I think I’ve figured Elon Musk’s grand plan. He really only ever wanted to colonize Mars, but to do that he understood that you really need a strong safe source of power to be able to do this. I recently read a book called The Martian, which I highly recommend if you’re a huge nerd and love space, where the main character is assumed dead and left behind on Mars. He knows from the very beginning he’ll have to stay alive for the next 400 Sols or so (Martian days). Two things are of paramount concern to him. Power and food. Food is a little harder than the power because he has solar panels, but that’s not going to be very effective for moving him to where he knows he needs to be in those 400 Sols. (This isn’t much of a spoiler, you learn all of this in the first few pages).
So with that in mind, you know that you need to be able to keep power going during massive sand storms, which is the reason why the main character was left on Mars. These can last hundreds of days and greatly reduce the effectiveness of solar panels. Furthermore, getting to Mars is a huge pain, which if you read The Martian, you’ll really understand the full impact of humans trying to get to Mars.
Elon Musk started 3 companies with the express intent of getting to Mars and enabling a colony to survive. First, Space-X, this solves the getting to Mars portion. It’s an effective private space company that has already landed some pretty massive contracts from NASA. The goal of this company is to continually drive down the cost of launching rockets and building capabilities for space travel. The second company is a battery company, Tesla. Yes, I know it’s a car company, but it’s really a battery company. If you wanted to create a vehicle for forcing higher capabilities in battery technology there’s none better than an electric Car. Musk plans to open the Gigafactory to feed the Tesla, but he already plans on using them in other places. He’s offered Boeing his batteries since they are safer than other companies’ batteries. Finally, his solar panel company, Solar City is a method for continually charging those batteries.
Elon Musk isn’t only trying to take out the car companies with Tesla. For the power grid batteries are effectively required to manage a renewable based power grid because there are times of no power from wind or sun. Musk already is deploying battery changing stations across the US. Right now these are powered by the grid and used to store energy. It’s likely he has designed these stations to be bidirectional so the grid can charge the batteries and power can be sent from the batteries to the grid. It’s likely that these stations will be topped with the best of the solar panels that Solar City is able to buy. Forcing more and more investment into higher capability solar panels.
As more Americans start to use Solar City, it’s likely that they will begin to offer batteries, made by Tesla, to help store excess power, some will go to the grid, some will be stored. This will then be sold to the grid during different hours to help stabilize the grid. Effectively, this could lead to a completely decentralized power grid where power companies only maintain the physical grid without generating any power.
As these various companies mature over time, they will continue to push the capabilities of their respective industries. This will have a positive impact on Musk’s true goal of colonizing Mars. He will continually have better and better solar panels to capture the weaker Martian sun. He’ll have more effective power/weight ratio for batteries that will charge almost in an instant. He’ll have a space ship that will get it there effectively and safely.
Elon Musk is building an empire to save humanity from itself. Overall, it’s pretty amazing.