Solar, Tesla Offer Glimpse of New Energy Economy
If you want a glimpse of what the nascent new energy economy looks like, pull off Interstate 5 in Southern California just before the steep climb through the Tejon Pass. There amid a cluster of fast-food joints you'll find three Tesla Motors Superchargers sitting under a canopy of solar panels.
The 480-volt Superchargers, which resemble white mini versions of the monolith in "2001: A Space Odyssey," add 150 miles of range to the Tesla's Model S luxury electric sports sedan in 30 minutes. With six Supercharger stations in operation in California, Model S drivers can make a carbon-free dash down the coast from San Francisco to Los Angeles -- or to Lake Tahoe or Las Vegas -- without those nervous glances at the car's battery range indicator. And the cost? Not a penny if you're a Model S owner.
The solar panels installed by SolarCity juice up the Supercharger. Sunshine is free, after all, and Tesla chief executive Elon Musk told me that the panels will pay for themselves within a few years. (Musk is chairman of SolarCity, the Silicon Valley-based residential solar installer founded by his cousins, Lyndon Rive and Peter Rive.) Better yet, Musk expects to make money off the Supercharger stations by selling the excess electricity the solar panels generate to utilities.
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