to have a roof that doesn’t have solar.”
You can expect the price, performance, and even the prettiness of the tiles to improve in that time, with Musk promising to keep iterating.
With the tiles keeping the Powerpack topped up, which will in turn supply power to both the home and car, the whole system becomes one cycle of clean, green energy.
With a plan to install the world’s largest battery in South Australia to store enough renewable energy to power 30,000 homes, Musk and Tesla are looking to work at national grid levels as well as individual homes.
They even believe it possible to power the entire USA with solar sometime in the not-too-distant-future.
However, just as some people are put off from installing contemporary solar panels on their homes due to how they look, others worry about spoiling huge swathes of the natural landscape with solar farms.
To allay such fears, Musk explained the following at the National Governors Association event in Rhode Island.
“If you wanted to power the entire United States with solar panels, it would take a fairly small corner of Nevada, or Texas, or Utah; you only need about 100 miles by 100 miles of solar panels to power the entire United States.
“The batteries you need to store the energy, so you have 24/7 power, is 1 mile by 1 mile. One square-mile.”
Short-sighted energy policies will only get us so far as a species, and signs suggest that may not be much further than where we are now.
We need to look at things long term and have the patience to allow gradual change, as with Musk’s expected decades-long timeline of Solar Roof tile uptake.
Because if in 100 years we haven’t gone to Mars, been eaten by AI, or found out we’re living in a simulation, we’ll be very glad indeed that someone had the vision to bring clean, renewable energy to both individual homes and at national grid levels back in the early 21st century.
If things go as planned, Elon Musk and Tesla seem on course to own the future of energy.
And if not them, then their ideas at least.
Whether or not you like the man and his company, or even the idea of a near monopoly of such a vital utility, it has to be better than what we’re doing now.