Musk says triple the electricity needed for sustainable energy future

Published on June 13, 2023 by Liz Carey

Credit: EEI

As the U.S. economy moves toward more electrification, the energy grid will need triple the electricity currently available to reach a sustainable future, billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk said.

During a keynote speech at Edison Electric Institute’s EEI 2023 conference in Austin on Tuesday, Musk discussed the needs of a clean energy economy with Pedro Pizarro, President and CEO of Edison International and newly elected chair of the board of EEI.

Musk, owner of Tesla, SpaceX and Twitter, said the adoption rate of electric vehicles is moving at a rate he anticipated, but that it would be nearly 20 years before the country moves to all electric vehicles.

Tesla has seen its adoption rate increase from 50,000 cars sold in 2015 to 1.3 million cars sold in 2022. Tesla’s car sales have grown by 50 percent year over year, he said, the fastest adoption rate since the Ford Model T. Musk said the industry and the sustainable energy economy needs more electricity, as quickly as possible.

He estimated that the country will need three times the amount of electricity by 2045, and that it will grow exponentially after that.

Still, while electrification of transportation should happen quite quickly, he said it would be some time before electric vehicles replace fossil fuel cars. With 2 billion cars and trucks on the road today and only 100 million cars produced annually, Musk estimates it will take 20 years to have a 100 percent adoption rate.

Pizarro said that in California, the state is rapidly approaching a 50 percent adoption rate for electric vehicles and anticipates that by 2045, three quarters of all vehicles in the state will be electric. But that means the current grid needs to triple to meet demand, Musk said.

Musk also said that electric freight vehicles were not too far off in the future. Freight vehicles are more energy efficient than diesel trucks and are able to recapture some of the energy they expend. Tesla is working on sufficient batteries for freight trucks and should have some version of electric freight batteries next year.

The battery supply chain should not be hindered because so much of the battery is supplied by material like iron, readily available in the U.S. Raw materials like lithium are not widely produced in the United States and could possibly be replaced with easier to source materials to increase availability, he said.

Musk said the three pillars of a sustainable energy future are sustainable power generation like solar, wind, hydro and nuclear, stationary batteries, and electric transportation.

“Once we have those three pillars in place, we’ll have a sustainable future for as long as the sun shines and the wind blows,” he said.

The challenge, he said, was getting the permits to build the power plants and infrastructure that needs to accompany the growth of the electric grid.

“We’re practically making construction illegal in this country, especially in California,” he said. “It’s like Gulliver’s Travels. Each one of those regulations by themselves may not be so bad, but it’s like a thousand little strings holding the giant of America down.”

Pizarro agreed that permitting and siting reforms are needed across the federal and state level to help advance the clean energy transition.

Regardless, Musk said, whatever utility companies and electric generators think the demand is going to be, his estimate is that it will be much higher.

Managing that massive increase in electricity demand will mean developing and implementing new technologies to help get power from the grid to consumers, as well as to maintain the reliability of the grid. And above all, Musk said, it will require collaboration between power generators and distributors and their customers as the country moves forward.