back to article Fear not, humanity – Saint Elon has finished part two of his world-saving 'master plan'

Solar-panel roofs on cars, compact SUVs, and high-passenger-density urban transport are all part of Elon Musk's self-titled "master plan, part deux" for the world. The SpaceX and Tesla Motors supremo has just finished writing the second part of his blueprint for the future of humanity. The ultimate goal is sustainability, Musk …

  1. pdh

    Reaching

    I admire Musk's achievements to date, but some of this seems less than realistic. Solar panels on the roof of a car? If you do the math, the best you can expect from a car that's out in the sun all day under a cloudless sky would be about 1 kilowatt-hour per day -- about 12 cents' worth of electricity. Under real-world conditions you can expect to get considerably less than that. Hardly seems worth the effort.

    1. John H Woods Silver badge

      Re: Reaching

      I know Musk is famously anti space-based-solar, but I'm pretty sure this is what we have to work on long term. Nuclear should fill the gap until then.

      1. scarletherring

        Re: Reaching

        I don't know the first thing about space-based solar -- but it seems to me there is no shortage of Earth surface area available for solar panels (Sahara, Gobi, fly-over US, you get the idea). Also, given the cost (and fuel consumption) of lifting stuff into space, would take quite some time to offset. What am I missing?

      2. Alan Brown Silver badge

        Re: Reaching

        Space-based solar is unlikely to ever be practical (there's also the issue of what happens if the downlink beam is deflected.)

        Nuclear (specifically LFTR) has several 10,000s years of readily available fuel and the cycle should produce less than 1% of the waste current reactors do.

        Bear in mind that on top of that, 60-plus% of mined uranium is discarded before it ever hits the inside of a current technology reactor and the process to refine what does yet used happens to be incredibly energy intensive - to the point where the actual numbers are regarded by the USA as a State Secret.

        Water-moderated/cooled nuclear tech is like a Neucomen steam engine - proof of concept but incredibly inefficient and wasteful compared to a Watt engine or steam turbine (LFTR thorium cycle)

    2. DMH

      Re: Reaching

      The article has got it wrong. It's panels on your house roof, not your car.

      1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

        Re: Reaching

        Already have the panels on the roof charging the car.

        What I can't do is afford the Tesla Premium. Just go see what their PowerWall costs. There are plenty of alternatives at half the price (or less).

        apart from the Model 3 which hasn't shipped one unit yet, all the Tesla cars are stupidly expensive. Ok, think of the 'early adopter' premium but even so, it is just silly.

        Then there is the price of replacement batteries. WTF? add a few choice swearwords and the price of a replacement battery is still in £££stupid level. My EV has replacement cells at around £50 each not thousands.

        1. goldcd

          I disagree

          (Not that I can afford one either).

          The world's full of perfectly functional cars that are cheap. Not cars you'd aspire to - but something that moves your meat-sack around.

          Now there are all manner of aspirational cars as well - all the way up to the super-cars and the sky's the limit for how much they'll cost.

          Tesla S isn't cheap.. but it's way way below what you could spend if money was no object - but if you want a fast accelerating tech-toy-box-on-electrical-wheels, it's the car to buy. There's nothing better.

          If that's what you're wanting, suddenly the "ultimate car" in that category is.. well comparatively affordable.

    3. Chrissy

      Re: Reaching

      But if that panel is mass produced and fitted at the time of the cars production, then its price becomes negligible...and if the life of your average car is say 15 years, that car sitting in a place with 365 cloudless days will still be saving 0.12x365x15 = 657USD of electricity that doesn't need to be generated elsewhere and transmitted with network losses into the car.

      Do nothing is not an option as he is correct... no replacement for fossil fuel = no civilization. 44 tonnes of food, washing powder or bogroll isn't going to get to your local Tesco by horse.

      1. pdh

        Re: Reaching

        You get that 657 USD only if the sun shines down from a cloudless sky for 15 years, and there's never any shadow on the car, and it's never parked in a garage. How realistic is that? I bet you'd be lucky to get $200 worth of electricity in real life, which would just barely cover the cost of the panels.

        Now if he really meant the roof of your house rather than the roof of your car, that's more sensible -- but with today's technology it's still not economically viable in many areas unless there's a subsidy involved.

