Elon Musk’s Disruptive Technologies And How They Connect

DEC 10 2014 BY MARK HOVIS 37

Elon Musk Takes The Stage To Demonstrate Tesla's 90 Second Battery Swap Earlier This Year

Elon Musk Takes The Stage To Demonstrate Tesla’s 90 Second Battery Swap Earlier This Year

Few individuals are leading as many disruptive technologies today as Elon Musk.  This article is a brief look at his three primary companies — Tesla Motors, SpaceX, and SolarCity– and how they benefit from each others existence.

Most technophiles are aware of Musk’s goal to send a man to Mars in his life time. This aspiration is believed to drive his numerous and varied innovations. Most are also aware of his two-pronged master plans for the electric vehicle and freeing the planet from fossil fuel transportation. Here is the short version of his master plan:

Build an electric sports car
Use that money to build an affordable electric vehicle
Use that money to build an even more affordable electric vehicle
While doing above, also provide zero emission electric power generation

Tesla Motors sets a path to Moscow in 2016

Tesla Motors sets a path to Moscow in 2016

Electric Infrastructure

Problem: EVs truly are the future and they have arrived. With over 250,000 PEVs on US roads today, there seems to be no turning back with this technology. Though the majority of the twenty plus EV models available today handle daily driving needs, there must be infrastructure in place to travel long distances. This can easily be solved by driving an EREV like the Chevy Volt and BMW i3, or driving your second ICE vehicle when available. But such practical trade-offs don’t interest Elon Musk. Tesla Motors insists on building all electric vehicles with ranges from 200-300 miles, car engineered not only for daily commutes but capable of traversing continents. Would the man who has his eyes on Mars expect any less? But this big dream requires a massive infrastructure.

Solution: In November 2014, Tesla Motors installed superchargers at a rate of one every 17 hours. In 30 days, 44 new superchargers spread across Tesla’s three primary markets of Asia, Europe, and North America.  As of December 10, 2014, there were 294 superchargers installed, 30 under construction and 17 permits.

Currently all units of the Model S 85 kWh automatically have access to the supercharger network for the life of the EV. Tesla Motors provides a $2000 option for their Model S 60 kWh EVs to provide lifetime use of its supercharger network.  Can you imagine such an offering with any ICE or upcoming hydrogen FCV? For the most part, Tesla Motors will have completed the primary supercharger infrastructure in these three markets by the end of 2015. Tesla Motors has released images on their website revealing supercharger network expansion into Moscow, Russia, in 2016.  One would reason that this increases the probability that Tesla Motors plans to market the Model III in this market as part of their first mass production wave.

Of course, even Tesla owners will do the bulk of their charging at home, while this tremendous supercharger network will provide transcontinental EV travel when desired.

Tesla Gigafactory Rendering

Tesla Gigafactory Rendering

The need for batteries

Problem: As EVs continue to rise, they will require an unprecedented quantity of batteries. Tesla Motors requires even a larger supply of batteries due to their extensive range. Requiring more batteries in their EVs could put them at the mercy of their supply chain.

Solution: $5,000,000,000 gigafactory. By 2020,  it is projected that Tesla Motors Reno, Nevada-based gigafactory will  be producing batteries equal to the entire 2013 global lithium ion battery market. With this move, Musk also chooses a different path toward supply chains. The bulk of all operations will be under one roof, from sourcing raw materials to assembling battery packs. The move to take charge of supplying the battery itself shows how Musk looks at the traditional supply chain in a different way, but the move toward self reliant gigafactories is even more telling. It is this mindset that begins to make our connection between Tesla Motors, SolarCity, and SpaceX.


Zero Emission Power Generation

Problem: Musk also stated that a mass produced EV should be manufactured at zero emissions. 43% of fortune 500 companies are committed to to some level of renewable energy, while 60% of fortune 100 companies are doing the same. To commit to 100% zero emissions is a bold vision shared by such forward thinkers like Google. Musk’s vision also aspires to offset the energy used through the superchargers with solar and wind energy as well.

