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By Harvey Wasserman and Tim Judson
Elon Musk's SolarCity is completing the construction of its "Buffalo Billion" Gigafactory for photovoltaic (PV) cells near the Niagara River in Buffalo, New York. It will soon put 500 New Yorkers to work inside the 1.2 million-square-foot facility with another 700 nearby, ramping up to nearly 3,000 over the next few years.
Tesla boss and prolific tweeter Elon Musk has made an audacious bet to solve South Australia's energy woes by building a 100-megawatt battery storage farm. If the system is not operational in 100 days, the AUD$33 million (USD$25 million) technology will be provided for free.
It all started on Thursday when Atlassian CEO and Australian billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes tweeted an article to Musk that cited a similar offer from Lyndon Rive, who heads Tesla's battery division.
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Even though Elon Musk once said that Donald Trump "doesn't seem to have the sort of character that reflects well on the United States," the Tesla/SpaceX CEO is joining the president-elect's Strategic and Policy Forum, an advisory board for the president on business issues.
Uber CEO Travis Kalanick and PepsiCo CEO Indra Nooyi were also named as strategic advisors on Wednesday.
"My Administration is going to work together with the private sector to improve the business climate and make it attractive for firms to create new jobs across the United States from Silicon Valley to the heartland," Trump said in a statement announcing the latest appointees.
Other high-profile CEOs on the 19-member Strategic and Policy Forum include Mary Barra of General Motors, Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase & Co, Bob Iger of The Walt Disney Company, among others. The forum will be chaired by Stephen A. Schwarzman, who heads the investment firm Blackstone.
Members of the group will "be called upon to meet with the president frequently to share their specific experience and knowledge as the president implements his economic agenda," a media release explained.
Musk's willingness to take part in Trump's forthcoming administration—one that's filled with climate change deniers and fossil fuel barons, at that—is admittedly a head-scratcher. Similar questions were raised when Leonardo DiCaprio and Al Gore met with Trump and his daughter Ivanka. The Tesla boss is very outspoken on climate change issues and has built a renewable energy enterprise.
Musk is also a big proponent of a carbon tax to drive investments in clean tech. We have to "remove the effective subsidy of not pricing the damage done by carbon pollution," he said last year. Also, in an appearance in DiCaprio's climate change documentary Before The Flood, Musk said, "If governments can set the rules in favor of sustainable energy, then we can get there really quickly ... Only way to do that is through a carbon tax."
Trump, in contrast, famously believes that global warming is a hoax created by and for the Chinese. The hotelier has waged wars on windmills, calling them bird killers and a blight on the view of his luxury golf courses. As for solar, Trump said the booming sector is "so expensive" and "not working so good."
The president-elect also campaigned on slashing taxes across the board, axing President Obama's emissions regulations and exiting the historic 2015 Paris climate agreement.
However, a report from Recode suggests that Musk might use his clout to push for green initiatives. As Recode reporter April Glaser writes:
"Still, it's probably in Musk's favor to work with the incoming administration, especially as it starts to shape new policies that are dear to Musk's heart, like regulations to bring self-driving cars to U.S. roadways and whether to abide by the 2015 Paris climate agreement or pull out, a threat Trump made on the campaign trail.
"That doesn't sit well with Musk, who will likely urge the Trump administration to remain a signatory on the international climate accord. Reps for Musk did not immediately respond to request for comment."
Additionally, as Glaser notes, "Musk might be able to persuade the president-elect not to renege on the Paris agreement, which already lacks strong mechanisms for enforcement."
Glaser points out that secretary of state nominee/Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson—whose company announced its support of the Paris climate agreement and acknowledges the risks of climate change—also endorsed the idea of a national carbon tax.
But as the New York Times argues, Tillerson might only support the Paris agreement and a carbon tax if it does not harm his company's bottom line.
