Elon Musk dares to go where no one has gone before. After co-founding PayPal, he started deluxe electric car company Tesla. Why? Because keeping the Earth’s air clean ranks high among his personal and business priorities. Musk believes that more people should drive nonpolluting electric cars.
That’s one reason Musk says in his blog that he will make Tesla’s electric car patents open source — available to any manufacturer who, “in good faith, wants to use our technology.”
“It is impossible for Tesla to build electric cars fast enough to address the carbon crisis,” he writes, because “we believe that Tesla, other companies making electric cars, and the world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform.”
Besides $100,000 cars, Tesla manufactures high-capacity batteries for utility companies, businesses and homeowners. Tesla’s residential Powerwall battery was launched in April. Electric vehicle and battery manufacture is the big business of the future to entrepreneurs like Musk.
The longest-range Tesla gets 483 kilometers per charge, according to the company. But can the high-priced Tesla electric cars and storage batteries take off in countries like India and China, where air pollution is a pressing problem?
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Tesla during his September U.S. trip — maybe to find out if an affordable version could be made in India. A new entry could create more jobs in India and competition for Mahindra and Tata, companies that already manufacture electric cars. Musk, who showed Modi around the factory, said they discussed how solar panels and batteries can bring electricity to rural communities, skipping the usual power grid and going straight to sustainable, off-grid power generation.
Monica Varman, an India-born Harvard Business School MBA candidate who previously worked for Tesla, is optimistic, but admits that first India must strengthen its electric grid. Until that happens, she said, “I think the way electric vehicles could take off is to combine them with a distributed energy source. If you had car-charging locations separate from the grid — what is called distributed generation — and people had solar panels and energy storage in their homes that powered their electric vehicles, I think it could work very well. It could also work for municipal transportation, such as buses.”
At an Edison Electric Institute event in July, Musk indicated that, in his view, solar energy has the greatest promise when compared to other renewable-energy technologies available.
Musk, to whom the sky is literally the limit (given his SpaceX project to find habitable planets), has said, “If something is important enough, even if the odds are against you, you should still do it.”