Elon Musk is at it again: attempting to disrupt industries that is. As well as being founder and CEO of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, he’s also Chair of SolarCity, a fast-growing U.S. rooftop solar services company. SolarCity has just inked a deal to acquire solar panel manufacturer Silevo. Musk has said that SolarCity now intends to build solar panel factories “an order of magnitude” larger than the factories currently making panels: solar gigafactories, if you will.
If this sounds rather familiar, it’s because only a couple a months ago Musk announced that his fast-growing electric car company Tesla Motors is planning to build a new “Gigafactory”, to make massive amounts of lithium-ion batteries for electric cars. That Gigafactory will be able to produce enough batteries to run 500,000 electric cars per year by 2020. For Tesla, it ensures it will be able to be supplied with the amounts of batteries it will need to grow long-term, and work to bring the overall cost of lithium-ion batteries, and consequently electric cars, down.
In this latest move into manufacturing solar panels (as well as financing, leasing, and installing them), Musk has stated that, “If we don’t do this we felt there was a risk of not being able to have the solar panels we need to expand the business in the long term.”
Musk has stated previously that he thinks it’s extremely important that humanity develops both sustainable transport and sustainable energy production as quickly as possible. With these two moves in quick succession, to build big electric car battery and solar panel factories, he’s certainly attempting to push that vision forward as fast as he and his companies can.
It’s quite conceivable that many people could in the not-too-distant future have a reasonably a priced Tesla car in the garage, powered by energy from SolarCity solar panels on the roof, with excess solar energy stored in an additional Tesla household energy storage pack for use at night. In one fell swoop, both the auto and energy (utility) sectors could be disrupted. To my mind, SolarCity is developing itself into a new kind of distributed renewable energy utility.
If you think this is way off the mark, even banking giant Barclays has recently calculated that home solar power combined with energy storage is set to start disrupting traditional power utilities in as little as 4 years in the United States.