"Will Mr. Tillerson try to persuade Mr. Trump to support the international climate accord reached in Paris? He might, but he would probably stress the importance of natural gas and methods to bury carbon emissions—policies that would not hurt fossil fuel industries," the newspaper of record writes.
After all, Exxon sells a product that fuels climate change and the company has spent years and millions of dollars funding climate change denial.
Yesterday, a number of Silicon Valley executives gathered at Trump's "tech summit" at Trump Tower in New York. The group included Musk, Jeff Bezos of Amazon, Timothy D. Cook of Apple, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook, Larry Page and Eric Schmidt of Alphabet, Google's parent company, Satya Nadella of Microsoft and more.
"I'm here to help you folks do well, and you're doing well right now and I'm very honored by 'the bounce'—they're all talking about 'the bounce' and I know everybody in this room has to like me a little bit, but we're going to try and have that bounce continue," Trump said at the summit. "Perhaps even more importantly we want you to keep going with the incredible innovation. There's nobody like you in the world. There's nobody like the people in this room."
Ta'u, an island in American Samoa, has turned its nose at fossil fuels and is now almost 100 percent powered with solar panels and batteries thanks to technology from the newly combined Tesla and SolarCity.
The microgrid is operated by American Samoa Power Authority and was funded by the American Samoa Economic Development Authority, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Interior.
Radio New Zealand reported that the $8 million project will significantly reduce fuel costs for the island, which is located more than 4,000 miles from the west coast of the U.S. Ta'u's 600 residents previously relied on shipments of diesel for power. At times, a shipment could not arrive on the island for months, meaning the island had to power ration and faced reoccurring outages.
But the new microgrid replaces this reliance on dirty fuels with more affordable solar energy, as Peter Rive, SolarCity co-founder and CTO, detailed in a blog post about the project, adding that the microgrid is designed to optimize system performance and maximize savings.
"Factoring in the escalating cost of fuel, along with transporting such mass quantities to the small island, the financial impact is substantial," Rive wrote. He pointed out that the microgrid also eliminates "the hazards of power intermittency" and makes "outages a thing of the past."
The microgrid, which only took one year to build, features 1.4 megawatts of solar generation capacity (or 5,328 solar panels) and 6 megawatt hours of battery storage from 60 Tesla Powerpacks. An estimated 109,500 gallons of diesel will be offset per year.
"Before today, every time we turned on the light, turn on the television, turn on maybe the air conditioner, all of the cash registers in China, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia go 'cha-ching,' but not after today," SolarCity market development director Jon Yoshimura told Radio New Zealand. "We will keep more of that money here, where it belongs."
With the Powerpacks, the island can store solar energy at night, allowing for around-the-clock use. The microgrid allows the island to stay fully powered for three days without sunlight and can recharge to full capacity in only seven hours.
A hospital, high school and elementary schools, fire and police stations and businesses will be using the new clean energy source.
"It's always sunny out here, and harvesting that energy from the sun will make me sleep a lot more comfortably at night, just knowing I'll be able to serve my customers," local resident and business owner Keith Ahsoon told SolarCity.
"This is part of making history," Ahsoon added. "This project will help lessen the carbon footprint of the world. Living on an island, you experience global warming firsthand. Beach erosions and other noticeable changes are a part of life here. It's a serious problem, and this project will hopefully set a good example for everyone else to follow."
"Ta'u is not a postcard from the future, it's a snapshot of what is possible right now," Rive wrote. "Renewable power is an economical, practical solution for a growing number of locations and energy needs, and islands that have traditionally relied on fossil fuels can easily transition to microgrids powered by solar and storage today."
Shareholders approved the $2.6 billion bid by Tesla Motors to buy SolarCity, paving the way for the clean energy giant to become a one-stop shop for electric vehicles, rooftop solar and energy storage.
"I think your faith will be rewarded," Elon Musk said after the merger was approved by 85 percent of the company's unaffiliated shareholders.
