I was at Dell World this year, working a boot in the Dell Software area of the Expo Area of the show. One of the main speakers for the events kickoff was Elon Musk of PayPal, Tesla and Space X fame. There is a related story about his talk on Information Week, here.
One comment that Elon made really made me wish there was a Q&A session with him so that I could ask a few questions. The comment that Elon made was "Everything but rockets are going to go to electric." This quote got me thinking about a few things.
First, the range on the electric cars today is about 300 miles. Probably good enough for most driving around town that most people do. However, when I think about some of the driving that I have to do for my job, a trip out of town for me can easily rack up over 600 miles in a trip. I drive into and through rural Ohio most of the time. Sure I drive mostly on interstate highways, but I have not seen any electric recharging stations on any of them yet. Nor have I seen any place to recharge at any of the hotels either.
So how does this scenario get solved, Elon? I see two ways that it could work. First, the cars range could be improved. But that is probably only a part of the solution. At sometime, someone is going to need to drive further then the current range of the car. So you will need recharging stations. Sure, Tesla is installing some now. However, they are going to have to be as common and easy to use as gas stations. Which probably means that all cars will have to have the same connections for hook up, like they all have the same opening for a gas pump. Until that happens, there is no way electric cars are going to go mainstream.
The issues around cars get magnified when you look at all the trucks on the road or cargo ships on the seas. And if you are doing this to be “green”, this is where the real carbon reductions will come from, not the average car on the road. I have not seen anyone working on an all electric Mac Truck. Is anyone? Is it even practical to build an electric truck or cargo ship to haul heavy loads with todays technology? I have no idea. I hope it is and someone is working on it. But it sure looks a long way off right now.
The other question I have for Elon is about the current power grid and the plants that supply it. Right now, most people admit that the existing power grid needs to be updated. If we suddenly add all these verticals that need to attach to the grid to charge, can the grid handle it? Or will I cause a rolling blackout in California when I plug in my car to charge?
Along with the grid, do we have the supply capabilities to handle the additional demand? I do not believe that we do. There has not been a new power plant built for some time in the US. I also do not believe that wind and solar are the answers either. Neither is reliable enough or generates enough power.
The good news is that we have a solution here for power generation. Nuclear Power. It is the cleanest, zero carbon emissions and the new plants generate almost no waste. France has been doing this for years. So Elon, what is your position on nuclear energy? I think it is the only way the dream will happen.
I like the vision, and I hope it happens. But I worry that the entire “big picture” is not being thought about. Too often, people don’t seem to think about the unintended consequences, just their piece of the pie. Hopefully some one out there is thinking of these things.