Elon Musk: Solar Will Be the Largest Source of Power in 30 Years

The PayPal-founder-turned-green-entrepreneur, Elon Musk predicts that in 30 years solar will be the single largest source of power in the U.S., and possibly the world. Musk made the prediction at the Future in Review (FiRe) conference in Coronado, Calif., this week, where thought leaders met to debate what the future of technology will look like. Musk said that including solar thermal and solar photovoltaics, solar will generate more electricity than any other source of power, and the majority of that technology will be driven by the United States.

Musk, whom we put at No. 6 on our list of 25 Who Ditched Infotech for Cleantech, does have a business reason for making such a prediction. Beyond being the chairman of electric vehicle startup Tesla, and the CEO of rocket company Space-X, Musk is the chairman of SolarCity, a Foster City, Calif.-based solar installer.

SolarCity is currently offering solar installations on rooftops for no down payment in certain locations. At the FiRe conference, Musk was joined onstage by Lyndon Rive the CEO of SolarCity, and the duo described their plan as “You save money from day one. You pay less for clean power.” The company is able to offer that deal because of what they refer to as “creative financing instruments,” i.e. the federal tax subsidy that offers a 30 percent tax credit on solar installations.

SolarCity is only about two years old, but already Musk predicts it will make $80 million in revenues this year. That is some dramatic growth. Rive and Musk said the market is wide open for them to build solar on rooftops; in California, solar only has a penetration of less than 1 percent, noted Rive.

Both execs said their biggest challenge was getting the solar panels up on the rooftops fast enough. But there’s also the rush of competition from other private and public solar installers moving in. And then there’s the future concerns over policy, particularly if the federal government does not extend that generous tax credit.

Musk had some strong opinions on federal carbon policy as well, stating plainly “There should be a carbon tax.” As for which presidential candidate would be the best choice? “Any candidate will be better than a Texas oilman.”