Elon Musk Says EVs Will Double World's Need for Electricity

Matt Posky
by Matt Posky

While electric automobiles have numerous advantages over internal combustion vehicles, we’ve often wondered when their disadvantages would be offset to a point that would make sense to have them become the dominant mode of transportation. While there are multiple issues that have to be addressed, one of the largest involves finding a way to source the kind of energy needed for the world to recharge them on a regular basis.

An EV-dominated society likely means elevated energy prices and peak demand hours that could easily overtax national energy grids. Renewable energy sources may also prove insufficient in providing the kind of power necessary — potentially requiring countries to double down on plants reliant on coal, oil, and natural gas if nuclear facilities are not approved. Counter-productive takes like that are often downplayed, however, so industrial giants can continue proclaiming the technology as largely trouble-free.

But what happens when EV royalty starts making similar claims about our collective energy needs?

On Tuesday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk stated that the world’s electricity consumption would likely double as EVs become the norm. While this doesn’t account for the additional energy needs created by our increased reliance on digital devices (something that’s already hard to calculate as electronics become more efficient), he believes it will create massive demand for nuclear, solar, wind, and geothermal energy solutions if sustainability is to be entertained.

In an interview with Berlin-based publisher Axel Springer, hosted by Germany’s Bild am Sonntag, Musk said sourcing the energy necessary to power EVs would become the biggest obstacle over the next two decades. It’s actually something experts have been considering for a while and Germany, in particular, has had to confront as its own massive push toward sustainable energy turned out to be, well, largely unsustainable.

Despite advancing one of the most ambitious excursions into wind and solar shortly after the 21st century began as part of its Energiewende program, Germany’s emissions stagnated in 2009. By 2018, the nation was actually increasing its utilization of coal-fired plants to meet its growing energy needs and public opinion of renewables declined immensely. While part of this was blamed on the country shunning nuclear power, there’s a growing skepticism that the nation can actually maintain its current energy usage on the promise that wind and solar will become more efficient and cheaper in the coming years. Though even dissenters aren’t thrilled at the prospect of becoming increasingly dependent upon limited resources like coal or entertaining new concepts like national energy rationing.

Either way, the issue will be exacerbated by an influx of electric vehicles.

“It will take another 20 years for cars to be fully electric. It is like with phones, you cannot replace them all at once,” Musk said during a discussion held on the Bild website.

“We need sustainable energy,” he continued. “If something goes wrong we don’t stop producing CO2 and still need to transition ourselves toward sustainable energy production.”

But Elon cautioned that sometimes the wind doesn’t blow and the sun won’t shine on the vast solar arrays needed to harvest and store the necessary energy. He envisioned a future where most people had solar cells on their homes and businesses. Buildings would also utilize batteries connected to improved energy grids to help offset peak draw hours and reduce the presumably higher cost of electricity.

Musk also noted to his German audience that he did not oppose nuclear energy and went so far as to suggest it might even be necessary if we’re to meet tomorrow’s need for electricity — which he said would double by 2040.

The rest of the interview revolved around Tesla’s plan to build its fourth gigafactory in the region, general musings about the future, and his own theory there we’ll have electrified jet planes within five years. If you speak German (or are an old pro at using Google Translate), and have the faintest interest in global energy solutions, the interview is worth a read. If not, Bild also released the video footage in English.[Image: Tesla]
Matt Posky
Matt Posky

A staunch consumer advocate tracking industry trends and regulation. Before joining TTAC, Matt spent a decade working for marketing and research firms based in NYC. Clients included several of the world’s largest automakers, global tire brands, and aftermarket part suppliers. Dissatisfied with the corporate world and resentful of having to wear suits everyday, he pivoted to writing about cars. Since then, that man has become an ardent supporter of the right-to-repair movement, been interviewed on the auto industry by national radio broadcasts, driven more rental cars than anyone ever should, participated in amateur rallying events, and received the requisite minimum training as sanctioned by the SCCA. Handy with a wrench, Matt grew up surrounded by Detroit auto workers and managed to get a pizza delivery job before he was legally eligible. He later found himself driving box trucks through Manhattan, guaranteeing future sympathy for actual truckers. He continues to conduct research pertaining to the automotive sector as an independent contractor and has since moved back to his native Michigan, closer to where the cars are born. A contrarian, Matt claims to prefer understeer — stating that front and all-wheel drive vehicles cater best to his driving style.

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  • 3SpeedAutomatic 3SpeedAutomatic on Dec 02, 2020

    If Elon Musk is correct about the doubling of demand for electricity, maybe it would be a good idea to keep the current fleet of nuclear reactors in the US alive. Many are falling off the grid due to cheaper natural gas via fracking. If in doubt, check on the status of Vermont Yankee, Indian Point (down to one unit), or Kewaunee. Overnight charging at home will even out some of the demand on the grid, but solar and wind power will only do so much.

  • Sobhuza Trooper Sobhuza Trooper on Dec 04, 2020

    If Musk would like to REALLY change the landscape, he might include installing Thorium nuclear reactors at all Tesla Supercharger sites.

  • Socrates77 They're pinching pennies for the investors like always, greed has turned GM into a joke of an old corporate American greed.
  • Analoggrotto looking at this takes me right back to the year when “CD-ROM” first entered public lexicon
  • Alan My comment just went into the cloud.I do believe its up to the workers and I also see some simplistic comments against unionisation. Most of these are driven by fear and insecurity, an atypical conservative trait.The US for a so called modern and wealthy country has poor industrial relation practices with little protection for the worker, so maybe unionisation will advance the US to a genuine modern nation that looks after its workers well being, standard of living, health and education.Determining pay is measured using skill level, training level and risk associated with the job. So, you can have a low skilled job with high risk and receive a good pay, or have a job with lots of training and the pay is so-so.Another issue is viability of a business. If you have a hot dog stall and want $5 a dog and people only want to pay $4 you will go broke. This is why imported vehicles are important so people can buy more affordable appliances to drive to and from work.Setting up a union is easier than setting up work conditions and pay.
  • El scotto I can get the speedometer from dad's 72 Ford truck back. I can't get dad back.
  • El scotto BAH! No dividers in the trunk for bags of onions or hooks for hanging sardines! Hard Pass.