Solution: Tesla’s choice of sites for its gigafactory is optimal for number of reasons that wouldn’t necessarily apply to other types of factories. First, Reno is one of the few global locations where the earth’s crust is easily accessible to geothermal energy, utilizing the natural heat from the earth’s mantle. This in itself will provide tremendous stable thermal energy for the vast number of furnaces used in their manufacturing processes.

Furthermore, an average day in Reno, Nevada receives five peak hours of sunlight. Based on 20% efficiency for rooftop photovoltaic panels, the gigafactory’s 10 million square foot roof could produce 850 MWh of solar power. In time, the 10 million square foot roof will be outfitted with photovoltaic panels, which brings us to the first connection.

Solar Farm

Solar Offsetting

Enter SolarCity

SolarCity has 3x the solar installations as its closest competitor. SolarCity’s 2014 acquisition of Silveo,  transformed the company from a panel installer to a panel manufacturer. Musk owned SolarCity is now building a 1.2 million-square-foot facility in Buffalo New York which will be one of the worlds largest photo voltaic facilities of its kind. The 10 million-square-foot Reno, Nevada battery gigafactory, and the ever expanding global supercharger network makes for an immediate connection of Tesla Motors and SolarCity.

As for future offsetting of supercharger power, it is worth noting that not every supercharger is likely to be the home of a solar array parking canopy, or at least to the needed size to offset the total energy usage. And for Musk’s vision of renewable offsetting, it means  that there may be large areas committed to renewable energy to offset the power derived from other power sources. As for storing the solar energy, we dare not even speculate, but we will note that if Musk chooses to do so, he need not look any further than Tesla Motor’s Reno Nevada facility to complete the supply chain connection too.  Looking forward, if Tesla Motors succeeds, they will generate the need for multiple gigafactories, on multiple continents, thus continuing the need to have access to a reliable solar panel supply chain.

Connecting SpaceX

spacex launchpad

Repurposed drone oil rig

Recently Elon Musk said his company SpaceX is “in the early stages of developing advanced micro-satellites operating in large formations bringing affordable internet to the globe.”  The Wall Street Journal reports that Musk is forming a relationship with WorldVu Satellites Ltd. founded by Greg Wyler, formerly of Google and O3b Networks. The two companies will collaborate on manufacturing facilities to manufacture  700 satellites at a cost of one billion dollars. 700 satellites is nearly 70% of the estimated 1000 operational satellites currently in orbit and 10 times the size of any single satellite fleet.

A micro-satellite design, combined with a reusable rocket, combined with a repurposed oil tanker platform capable of holding position within 3 meters in stormy waters gives SpaceX the special ability to get the 700 micro-satellites into orbit faster and more economically than any other company.

But that is getting ahead of ourselves. Step 1 is performing what has only been a dream of every rocket manufacturer to date which is landing a rocket for reuse. How close is SpaceX to  testing both a reusable Falcon 9 rocket together with the  drone ship that serves as a self-stabilizing landing pad even in rocky seas? The first landing attempt is scheduled for December 19.


Lets step back and recap:

  • In just a few years, this disruptive entrepreneur has built a luxury EV that has surpassed the likes of Lexus, Mercedes, BMW, Audi and others.
  • While doing so, he has committed to solving  the EV infrastructure issue on his own with lifetime access included.
  • He has broken ground on building the single largest battery factory in the world.
  • He has now committed to building the single largest photovoltaic solar panel factory in the world.
  • While no other government or private agency has been able to design a successful reusable rocket, SpaceX is perfecting the technology.
  • While there are roughly a 1000 operational satellites in orbit, Musk is preparing a plan to launch 700.

How will this latest venture fit into the mix? From the EV world, we have to ask if there is not a final piece of autopilot that could make good use of 700 strategically placed global satellites, thus connecting SpaceX to Tesla Motors. Elon Musk has claimed that Tesla Motors will lead the way in autonomous driving, or as Musk prefers, autopilot. Many have been quick to challenge that Tesla Motors is playing catch up when it comes to autonomous driving. It very well may be this issue that connects SpaceX to the trifecta.  At the same time that SpaceX stands a reasonable chance of blasting Tesla Motors beyond the competition by providing a tool to advance autonomous driving,  could the  projected advances in auto pilot advance the technologies to aid in his red planet adventures?

