We expect historic changes to be a bit dramatic. We think of “Evrika!” moments when inventors discover new technologies that make our lives better.
The reality, however, seems to sneak up on us. We now know how important the Internet is but few would have guessed it when it was used to exchange short bits of information between academics. Same for Google – it is now easy to see how important having the global stream of information at your fingertips actually is. But it was a lot harder when the concept was still in its infancy.
Not even Steve Jobs could have predicted the impact the iPhone would have on the world. And I believe Elon Musk will look back on these days and be surprised by the changes Tesla brought to the world.
When Elon Musk announced the Powerwall, the world shook a little bit. Its beautiful design and promise of energy independence seemed almost dreamlike. But the Powerwall shows a far larger vision than just making the home energy independent.
It is a promise that we could harness the virtually unlimited energy of the Sun and store it. Storage, you see, is the real problem. The complex systems we use are powered by energy that is consumed almost instantly. Our cars, our electronics, our planes – they feed on streams of energy as it is formed. Even the best energy storage systems fail after a short while.
The batteries that can save the world
The promise that one day a company (could it be Tesla?) can find a way to harness and store the sun’s energy (or any type of green energy for that matter) has an impact we can hardly predict.
The implications range from pollution reduction to geopolitics to economics. Especially economics. To understand how much we could save by switching to green energy, have a look at this estimate for an average Tesla car compared to one running on fossil fuel:
Think that’s a lot? That car “only” logs 120 000 miles. Compare that to the 397.8 billion miles logged by all trucks used for business purposes (excluding government and farm). In the US alone.
Now mix the numbers and add the savings Tesla’s technology can bring.
Add something else: sun-powered electricity. Think of trucks and ships that can move goods around without any need for refueling.
Because that’s where the real change comes in. When products are manufactured and shipped at a tiny fraction of what they are today, everything changes.
When we take out the distribution costs, the energy costs and any other costs associated with energy from our current commerce paradigm, everything changes in the world.
The products we buy would have costs that would be driven to the ground. Without costs associated with energy consumption and storage, goods would be manufactured cheaper and faster (instant energy), shipped cheaper and faster and consumed by more. We could have cheaper products, consumed by more and believe it or not, more profitable to sell.
But how could the system change?
There is only one thing stopping this: the current transportation and energy system. Musk’s vision has already stirred things a bit with car dealers. What happens when the company will go against the global leaders in energy and transport companies, the ones still relying on fossil fuels? These companies would have to change or fight the change. The former is what one might expect.
That’s where the Uber concept comes in. Uber connects, as you know, smaller professionals that provide transportation services. Right now this is limited to personal transportation. Uber, today’s Uber, acts as a glorified cab dispatcher.
But tomorrow’s Uber may have bigger ambitions. Somewhere behind the scenes, investors know that there’s more to Uber than meets the eye. The reason the company landed a $41 billion valuation is that it has the potential to change the global transportation system. Not just personal transportation but all kinds of transportation.
That includes making sure goods are quickly moved from manufacturing to storage to the consumer. Don’t take my word for it. Uber has been experimenting time and again with logistics. And if Uber won’t, there are other companies that will.
So you have virtually unlimited power. You have storage. You have the a system that makes sure goods are sent to the right destination by the optimum freight. This means the kind of change we now can’t fully comprehend.
It means that good is now in motion.