The Future of Solar: Tesla's Mission for Energy Independence

Kyle Weikert
January 13, 2017

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2016

Introduction: Tesla's Journey

History was made in the world of solar energy in mid-November when Tesla shareholders finally approved the purchase of SolarCity, the largest solar energy services provider in the US. Despite revolutionizing the automaker industry over the past decade, founder Elon Musk aims to ultimately transform his Tesla into the only vertically-integrated energy company in the world. By adding SolarCity's microgrid system that includes rooftop panels and energy batteries, Musk is another step closer to powering homes in addition to cars. Now equipped with recently introduced solar roof tiles and a home battery, Musk has set his sights on the challenge to make entire civilization energy independent. Tesla's home energy independence "package" has three main features: a photovoltaic storage battery, rooftop solar panels and an electric car charger. After a relatively painless installation process, any home or building can be completely powered by the light captured with the roof panels. [1]

The Ta'u Island Project

On November 22, 2016, Tesla announced that Ta'u Island in American Samoa runs entirely on clean energy following a massive project spearheaded by Tesla and funded by the American Samoa Economic Development Authority, the Department of the Interior, and the Environmental Protection Agency. With a population total of just 600, Ta'u had been reliant on the importation of 109,500 gallons of oil per year. Make no mistake; finding a substitute energy source for 100,000 gallons of gasoline is a tough task. At the conclusion of the project, over 5,300 solar panels and 60 Tesla Powerpacks had been installed on the island. Because the system can fully recharge in 7 hours of daylight, residents of the island can now use electricity around the clock while enjoying the cost savings of not purchasing gasoline. Perhaps even more monumental is the impact that Tesla has had on the environment. Neighboring islands such as Hawaii and Dubai have supported and applauded Tesla's effort to reduce carbon emissions. For a civilization of people whose homes and lives are dependent on the health of the ocean and beaches, this is a saving grace. [1]

On the Horizon

In accordance with his "master plan," expect for Musk to continue to chase his vision and build on the success that was demonstrated by the Ta'u Island project. Tesla will push forward on their mission towards worldwide energy independence by increasing the scale of their projects and the size of power produced. Earlier this year, reports were released that discussed a Tesla-led project that would aim to supply close to 50% of Hawaii's Kauai island energy needs. As mentioned briefly in the previous section, islands have historically dealt with expensive oil prices due to high transportation costs. Tesla's work with islands will go a long ways towards hopefully rebutting many their economies and environmental health. Tesla was also recently granted the opportunity to build and provide the Powerback system used for the Southern California Edison Mira Loma substation. The proposed design would be the largest lithium ion battery in the world. [2]

As more and more houses go solar, public utilities may be run out of business. Modern-day electrical grids have been rendered useless with the development of these single-unit, fully sustainable energy installation packages. While traditional energy resources like coal mines, fossil fuels and nuclear plants have powered homes for hundreds of years, earth's climate has reached its tipping point and we must look to minds like Musk's for relief.

© Kyle Weikert. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] A. H. Tullo, "Tesla to Launch Solar Roofs," Chemical and Engineering News 94, No. 44, 15 (November, 2016).

[2] C. T. Atkinson et al., "Effects of Climate and Land Use on Diversity, Prevalence, and Seasonal Transmission of Avian Hematozoa in American Samoa," University of Hawaii at Hilo, Technical Report HCSU-072, January 2016.