"We can't do this well if Tesla and SolarCity are different companies, which is why we need to combine and break down the barriers inherent to being separate companies," Musk said in August when Tesla announced it closed the deal with SolarCity. "That they are separate at all, despite similar origins and pursuit of the same overarching goal of sustainable energy, is largely an accident of history. Now that Tesla is ready to scale Powerwall and SolarCity is ready to provide highly differentiated solar, the time has come to bring them together."
For a deeper dive:
Elon Musk doesn't just want to put solar tiles on top of your house, he also wants to put them on top of your car.
According to Futurism, shortly after the enigmatic Tesla CEO unveiled his company's latest twist on rooftop solar—glass tiles integrated with solar cells—he said on a Tuesday conference call that the technology will also be used for the Model 3, the company's mass market electric sedan.
"It is using a lot of techniques used in automotive glass business. In case it wasn't obvious with the announcement, Tesla has created a glass technology group—with some really phenomenal people," Musk said on the call, basically confirming Tesla's top secret glass division.
The Model 3's all-glass roof not only allows for more headroom, its integrated solar cells also generate heat and energy. Tesla
Electrek reported that Musk will be producing "Tesla Glass" in volume since it is fairly cheap, so it makes sense to it use extensively. The publication also noted that one member of the Tesla Glass group is director Mike Pilliod, a former materials engineer for Apple who was behind innovations like the glass touchscreen.
While Musk didn't give specific details about how the solar glass would work on a car, he later tweeted that the tiles would feature heating elements that can defrost a windshield or melt snow on the car roof all while generating energy at the same time.
When asked by a Twitter user whether the tiles would be working overtime as a defroster and a generator, Musk replied that the process will be “strongly net positive," or that it will use minimal energy.
As if he wasn't already all over the place, Musk made an appearance in Leonardo DiCaprio's new climate change documentary Before The Flood, and told the actor and environmental activist how we must transition from dirty energy.
"The fossil fuel industry is the biggest industry in the world," Musk told DiCaprio on the floor of his Nevada Gigafactory.
"They have more money and more influence than any other sector. The more that there can be a sort of popular uprising against that, the better, but I think the scientific fact of the matter is we are unavoidably headed towards some level of harm."
The vision behind the massive battery factory is to help the world transition to sustainable energy. In a blog post on Tuesday, the Tesla team elaborated on its mission of creating "the world's only integrated sustainable energy company, from energy generation to storage to transportation."
"This is our vision for the future—one that is sustainable, less expensive and just better," the post states. "We hope you agree that this is a future we should all want."
During a press event at Universal Studios in LA, Musk announced that Tesla will build and sell its own line of solar panels with integrated batteries.
"We're reaching record CO2 levels," Musk said as he began his presentation. "Global warming is a serious crisis and we need to do something about that."
"We need to make solar panels as appealing as electric cars have become," Musk said as he explained his vision.
The tiles, Musk boasted, are made of textured glass integrated with solar cells and look very similar to traditional roof tiles. The solar roof would cost less than a conventional roof and could be rolled out as early as next summer.
The upgraded PowerWall 2 will allow residential homeowners to replace their entire roof with solar panels, making it much simpler for homes to be entirely powered by solar power.
For a deeper dive:
Here's another thing that Elon Musk is on the verge of disrupting: Ride-sharing.
The Tesla CEO is already shaking up the global automobile industry with his fleet of electric cars, but now he's taking aim at ride-hailing services such as Uber and Lyft by creating his own car-sharing network—the so-called "Tesla Network."
Elon Musk's new autonomous car-sharing service will allow Tesla owners to make money from their electric vehicles when they are not in use.Flickr
On an Q3 earnings call on Wednesday, Musk said that future Tesla owners will be able to make money off their cars by renting them out for ride shares by using Tesla's Autopilot feature, its famed semi-autonomous driving system.
“This would be something that would be a significant offset on the cost of ownership for a car, and a revenue generator for Tesla as well, but the majority of the revenue would go to owners," he said, according to TechCrunch.
