Elon Musk has a history of making big announcements. You’re bound to have made a few when you revolutionize space travel and automobiles, help launch a solar energy company, and propose an alternative mode of travel, all before your 44th birthday.
His accomplishments with Paypal, SpaceX, Tesla Motors, and SolarCity have earned him billions of dollars and more than one comparison to Tony Stark, but last week he revealed his most ambitious goal to date: changing the way we produce and use power.
Musk unveiled Tesla Power, a company that makes rechargeable, lithium-ion battery systems for homes, businesses, and utilities. Its consumer-oriented product is a wall-mounted unit that can provide load shifting, backup power, and solar power storage. For anyone living in areas where power outages are common or peak electricity rates are particularly high, the practicality of such a system is probably apparent.
But it’s clear from Musk’s announcement that his vision for the battery system is much grander than a backup generator. He imagines households using them to get off the traditional utility grid entirely, trading electricity generated by fossil fuels for solar power. After demonstrating a utility-scale version of the product, he laid out a plan for transitioning the entire planet to renewable (primarily solar) power.
An idea that ambitious should be met with skepticism, and even those who find Musk’s plan inspiring aren’t suggesting it will work. But big ideas don’t have to be fully realized to make a large impact on business.
Consider some of Musk’s other big ideas. Tesla Motors may never be profitable (even Musk isn’t holding his breath), but its success has already forced other automakers to up their game, and the company continues to challenge the dealer model that defines how new cars are marketed and sold. Whether or not SpaceX successfully colonizes Mars, the company has already played an enormous role in privatizing the US space industry.
Tesla Power could change the world or disrupt the energy sector or just sell a few batteries before a different technology or company supersedes them. But as of today, the company is building a major battery manufacturing plant, retail channels are being established, and several businesses and utilities have signed on for pilot projects. Developments like that can affect your customers and prospects and — depending on your market — even your own company.
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Josh Lower is an industry editor for First Research/Hoover’s.
Image courtesy of Tesla.