Science Thinking Large 


Written for Canadian Community News by Mike Sterling

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Elon Musk

There is a Canadian who does not receive rock-star notice.  He is far from shy and is in your face confident, however.

His name is Elon Musk who was born in South Africa and took Canadian citizenship later.  He was educated in South Africa, Canada and the United States.  He works in the United States.

He founded PayPal and currently is a principal in Tesla Motors, SpaceX and Solar City.  You can read his bio.  Click Here

He is a futurist.  With his money and ability to raise tremendous sums, He has impacted the following:

  1. The Internet w/PayPal

  2. Future travel w/Tesla

  3. Space travel w/SpaceX

  4. Power generation w/Solar City and Tesla

Of the four endeavors listed, Solar City generates a profit, Musk is long gone from PayPal.  The others are not a retirement investment.

The important thing is that he is thinking big.  With Tesla he has taken on the powerful auto manufacturers in electric cars and battery technology. 

He is not a rich crank.  He hires the best engineers and scientists.  Tesla has a very powerful research organization that knows how to make beautiful cars.

With SpaceX he is trying to do private enterprise space exploration both manned and unmanned.  That's a big project.  You have to be a true believer to be an investor in that.

The real winner in this mix of four may turn out to be Solar City.  He's a smart young man and he bases his thoughts with Solar City on a simple set of ideas.  Here they are:

1.  Solar panels are getting more and more efficient and their cost to manufacture is getting less and less.  There is no need for him to produce them.  They are much like computer memory.  The price is being driven down by international forces that want to produce the guts of the panels as a commodity.

2.  The money to be made is in the things that must be in place to make solar power possible as a viable source of home comfort and business use. He wants to be a provider of all the things that must go with solar energy.  These would be things like the wiring, storage batteries, inverters, insulation, connection to the grid and installation.

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He says without reservation that the numbers are with him on electric cars and also solar energy.

He is a kind of infant terrible in Silicon Valley attracting the largest venture capitalists.

I don't know how he would respond to the infrastructure costs to make his ideas possible.  He is counting on the incubator he has established in California.

On a wider scale he talks about transportation in general.  His concept of Hyperloop is interesting.  Why?  It includes assembly line manufacture for population centres like Toronto, Los Angeles and Boston to NY corridors.  It looks much like what railroads used to be.

He is supremely confident almost to the point of making one smile.  After all he had a great idea in PayPal and it worked. 

It was not a breakthrough at all.  Everything was in place.  No research was necessary.  The Internet demanded the solution and he and his friends were there at the right time to witness the results of their work and become billionaires.  He moved on to his dreams.

Another interesting idea he has involves a connection between his SpaceX vision and Tesla morphed into intercontinental travel.  How?

He points out that the higher you go the better electric power works.  That is, jet or propeller driven aircraft get less and less efficient as you go higher.  They have to breath ein a way.  At the same time electric power gets more and more viable because it does not suffer the breathing difficulties of conventional power sources.  The push you need gets less and less.

Now that's another big idea.

But the biggest of all involves nuclear power. He believes that he (and smart people he knows) can conceive and produce a viable nuclear fusion reactor for general use in a reasonable length of time.  That's a tall order.

Here is the bottom line.  You have to respect Musk's visions.  He has a lot of respect in Silicon Valley and in the high technology  industry.  He has had a lot of success.  He keeps pushing and he makes a difference.  In a way he is just crazy, but maybe Leonardo was a bit off too.

It could be that all his ideas will come to pass not through or by him, but because of him.  He will make mistakes so others do not.  Good for him.

Can he duplicate the power of the sun in all the ways he foresees?

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Monday, January 12, 2015