“This has been characterized as Tesla vs. Uber," Musk added. “But it's not Tesla versus Uber, it's the people versus Uber."
Musk means that Tesla owners will not be using their car's self-driving function to give Uber or Lyft rides. Rather, Tesla owners—or "the people"—are competing directly against these companies.
Musk has seemingly confirmed the creation of the Tesla ride-sharing after retweeting TechCrunch's writeup.
Just think, if the Tesla Network actually comes to fruition, a Tesla owner can make money by giving autonomous rides to the public while he or she is at work or on vacation. Instead of taking up space in a parking spot, the car can help ferry people from A to B.
However you feel about autonomous vehicles (here are some pros and cons) this nascent technology can be environmentally friendly.
"The key benefit of a self-driving vehicles is greater fuel efficiency," as EcoWatch's Dan Zukowski wrote recently. "The computer can drive better than you can. It will drive at a steady speed, will avoid jackrabbit starts and won't exceed the speed limit. Ultimately, a preponderance of autonomous vehicles could reduce traffic congestion by communicating with each other and traveling together in a controlled caravan. Car-sharing and carpooling make for more efficient use of roadways, vehicles and infrastructure devoted to parking."
Musk actually proposed his ride-sharing network idea back in July in his "Master Plan, Part Deux." He wrote:
"When true self-driving is approved by regulators, it will mean that you will be able to summon your Tesla from pretty much anywhere. Once it picks you up, you will be able to sleep, read or do anything else enroute to your destination.
"You will also be able to add your car to the Tesla shared fleet just by tapping a button on the Tesla phone app and have it generate income for you while you're at work or on vacation, significantly offsetting and at times potentially exceeding the monthly loan or lease cost. This dramatically lowers the true cost of ownership to the point where almost anyone could own a Tesla. Since most cars are only in use by their owner for 5% to 10% of the day, the fundamental economic utility of a true self-driving car is likely to be several times that of a car which is not.
"In cities where demand exceeds the supply of customer-owned cars, Tesla will operate its own fleet, ensuring you can always hail a ride from us no matter where you are."
Also on yesterday's earnings call, Tesla Motors reported its first quarterly net profit in more than three years. According to Fortune, Tesla posted a net income of $21.9 million and total revenue more than doubled to $2.30 billion.
"Record deliveries helped to offset rising expenses related to next year's roll-out of the company's mass-market Model 3 sedan," Forbes wrote.
Musk said the company could turn a profit again in the fourth quarter. Reuters noted that Tesla's positive earnings report should calm skeptics who have criticized the automaker's plans to acquire solar panel sister company SolarCity.
Airbnb hosts now have a major incentive to go solar. The home-sharing giant and SolarCity announced a new promotion today that will offer hosts up to $1,000 cash back if they install the solar company's panels.
The rebate is available to Airbnb hosts in the 19 states where SolarCity currently operates. Homeowners can choose the solar option that works best for their homes. The $1,000 offer is valid through March 31, 2017, after which it drops to $750 for the rest of the calendar year.
It was also announced today that new and current SolarCity customers who become Airbnb hosts will also get a $100 credit for a stay at an Airbnb property when they travel.
"Since 1998 we have had 15 of the 16 hottest years recorded and climate change is changing the way we make decisions—everyone is thinking about making better use of what we have," said Chris Lehane, Airbnb's head of global public policy and communications. "Travelers, especially millennials, want a more sustainable choice and homeowners want to make better use of the 13 million empty houses and 36 million empty bedrooms in the United States alone."
Travel can be an extremely carbon- and energy-intensive activity. Airbnb believes that staying at one of their rentals is better for the environment than staying at a typical hotel.
"Cleantech Group estimated that the average Airbnb guest night results in 61 percent less CO2 emissions as compared to a night in a hotel," Lehane said. The group also found that Airbnb travelers in the U.S. have saved 4.2 billions liters of water and cut back on greenhouse gas emissions equivalent to keeping 560,000 cars off the road for a year.