        1. Chrissy

          Re: Reaching

          It works by averages, and the cost of the panels is dropping through the floor as mass-production gears up:

          https://www.amazon.co.uk/Photonic-Universe-monocrystalline-motorhome-campervan/dp/B00PX63M74/ref=sr_1_5?ie=UTF8&qid=1469132539&sr=8-5&keywords=solar+panel

          0.84 sqm of panel for £140, and that's with added value of a frame, and the retail markup

          I'm in SouthEast England...car parked on south facing drive almost constantly as I motorbike to work... lets say I get half the average as the UK is cloudy, so $326...

          Sven lives in Stockholm.... lets say he gets 1/4 the average out of his panels : $164

          Juan lives in Malaga... he gets 1.5 average output as he's in full sunlight most of the time: $985

          So their average is 492 per car..... 292 more than your (current) $200 cost of manufacture.

          There are 31.7million cars in the UK.... there aren't 30 million garages (or if there are 50% of them are full of household junk and 25% have been converted into extra rooms) , so I'd say a car parked in a garage is the unrealistic case, and if they do park in a garage its at night.

          Why not do house and car roof... if you're going to gear up manufacturing to make 16 sqm of panel each for 22m houses, why not make 18sqm of panel and divert those extra 2 at the car?

          1. pdh

            Re: Reaching

            Thing is, you're probably not going to get half the average in the UK -- you'd probably be lucky to get one-fourth the average. Juan in Malaga will do better, but in a climate with average or worse-than-average cloudiness, you're not going to get as much power as you might expect. Have you ever tried it?

            I have a panel similar to the one you link to, connected to a small charge controller to harvest the electricity and properly feed a battery. I've been using this setup to charge a couple of lead-acid batteries that run the lights in my one-room office (two 3-watt DC LED light bulbs) for over a year now, just as an experiment. I'm in the northeastern US, which is probably similar in cloudiness to you in the UK, and I'd be thrilled to get half of the theoretical maximum rated daily power from my panel. As it is, on a sunny day in the summer I can get about 80% of the rated output, for about 4 to 6 hours. Outside of those hours I get almost nothing, partly because of the angle of the sun and partly due to shade from surrounding trees and buildings. And on a sunny day in the winter I don't even get 4 hours of usable sun, since the it's so much lower in the sky.

            Shade just kills the output -- any shade at all. Clouds, or trees, or buildings, or any other source of shade. One surprising aspect of solar panels is that if you shade even a small part of a panel, the output drops dramatically -- way more than you'd expect. A panel that's rated at 50 watts may output 40+ watts in full sun here where I live, but if you put half of your hand in front of the panel, shading maybe 5% of of the panel area, your output drops to 5 or 10 watts. This is why I don't think most people in most places would get even half of the maximum rated power -- is the entire roof of your car really in full sun half of the time between sun-up and sundown, on average?

            South-facing solar panels on the angled roof of a house in a very sunny and treeless area -- those can work really well. Tilted to capture maximum solar energy, no clouds, no shade from trees or other buildings -- that's just ideal. But the roof of a car in most places, not so much. Based on my own experience, I just don't think you'd harvest enough energy to be worth the expense.

          2. Alan Brown Silver badge

            Re: Reaching

            "the cost of the panels is dropping through the floor as mass-production gears up"

            A large chunk of that price drop is because manufacturers are not paying attention to the incredible amount of pollution they're generating.

            There's a major environmental disaster unfolding very slowly around solar PV factories in china which makes the coal pollution look minor by comparison. Cleanup may take decades and there's a very real danger of hundreds of millions of people having their water supply polluted to undrinkability.

      2. Fungus Bob Silver badge
        Coat

        Re: Reaching

        "44 tonnes of food, washing powder or bogroll isn't going to get to your local Tesco by horse."

        Clearly, we need bigger horses.

        1. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

          Re: Reaching

          "Clearly, we need bigger horses."

          Or build the supermarkets next to canals. Just don't horse drawn barges to transport the fresh perishables :-)

    4. goldcd

      In this case though, I don't think it's really the cost that's the big deal

      It's the car generating it's own electricity.

      Would be nice to park your car at the start of the day, and find the battery a bit more charged when you wanted to go home.

