Posted on December 10, 2016 by Matt Pressman
Guest Blog Post: Charles Morris is the Senior Editor of Charged, the magazine of electric vehicles, for which he writes a daily blog and regular print articles. He's also written five books including Tesla Motors: How Elon Musk and Company Made Electric Cars Cool, and Sparked the Next Tech Revolution.
Tesla Motors [NASDAQ: TSLA] co-founder and CTO JB Straubel gave a talk at the recent World Energy Engineering Congress, in which he touched on a number of interesting points. He started by noting that Tesla wasn’t founded just to sell cars, but rather to help build a sustainable energy and transportation system, a necessity to save civilization from the threat of climate change.
Above: Tesla co-founder and CTO JB Straubel (Image: Korea Joongand Daily)
The highly articulate Straubel recaps the history of the company, explaining how designing an electric vehicle (EV) with a “clean sheet of paper,” and thinking like a disruptive Silicon Valley entrepreneur (instead of like an established automaker) led to the great success that Model S has enjoyed.
Above: JB Straubel at the World Energy Engineering Congress (Source: AEE*)
JB touches on a number of timely topics. On security: “You can never engineer these connected systems to be 100% secure - it isn’t how the world works.” That’s just one reason why Tesla’s over-the-air update model is so valuable - security flaws can be fixed in nearly real time. Software companies have been doing this for years, but car companies are slow to embrace this model. Someday however, “every single car will be this way.”
Above: Inside the Tesla Model S (Image: Gas2)
On public charging infrastructure: “We realized that this was fundamental to the value of the car [however] a lot of carmakers see the infrastructure as someone else’s problem to worry about.” Other automakers waited to see if governments, utilities or oil companies (ha!) would build charging infrastructure, but Tesla jumped in and started building its Supercharger network. Today, Tesla owners can drive from coast to-coast “more or less like they’re driving a gasoline car.”
Above: Tesla Superchargers (Instagram: buchingerkuduz)
On improving battery technology: “It isn’t the case that lithium-ion [technology] has plateaued. Every single year, we’re seeing something around a 5% energy density improvement.” From the Roadster to Models S and X, Tesla realized a “net integrated improvement” of around 40% in battery performance, and JB expects to see another 20-30% improvement by the time Model 3 hits the road.
Above: Panasonic's 18650 lithium-ion battery cell for Tesla (Instagram: yancki87)
Straubel makes some exciting comments about Tesla’s rapidly expanding stationary storage business, including the story of how Tesla technology enabled an entire island in American Samoa to ditch its dirty diesel generators and run on 100% solar power. The developing world presents huge opportunities to build a modern distributed, sustainable power grid from a “clean sheet” - something like what Tesla did with Model S.
Above: Tesla Powerpack (Image: Tesla)
JB also sat down for a roundtable discussion with John Hofmeister, a former president of Shell Oil. Interestingly, the two men agree that they’d like to see some sort of consistent government energy policy, which would allow companies to do more long-range planning. Of course, for Hofmeister that means support for more domestic oil drilling, while for Straubel it means support for renewables.
Above: JB Straubel, John Hofmeister and David Gregory at WEEC discussing energy policy, energy storage and potential of renewables (Source: AEE*)