"At the same time, Airbnb is an economic empowerment tool for hosts who can use their homes—typically their greatest expense—to share space and generate a little extra money to pay the bills," Lehane added.
Lehane explained on a press call today that the partnership makes sense because both SolarCity customers and Airbnb users tend to look for ways to lower their environmental footprint, TechCrunch reported.
Toby Corey, president of global sales and customer experience at SolarCity, said that the new partnership "will create the first opportunity for many Airbnb guests to stay in a solar-powered home, and allow them to experience first-hand how easy it is to use clean energy to contribute to a cleaner, healthier society."
SolarCity says that its solar systems offset an estimated 150 metric tons of carbon dioxide pollution over its lifetime.
According to TechCrunch, Corey explained that since most of SolarCity's customers opt for the zero money down financing plan for installations, the $1,000 credit will be applied to their payback, reducing the overall repayment period.
The new partnership comes right before a shareholder vote on SolarCity's multibillion dollar merger with electric car company Tesla.
Tesla CEO and SolarCity chairman Elon Musk has an ambitious plan, dubbed Master Plan, Part Deux, of vertically integrating his two companies to seamlessly sell SolarCity's rooftop solar systems with Tesla's batteries.
In Elon Musk's "Master Plan Part Deux," he writes, "Given that we must get off fossil fuels anyway and that virtually all scientists agree that dramatically increasing atmospheric and oceanic carbon levels is insane, the faster we achieve sustainability, the better."Flickr
Musk, who is fully venturing into the renewable energy sector with his proposed SolarCity merger, also brought up the enormous subsidies the coal industry receives. He suggested that both companies compete without any taxpayer help.
"How about we both go to zero?" Musk tweeted.
The beef started when Murray appeared on CNBC's Squawk Box on Monday and accused Tesla of taking $2 billion from taxpayers and yet "has not made a penny yet in cash flow."
"Tesla is a fraud," Murray ranted.
ardent Donald Trump supporter, said that Tesla benefits from subsidies from energy policies supported by Hillary Clinton. According to Murray, the Democratic presidential nominee is "supporting her friends," or wealthy individuals such as Musk, Warren Buffett and the Pritzkers, with subsidies that have "nothing to do with supporting the environment."
Murray then threw in his two cents about coal's effect on climate.
"By the way, you could close down every coal-fired plant in the United States today, and you would not affect the temperature of the Earth at all," he said.
not the first time Musk has attacked fossil fuel subsidies. In May, he urged people "to revolt against the propaganda of the fossil fuel industry which is unrelenting and enormous."
"The fundamental issue with fossil fuels is ... every use of fossil fuels comes with a subsidy," Musk said.
The Tesla honcho said that cheap oil and gasoline prices not only prevent drivers from switching their gas-guzzlers to electric cars, it also deters the fight against climate change.
CNBC pointed out that renewables actually get far more direct federal financial support for electricity production:
"In 2013, electricity production and federal utilities that rely on coal received $1.08 billion in direct cash outlays through federal programs, tax benefits, research and development funding, loans and guarantees, the [Energy Information Administration] found. That amounted to 6 percent of such funding. In the same year, electricity production from renewables received $15.04 billion in funding from the same sources—or 72 percent of federal support of that kind. Wind accounted for about 39 percent of the renewables subsidies, and solar attracted 35 percent."
Still, it's no surprise that Murray, the founder of the largest privately held coal company in the U.S., is speaking out against energy alternatives. Murray has filed multiple lawsuits against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency over carbon regulations that he said would permanently destroy the coal industry.
Bloomberg wrote, "seismic changes in energy policy and competition from natural gas have pummeled coal miners, leading to bankruptcies and record production cuts ... Murray Energy announced earlier this summer that it was considering cutting more than 4,000 jobs, accounting for about 80 percent of its workforce, amid weak coal prices."
Here he is on Fox Business railing against Clinton's energy policies.