      Or could maybe set it so once the battery was charged, it uses the panels to run the A/C at a low level - just making it a bit more pleasant whenever you decide to get back in.

      1. SysKoll

        Re: In this case though, I don't think it's really the cost that's the big deal

        Say you have 2 square meters of solar cells on the roof. They will generate about 300 W on a very sunny day. For 8 hours, that's 2.4 kWh. Suppose this goes straight to the battery with an 80 % efficiency, and you get 1.9 kWh

        A Tesla Model S P100D pack holds 100 kWh. So you recharged your battery by 1.9 %. Whoohoo. Hope you didn't count on this to go back home.

        Really, not worth the trouble nor the cost.

      2. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: In this case though, I don't think it's really the cost that's the big deal

        Or could maybe set it so once the battery was charged, it uses the panels to run the A/C at a low level - just making it a bit more pleasant whenever you decide to get back in.

        Running the AC compressor typically uses something like 3kW. Just running the ventilation fan, as some vehicles already can when the engine's off, uses a couple of hundred ways - both well beyond the capability of a solar panel on the car's roof.

        Sustainable energy policy needs a lot more practical engineers and a lot less wishful thinking and "every teensy weensy little bit helps" posturing from evangelists.

        1. pdh

          Re: In this case though, I don't think it's really the cost that's the big deal

          Exactly! Many people don't realize that small-scale solar (a few hundred watts or less, as in the car-roof example) costs very substantially more than grid power. Or they don't realize that "it costs a lot more" means "it requires substantially more resources to build and maintain" -- because to a first approximation that's what cost is, a measure of the resources that are required to create and deliver something.

          So choosing to put solar panels on the roof of a car actually wastes resources -- you're not helping the earth by doing that, you're just increasing your own resource footprint with a bit of conspicuous consumption. Telsa may well decide to offer the option anyway, but if they do it will be a marketing / business decision, not a sustainability decision.

    5. Adam 52 Silver badge

      Re: Reaching

      Hmm. When I do the maths I get 65kWh.

      And your 12 cents is unlikely to be a sustainable number long term.

      1. pdh

        Re: Reaching

        I got 1 kWh by assuming that the roof of a car is about one square meter. Wikipedia says "Ignoring clouds, the daily average insolation for the Earth is approximately 6 kWh per square meter." Today's solar panels are about 15 - 18% efficient -- call it one-sixth, so on average you can expect to harvest about 1 kWh per day per car roof -- but only if the car is sitting under an unobstructed cloudless sky all day long.

        There are are losses involved in taking the output from the solar panels to the batteries -- you have to adjust the voltage and depending on where the batteries are in their charge cycle you may have to control the current as well -- so the batteries won't actually get all of the energy that the solar panels capture, but I'm ignoring those losses for the purposes of this discussion. Like I said, the really big loss in a practical system comes from shade -- clouds and trees and such.

        How did you arrive at the 65 kWh number?

        When you think about it, 12 cents per kWh is just absolutely freaking amazingly low, especially when you consider the geographic reach of the system and the reliability that it manages to sustain, but that's the approximate average cost for grid power in the US today. I agree that it's not sustainable over the centuries if you have to get the energy from fossil fuels.

    6. Decade
      Paris Hilton

      Re: Reaching

      Solar panels on the roof of a car?

      Musk has failed with that part of his message. When I read it, because I pay attention to the industry, I knew he actually meant solar panel on roof of house, battery in the garage.

      But I see so many people read it as, solar panel on car, or battery on roof, or solar panel and battery on roof of car. Clearly, Musk needs to spell out every detail for people who don’t understand technology, such as The Register writers.

  2. fidodogbreath Silver badge
    Holmes

    Well, here's your problem

    Musk said Tesla is employing "partial autonomy" now

    I don't understand the benefit of so-called "partial autonomy." It's either autonomous or it's not. Clearly, Tesla auto pilot can lull the driver into inattention by creating a false sense of security. Unfortunately, it can kill you unless you pay constant attention to it. In that case, it's safer to just drive the @#$% car yourself.

    On the plus side, though, it feels very cool and futuristic...right until the moment before impact, when you realize that your shiny toy is about to kill you and your passengers.

