Elon Musk’s Impact on Solar Technology

Every so often an entrepreneur arrives not only with a fresh approach to new problems, but the work ethic to see their potentially game-changing innovations through to completion. Elon Musk is one such individual – having transformed the online payments world with PayPal, he is now CEO and chairman of Tesla Motors as well as CEO and founder of SpaceX, a space launch vehicle company.

Of late, Musk has also been focusing additional efforts on revolutionizing the energy production sphere. As the chairman of SolarCity, a company which specializes in making solar energy affordable to the masses, he is at the forefront of the cause for cleaner power.

Solar power, once decried as inefficient and unwieldy, has become both cheaper and easier to use in recent years. Besides improvements in technology, solar is being pushed strongly by many governmental authorities, which very often provide incentives and tax rebates to those who install new solar equipment at their properties.

spacexFrom 0.3 gigawatts of installed capacity in 2000, solar has grown to 45 gigawatts installed in 2014. Despite this rapid growth, solar still accounts for less than 1 percent of global energy output – but this could change in the near future. According to sources from Direct Energy and Arch Coal, every megawatt produced via solar power represents the replacement of a megawatt obtained from dirty fossil fuels. Thus, as solar continues to proliferate, polluting forms of energy production will eventually be responsible for generating a smaller percentage of our power needs.

Through SolarCity, even those without the up-front capital needed to purchase solar cells can have them installed at home. Under its solar leasing paradigm, property owners can get a solar energy system installed for no upfront cost. They instead pay the company a fixed sum every month and receive the electricity produced by the unit in place of electricity sourced from local utility suppliers. Customers can easily use the MySolarCity mobile app to then track energy production and consumption in real time and learn ways of conserving energy.

Making this deal even more attractive is the Powerwall battery, which Musk debuted earlier this spring under a new division of Tesla. The Powerwall aims to tackle one of the most problematic aspects of solar electrical generation: the fact that power can only be generated when the sun is shining.

Through the use of this new battery in conjunction with the photovoltaic cells on their roofs, homeowners can store up the energy they produce and use it later on. By replacing electricity produced through the polluting means of burning oil and gas with that generated cleanly and renewably with solar, average homeowners are able to take immediate steps to protect our our natural environment from further harm.

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It must be noted, however, that none of the new advancements brought to market by Musk are especially noteworthy in their own right. Leasing, as a general concept, has been around the housing and automotive industries for quite a long time.

Home energy storage is also a well-trodden area of research and development in the clean power sector. Yet by taking existing “green tech” products, growing their visibility and therefore improving widespread access and reducing further costs, he encourages a culture of cleaner power. It also doesn’t hurt that the energetic and visionary Musk has garnered millions of fans and followers through his charismatic personality and “Tony Stark” appeal.

solar-energyAs global energy demand increases unabated, especially in developing countries, it will be interesting to see how the environmental consequences play out.

On the one hand, industry’s desire for cheap energy shows no signs of abating.

On the other hand, solar may be able to supply this insatiable hunger for electricity without significant harm to the ecology of the planet.

If his endeavors prove to contribute to the lasting popularity of solar power, then Elon Musk may, in the next few decades, come to be seen as one of the most prominent benefactors of humankind.

Beth Kelly wrote this article.

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