Maybe that’s reaching for the stars a bit soon, but either way the current events are worthy of a Marvel comic book story…

Categories: Battery Tech, General, Tesla

Tags: , ,

Leave a Reply

37 Comments on "Elon Musk’s Disruptive Technologies And How They Connect"

newest oldest most voted
George Bower

Good update on SpaceX. Even though it isn’t directly EV related I’d like to see more about what they are doing.


12 stories high!


I would argue that SpaceX is connected to Tesla and Solar City because the two companies will enable sustainable transportation on Mars as well.


More likely, a sustainable colony. And don’t forget the hyperloop – that may be more practical than shipping, or building, heavy cars with big batteries to/on Mars. His plans even included mounting solar panels along the entire length of the system on top of the tubes.


The Hyperloop would work without the vacuum pumps needed on Mars.


Wow, nice try to puzzle everything together. There is some logic in this. Makes you think of the days to come…

He has several noble ideas. My only concern is that he may be pulled in too many directions, which could inhibit his ability to get the Model 3 to market in a timely manner. Despite all the glam of Tesla S, Tesla X, and Space X, it’s the Model 3 that is critical to everything else. The vast amount of Tesla’s stock valuation is dependent on producing a profitable mass produced Model 3. Fail in that endeavor, and the stock tanks taking the rest of Tesla with it. I really hope Musk et al are able to design the 3 in parallel with the X so that the 3 doesn’t become 2+ years late to market The 3 comes out on schedule in 2017, AND delivers? Tesla stock goes to the Moon (or should I say to Mars) and Musk can fund all sorts of new products and get himself to Mars. The 3 is delayed quarter after quarter for 2.5 years like the S and X? Tesla stock tanks and it all implodes. The world is not going to sit around for 2 more years watching Tesla S 0-60 videos. Get the 3 out there. Mars can (and needs… Read more »

I’m all for the Model III except that Elon considers Tesla his 2nd company. SpaceX and getting humanity off planet is his first priority. He will leave Tesla as CEO eventually to focus on SpaceX. My guess is 2020 or later for his step down. I don’t expect him to leave the company in the lurch though. He’s a control freak and whoever he puts in charge will need to have a similar vision.


Well even without the Model 3 Tesla stock price would decrease but not collapse since the Model S would be ongoing. Remember the Model S is a standalone product, no competition and not even one in sight.

On the many task, sure that can appear to be distracting between many things, unless, as I believe, he is exactly exited by multiparallel thinking and just like to switch context, in which case it is not a negative but at contrary a cross dynamizing thing since it keeps him away from getting bored.


I wonder how much of a relationship there is between automatically landing a rocket and auto piloting an EV on a highway.
Maybe it isn’t just a coincidence that he calls it an Autopilot?


Well, Musk has publically stated that he prefers the term “autopilot” because the other terms, like “autonomous driving” suggests, and I’m paraphrasing here, a loss of control. Autopilot just goes where you tell it to, while the other terms make it sound as if the car is going to make decisions for you and leave you out of the loop.

That’s not the right phrasing – my brain is in the midst of the afternoon slump – but that’s the general idea.

Someone out there

So future Tesla cars will use Tesla’s own communication network instead of relying on 3G phone networks from other companies?

Tyl Young

The first car on Mars will be a Tesla.




What else would it be?



Hey, Mr. Hovis – don’t forget the hyperloop!

I know it’s not part of any of the companies actual projects, but it fits for transportation on Mars (SpaceX) and would be powered at least in part by solar panels mounted on top of the tubes (SolarCity).

Josh Bryant

Great article Mark!

I will add that there are few other intersections between SpaceX, Tesla, and Solar City.

SpaceX and Tesla:
1. Musk used his SpaceX aluminum design engineers to help figure out how to do the Model S chassis and body of “all aluminum”. (There are a couple pieces of steel for front/rear crumple zones.)
2. Musk used Tesla’s production engineering to figure out how to build large volumes of aluminum parts for SpaceX. In 2014, SpaceX will build more rocket engines than the rest of the world combined. (That was the claim anyway, I can’t verify it.)
3. Tesla designs and builds the battery packs used on the SpaceX rockets (Falcon) and spaceships (Dragon).