    1. zanshin

      Re: Well, here's your problem

      The "partial autonomy" question is indeed interesting. This is actually recognized as an issue with commercial jet pilots, based on the outcomes of investigations into (rare) crashes. One of the conclusions is that the pilots have become so accustomed to not having to manage airplanes in flight that some crashes were, in essence, *caused* by the pilots doing the wrong thing when the autonomous system needed them to take over.

      And those are people who actually have quite a lot of training, in stark contrast to the typical automobile driver. Granted, most of us on the road today probably have a lot of man-hours spent handling a car, so one would hope we wouldn't be hopeless at responding if our car suddenly screamed at us to do something. But we're talking about a future scenario where most of the man-hours spent in the driver's seat of a car will be spent *not* actually driving it, by design. Given how pants we are at that sort of thing today (collectively), with the long experience driving many of us have, needing to react in a crisis when you're not actually used to doing anything with the car doesn't inspire great confidence in me.

      If the semi-autonomous thing is meant to just be a stop-gap until the systems are so good they really don't need us to ever step in, well, let's hope these things actually improve at self-driving faster than our driving skills atrophy due to over-reliance borne of them handling "everyday" driving properly.

      1. Anonymous Coward
        Anonymous Coward

        Re: Well, here's your problem

        Not to mention that when the car yells "Your turn!" it's going to be because something complex has happened that the car doesn't understand, and for which the driver will presumably have no situational context.

        What are the early tests showing - something like 17 or 18 seconds for a driver to regain situational awareness after a handover? You can drive under a lot of trucks in 17 seconds.

      2. veti Silver badge

        Re: Well, here's your problem

        I so want a 'semi-autonomous' car that screams 'DO SOMETHING' at me now.

        Preferably in the voice of Plankton's "wife", Karen, from Spongebob.

    2. Vector

      Re: Well, here's your problem

      In a world where people will drive into a canal because the GPS told them to, "partial autonomy" scares the crap outta me!

    3. Adrian 4 Silver badge

      Re: Well, here's your problem

      So, what is something like cruise control ? Removing the need to hold your foot on the accelerator reduces the attention you're giving it (and you can bet that spare attention isn't being spent on the road ahead).

      If the Tesla's autonomy helps put back some of that lost reaction time by slowing the car when it detects a change in conditions, it's doing a useful job.

      1. tiggity Silver badge

        Re: Well, here's your problem

        I still pay attention when using cruise control, mine is basic i.e. not adaptive

        I actually use it as a safety measure - I enable it so I can spend more attention looking at the road / hazards on the many UK road stretches covered with speed cameras - with cruise control I am not forever having to sneak a few glances to keep checking my speed to avoid a fine (in some areas just a small amount over the limit gets a fine), instead I am spending time taht would have been spent on speed checks looking out for hazards.

    4. Dr. Mouse Silver badge

      Re: Well, here's your problem

      I don't understand the benefit of so-called "partial autonomy."

      So you don't understand the benefit of ABS, traction control, cruise control (regular or adaptive), automatic emergency braking, automatic headlights and wipers etc.?

      "Autopilot" is, in essence, an advanced evolution of cruise control. It should be touted and named as such, because that's what it is. Used correctly, it increases safety. Used incorrectly, it becomes dangerous.

      I, personally, used cruise control all the time. It allowed me to set the car to the speed limit where safe to do so and fall back to manually controlling speed where conditions required. While on cruise, more of my attention could be focused on the road, junctions, pedestrians, and any other hazards. When I saw a hazard, a quick flick of the lever or tap of the brake knocked cruise off.

      Used as a driver aid, these systems are a great idea. Misused, they can be hazardous, but not as much of a hazard as the idiot meatbag who isn't paying attention.

      1. Vector

        Re: Well, here's your problem

        "So you don't understand the benefit of ABS, traction control, cruise control (regular or adaptive), automatic emergency braking, automatic headlights and wipers etc.?"

        All of these are assistive systems, not autonomous. They help you with the task of driving instead of doing the driving for you.

        The problem with partial systems, such as the one being beta tested in Tesla models, is that they give a false sense of security. The theory is that, even though the car is doing the driving, you will still be attentive to the task, but the fact is even the best of us will have a hard time maintaining that focus with no active involvement particularly over long periods.

