The ripe aroma of Musk

tesla tow

You really have to give it to Fairfax Media and its commitment to maintaining standards, such as they are. When Mark Kenny goes on holidays his place as Malcolm Turnbull’s in-house courtier and publicist is taken by the no less adoring James Massola, who further demonstrates in today’s Age and SMH why it will be no great loss to the sum of human knowledge when those wretched newspapers are no more. He writes:

The Coalition’s innovation package, released late last year, is designed to inspire the sort of creative destruction and moonshots that are par for the course on the US West Coast in San Francisco, Palo Alto and Mountain View for companies such as Facebook, Google and Tesla.

The trio of companies he cites makes an interesting but discordant mix. Facebook and Google made it on their own; having come up with neat ideas, they presented them to the market, found ready acceptance and thrived. But Tesla, well that is another kettle of fish entirely. As the Los Angeles Times reports, while entrepreneur Elon Musk is very good at issuing press releases and impressing gullible reporters, he is even better at getting taxpayers to fund his various, headline-grabbing ventures. Here is the Times in May last year (emphasis added):

Tesla Motors Inc., SolarCity Corp. and Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX, together have benefited from an estimated $4.9 billion in government support, according to data compiled by The Times. The figure underscores a common theme running through his emerging empire: a public-private financing model underpinning long-shot start-ups.

“He definitely goes where there is government money,” said Dan Dolev, an analyst at Jefferies Equity Research. “That’s a great strategy, but the government will cut you off one day.”

That Tesla would be mentioned in a Fairfax “analysis” is not surprising. Amongst his other ventures, Musk makes extremely expensive, electric-powered sports cars which are promoted as antidotes to carbon emissions and global warming. Even though we have seen no increase in the global mercury for 19 years, the planet’s sweaty doom remains an article of faith in Fairfax newsrooms, so no surprise that newspapers which credit a fictional crisis as real also regard costly and impractical “solutions” as economically viable. Likewise the unquestioning promotion of Musk’s household Powerwall battery packs, which actually inspired an editorial hailing Musk in the sort of glowing and worshipful terms  imams reserve for their Prophet. Predictably, Tony Abbott was cast as the solar-shunning shaytan who would deny taxpayer funds to righteously green enterprises.

Trouble is, like the sexy but short-ranged Tesla, eye-catching Powerwall units garner the enthusiasm of those  more impressed by surface sheen than substance. As Lifehacker explains (emphasis added):

We pay $0.241 per kWh at peak, and $0.0676 for off-peak power on controlled load 1. This currently runs a hot water tank, but could be also used to charge a battery, provided it’s a hard-wired connection. Controlled Load 1 is the cheapest, and is usually turned on for at least 6 hours a night – plenty of time to charge the Powerwall.

At the off-peak rate, it would cost us $0.51 to charge the Powerwall each night. If we use the entire capacity the next day (easy enough for a typical house), we save $1.57 of electricity charges.

So after charging costs, we can save a maximum of $1.06 a day. This gives us a payback time of 25 years. Considering the warranty is only for 10 years, this isn’t a great figure.

In comparison, what if we pulled the $10,000 to buy the Powerwall from our home offset account? Assuming 5% interest, it would cost an extra $500 a year in interest, which is more than the the $387 we would save a year in electricity.

So what if we add solar into the mix? The problem is the very best we could do is save the $0.51 a day charging cost, which amounts to $186 a year. Prices for small stand alone solar installations are hard to find, but we should be able to get a 1.5 kW system (enough to just charge the Powerwall in a day) for around $5000 installed. Assuming few cloudy days, the payback time would be around 26 years.

Like the fleet of petrol-powered Tesla trucks that tow the company’s disabled electric vehicles back to the factory — that’s one of them in the picture atop this post — Powerwalls need a little assistance, in their case a profligate disdain for sane economics.

Musk, subsidy-grubber extraordinaire, is very big on Australia, seeing it as a major market for his products. He must have caught the whiff of all that government money being made available to slick supplicants. And maybe, too, the smell of decay and imminent demise in newsrooms where critical thought is trumped by propaganda on behalf of favoured causes.

— roger franklin


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