Tesla and SolarCity:
1. SolarCity is the preferred EVSE installer for Tesla, since they have tons of local electricians.
2. SolarCity will be the seller for home/business battery storage systems. Tesla will be the designer/supplier of these systems, with the cells coming from the GigaFactory. SolarCity has the relationships (and financing mechanisms) with the customers and utilities to sell these products, which is critically important.

Stephen Hodges

I enjoy spotting the cross-naming… so far we have falcon rockets and falcon doors, an X in spaceX and Model X… any more? Elon must have one of the biggest fan clubs in the world…

George Bower

Seems like I read that Space X lost the prime on the NASA contract for space deliveries and it went to Boeing. They are not totally out just not prime contractor now.

So the satellite network makes sense. That way they have another potential source of deliveries with an income stream attached.


Actually the Commercial Crew Development contract went equally to SpaceX and Boeing. The interesting thing is that SpaceX is substantially less to do the exact same thing. Boeing was awarded more money but that is what they needed to get it done. SpaceX is still in a major battle with ULA who does all the military launches. SpaceX should be certified within a few months and their cost is also significantly less against ULA. Right now NASA is paying the Russians to get our astronauts to the ISS. SpaceX will do it for a lot less.


At some point, he’s going to need to hire some CEO’s…


People forget: At the Dragon V2.0 Reveal Party, the “Glass Cockpit” in the spacecraft contained 4 large vertically mounted touchscreens. The only physical buttons were located in the middle of each pair. Those touchscreens looked just like what you find in every Model S / X, and even the GUI widgets– looked VERY similar to his cars.

Both his cars and his spacecraft also have nosecones, too. 😉


“Both his cars and his spacecraft also have nosecones, too. 😉 ”

Thankfully, not the same one!


Musk is that rare individual who has both high intelligence and is highly driven. I am sure most of you know people with varying degrees of each. Personally I have known a number of highly intelligent people who just had little drive to do much with it. There are also driven people, who can be a real drag, though they have energy they don’t know how to focus it, or they focus on the wrong things.
I would add that gathering like minded people to you in another talent Musk’s displays, but I think this partly learned and partly a result of the aforementioned aspects of his personality.


Get your ahss to Mahs… Get your ahss to Mahs… Get your ahss to Mahs.

George Bower

Here’a great presentation on the latest Mars expedition:

Gale Crater was once “Crater Lake”

One of the scientists on the mission said:

“We could learn more in 3 days if we had live astronauts on the surface than 1 year with a rover.

The Rover has found some really interesting things:


Go fro it Elon!

Strange not to have a connection to solar sails yet. Those could be used to direct extra sun light towards Mars and therefore rapidly increase the temperature. CO2 would boil and pressure would rise, plants could start growing in the lowest altitude regions like Hellas Planitia. Of course there would need to be a first incentive to develop solar sails but that could be the case considering lighting service to remote extreme north or south locations. In the north of Canada light in the middle of the polar winter would be handy at a mine site or even a city to create an artificial day service. Else it could serve to boost the production of a chosen PV park and even better, allow 24 h production. I looked into it for my deared Venus, where at contrary it could avoid too much sunlight and also create an artificial day service for floating cities (Geoffrey Landis way). Actually I never got the chance to test my rotomirror creation. It is a reflecting foil around a cylinder from which it unfolds when it start to spin due to centrifugal force. No structure required so it can be very light. When the unfolding… Read more »
Very good putting together the logic. Yes, SpaceX is the baby and first born. Not that the others are not important as well. Elon will tell you even today, that Paypal is not being run properly because he know the potential and still feels very connected. The fact is Elon already knows it’s going to require a lot more time and development for SpaceX goal to come to fruition. The work and resources will be 10X what is required for Tesla. Tesla and SolarCity are working hand in hand as the energy component. But they also provide part of the means in assisting SpaceX reach its goal. Setting up a colony on Mars is going to require a lot of resources. Fortunately, SpaceX has been getting more and more support from the private and government sectors. But there is a great deal of work and development needed and he wants to be able to provide that support even if no one else is willing. If he can do worth while endeavors that help the world and his fellowman, while earning a profit that can help provide him with the means to better support SpaceX all the better. Financial, engineering, public… Read more »