  3. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    "SARDINE-O-TRON!"

    'High-passenger-density transport'

    1. Steve Davies 3 Silver badge

      Re: "SARDINE-O-TRON!"

      you mean travelling on 'The Drain' at 08:30 on a Wet monday morning?

  4. allthecoolshortnamesweretaken Silver badge

    Yeah, yeah, yeah... but this guy doesn't just talk, he actually gets stuff done. Some of it will work out well, some of it won't. Only time will tell. But things are happening, and that's good.

  5. Roq D. Kasba

    I never knew what to make of Elon

    I used to think he was a big talker who'd got lucky with his dotcomboomandbust1.0 selloff , but he does seem to be more than that. He actually does actual business, and makes things happen, and has genuine vision.

    USA, sack Trump off - this is the guy Trump pretends to be.

  6. John Riddoch

    Big dreams...

    Let's be honest, a lot of what Elon Musk is talking about is relatively pie in the sky, but it's where things need to be headed. If we stick with the "realistic" and "achievable" goals, we'll never get there. Aim for the sky and even if it falls short, there's a chance to make things better. For now, it'll take a lot to wean the world off oil but he's made the first "cool" electric cars which are affordable (albeit still more expensive than an equivalent petrol/diesel).

    1. Goldmember

      Re: Big dreams...

      "a lot of what Elon Musk is talking about is relatively pie in the sky"

      People said the same thing of SpaceX and cheaper, reusable rockets. Look how that's turning out.

      Hats off to the guy. I'd like to think I'd do cool shit like that if I was a billionaire.

  7. Ed 13

    "The wacky technology entrepreneur also wants heavy-duty trucks and buses run on electricity instead of fossil fuels too..."

    I think you'll find they are called electric trains, and the French have got one up to 350mph under test, and several countries have then running in service at over 200mph. It's a really well proven technology that have been in development for around 200 years. You don't need wacky ideas, you just need the commitment to use the technology we have.

    Is it just me, or does anyone else think of the Simpsons 'Monorail' episode whenever anyone mentions the Hyperloop project?

    1. DropBear Silver badge

      I'm afraid the cat's out of the bag there. Trucks take your stuff from point A to point B, trains take your stuff from point X to point Y none of which is where your stuff is or wants to get to. It's certainly not _impossible_ to transfer cargo twice, it's just that nobody seems to be willing to take such pains unless faced with the barrel of a shotgun, at the very least, as long as they can just use a truck (and that's assuming that there even IS an X somewhere near to A and a Y right next to B...).

      1. cd

        On this planet we have something called intermodal. You could look it up.

      2. You aint sin me, roit

        trains take your stuff from point X to point Y

        As do most heavy trucks - running between mass depots.

        We really do need to convince people that a line of trucks nose-to-tail on the motorway would be more efficient (and safer) if replaced by a single drive unit, linking the trucks together and putting them on rails.

        But that kind of thinking doesn't go down too well with the road lobby.

      3. John Brown (no body) Silver badge

        "Trucks take your stuff from point A to point B, trains take your stuff from point X to point Y none of which is where your stuff is or wants to get to."

        Oddly enough, that's how the UK bulk cargo used to work, back when we had a rail network that went to most places. Even after all those cutbacks, every large town, city or conurbation had a freighliner terminal where standard shipping containers were shifted between rail and road pretty easily.

        What killed that here was a switch to JIT deliveries (and British Rail silly costs!!) because no one wants capital tied up in en route cargo, they'd rather it was available for overnight investments. The road haulage industry stole a lot of business because of this but in some areas of shipping rail and even canals are taking some back. At least until recently some cola fired power stations were fuelled by canal deliveries.

    2. fandom Silver badge

      Sweden just got an electric highway

  8. Oengus Silver badge

    Tesla's answer to Uber

    Owners of Tesla cars can add their car to the taxi pool, loaning it out to passengers in need when they aren't using it themselves The income generated from people renting their cars will decrease the cost of owning a Tesla vehicle, Musk wrote.

    You can bet that Musk is looking for a way to grab a slice of this to increase his profits (not to decrease the cost of ownership). Watch for the sharing to be a Tesla service that has a 30% service charge.

