Following up on the Elon Musk interviews and videos I shared earlier today, I’ve also got a couple of great ones featuring Tesla co-founder and CTO JB Straubel, who I think really doesn’t get enough credit for his brilliance and passion.
Here’s a great quote buried in an article in The Economist for which JB Straubel was interviewed: “One lunch was the beginning of what eventually became Tesla,” said JB. “We spent most of the meal talking about electric aeroplanes. But as we were wrapping up, I said I was working on a fun crazy project with cars, trying to build a lithium-ion battery pack that could last 1,000 miles.” (Not the impression I got from this video, featuring another co-founder, but I guess there were various “beginnings” from different people.)
Another interesting quote was regarding expected battery cost drops and the obliviousness of many to how these cost drops happen. “Most other companies do not believe that battery volume will grow as fast as it’s going to,” JB responded when questioned about a Lux Research report claiming Tesla wouldn’t bring costs down that much and the Gigafactory will sit at 50% overproduction. “They don’t understand the tight linkage between cost and volume. We’re at this crossing-point where a small reduction in cost is going to result in a ridiculously big increase in volume, because the auto industry is so big.”
JB also highlighted Tesla’s placement in the broader energy market, far beyond its place in the car market. “I see us more as an energy-innovation company,” JB said. “If we can reduce energy-storage prices, it’s the most important thing we can do to make electric vehicles more prevalent…. Add in renewable power and I have a direct line of sight towards an entire economy that doesn’t need fossil fuels and doesn’t need to pay more to do it.”
While many think this future is decades off, the fact of the matter is that the solar+storage market is already budding, and strong growth is projected in the coming few years. “The economics in many cases have already crossed a threshold where battery packs can effectively store renewables on a very big scale,” JB said. “Around 1,000 households in California already have a Tesla battery pack installed alongside photovoltaic panels leased from Solar City,” The Economist notes. But residential customers aren’t the front line for this combination, commercial customers are.
A lot of the rest of The Economist article covers basics of Tesla that we have covered many times, but it also discussed various against-the-grain decisions JB has made over the year that have helped Tesla become such a leader in this field.
And it has a bit of a fun history lesson on JB’s impressive past. “Mr Straubel, who is 38, made his first full-sized electric vehicle 14 years ago (a golf cart which he resurrected at the age of 14 doesn’t count). This was a 1984 Porsche 944 fitted with twin electric motors and 380kg of old-fashioned lead-acid batteries: a weighty proposition, but one that went on to become the fastest electric car in the world at a drag-racing event in California,” the unnamed author(s) of the article wrote.
Going on: “After graduating with a master’s degree in energy engineering from Stanford University, he worked with Harold Rosen (the designer of the first geosynchronous satellite) on a novel hybrid-drive system for cars. This used a turbine to generate electricity and a fast-moving flywheel to store and release kinetic energy when needed. Although the innovative combination worked, it was a leap too far for conservative carmakers, which declined to invest in it. Nevertheless, the pair licensed the technology to a company that makes flywheels for commercial vehicles. Mr Straubel and Mr Rosen went on to build a hydrogen-powered electric engine for aircraft, which was subsequently licensed to Boeing.”
Impressive stuff. Elon Musk deserves a ton of credit for his leadership, but I think it’s safe to say that Tesla wouldn’t be close to where it is today if it weren’t for Mr JB Straubel.
Coming back to the lunchtime chat between JB & Elon that was noted at the top, regarding the topic of electric airplanes (which we have given very little cyber ink to), JB thinks these could be in our not-too-distant future too. “In the foreseeable future, electric aeroplanes become an interesting and pretty compelling proposition,” JB said. That sounds like it goes against assumptions often made by several readers and myself — that electric airplanes really won’t be competitive for a long time, if ever, and we need advanced biofuels for them. But I guess it depends on what JB means by “foreseeable future” and I’m not sure which segment of the airplane industry he is alluding to. Clearly, some type of aircraft can much more easily switch to battery-powered electricity than others.
2014 Energy Storage Symposium
A couple of months ago, I shared the slides from a presentation JB gave at the Southern California Energy Summit. Thanks to a Tesla Motors Club forum member, below is a video of a somewhat similar presentation he gave at the 2014 Silicon Valley / SEEDZ Energy Storage Symposium. Enjoy!
Elon Musk & Tesla CTO JB Straubel Q&A In Norway (VIDEOS)
4 Elon Musk Interviews, Tons of Awesome Quotes
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