    1. bazza Silver badge

      Re: Tesla's answer to Uber

      He maybe won't get that greedy, but it'll never happen anyway.

      Whilst sharing one's car Uber style whilst one is at work, etc. sounds cool, there's a lot of problems. The owner of the car would be legally liable for its condition. There's no getting round that. If it crashes because some autopilot sensor hasn't been cleaned, the owner carries the can (not Tesla, not the passenger). In fact, any incident would probably descend into a dispute between Tesla and the owner, dirty sensors or not...

      And the other issue is personal space; a car is a personal space. We all leave things lying around, sunglasses, maybe a bit of money, the camera in the glove box that we forgot to take out after the weekend, etc. What's to stop any of that getting pinched by passengers whilst the car is off on its own touting for custom?

      It's a pipe dream. We're no where near having a fully autonomous and completely reliable self driving car. Musk is in dreamland if he thinks his engineers can actually deliver such a system any time soon. We can't make airliners that can fly themselves (arguably all we've achieved is to have raised a generation of pilots who can't fly either), UAVs crash all the time, etc. The only thing we do have is autonomous trains, which succeed solely because they run on rails and there's nothing to get in the way.

      Besides, people will soon go off the idea of sharing their own car with someone else whilst they're not in it once a drunk has puked up in the back. Self cleaning car? I don't think so.

      1. Roq D. Kasba

        Re: Tesla's answer to Uber

        How much of this is insurmountable? Considering the guy has developed space rockets and electric cars, let's assume he's probably able to put a lock on a glove box, or have an autonomous vehicle self-test/drive itself to service point for a sensor polish before switching over to the Tesla Taxis fleet insurance policy?

        Do you really think airliners can't fly themselves, by the way? There's a classic aviation joke that modern planes are designed to have a pilot and a dog in the cockpit - the dog's there to make sure nobody touches the controls, and the pilot is there to feed the dog.

  9. aelfheld

    'Til the money runs out

    Not one of Musk's enterprises would be feasible were it not for massive infusions of tax dollars sluiced through federal, state, and local programs.

    The only thing sustainable about Musk's endeavours is the gullibility of politicians.

  10. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    Take a closer look at Musk's businesses

    You will find that all three are underwritten by U.S. tax payer money or they would not even exist today. Every time each Biz is ready to go tits up, Musk gets hundreds of millions of tax payer money via (corrupt) politicians. After Musk convinces people the businesses are great, worthy and viable he does an IPO and the suckers buy in with millions expecting to cash in on a shell game. If they are lucky enough to cash in while other suckers are still buying in, they win. But when the second shoe drops, all except Elon will suffer loses.

    So far Tesla has not made a DIME in profit - even with their "creative accounting" that many question. Selling the model S at a $4,000 loss per car doesn't create profits to deliver the third Tesla model that is designed to make Tesla profitable based purely on volume sales. If Tesla sells the third model at the advertised price, they will lose money on it just like with the Model S that has many technical and quality control defects. That is why NHTSA has at least two concurrent investigations into the deaths of drivers in model S vehicles who were using the autonomous mode when killed.

    1. Anonymous Coward
      Anonymous Coward

      Re: Take a closer look at Musk's businesses

      "Selling the model S at a $4,000 loss per car doesn't create profits" you have failed to understand the difference between per item profit and company profits. This is understandable due to a number of journalist making there point badly.

      The 4000 figure is if you take tesla's losses and divide it by the number of cars sold, now if tesla did nothing but sell its current cars this would be a useful number but tesla is design a number of new cars and truck as well as build a very large battery factory and scaling up production and ...

      So you would need to look at the cost of making the car against sale price to say if it is profitable to make the car.

      I don't have the time At present to look out the articles but you can find them with a search that shows each tesla car make a nice profit.

  11. Brian Allan 1

    Beta Testing

    "Musk said Tesla is employing "partial autonomy" now and promised it would improve its beta version until driverless cars were at least ten times safer than the US vehicle average."

    In the software industry beta testers gets paid not killed! Driveless cars should maybe go back to the drawing board for a bit...?

  12. Anonymous Coward
    Anonymous Coward

    No problem

    I would rather have this than the NSA / GCHQ master plan which is to put a thought chip in everyones head to make sure we don't think anything naughty.

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