Friday, May 01, 2015

I am not getting the Tesla battery hype

Elon Musk has done and is doing great things but I seem to be bombarded by hype – not only by media hype – that just goes beyond me.

Electric cars have been around for quite some time. In the 2010 video above, Jay Leno compares an electric Ford Focus to his Baker Electric from 1909 – when my grandfather was born. The principle remained the same – and in fact, the range remained pretty much the same, too, of order 100 miles.

Now, there have been lots of semi-groundbreaking inventions. For example, Thomas Alva Edison invented the alkaline batteries which doubled the range. We still use them often. But what is the basis for all the publicity about Musk's battery transactions? What is the breakthrough? Where is the beef? Why does the whole world need to know whether Musk wants to build a battery plant in New Jersey or something like that?

Why aren't we told about every event in Duracell, Energizer, Rayovac, or Varta? Similar comments apply to the cars. Why do I read about some Tesla cars whenever I open some technological website? In 2014, Tesla had just the 4th bestselling electric car after Toyota Prius, Camry Hybrid, Ford and Fusion Hybrid, and before other cars by Nissan, Chevrolet, Lexus, Ford, Toyota, and Honda.

Almost everyone has produced some of these cars. Audi. Škoda has made some electric prototypes and it just announced that it is considering Škoda Superb plug-in hybrids, too. What's so exceptional about the Tesla models that produces more publicity than all the competitors combined?

To make things worse, Tesla just announced some batteries for home. The gospel is everywhere. The New York Times tells us that Tesla made it to the solar power business and others suggest that Tesla [stock down 2 percent today] just killed nuclear power. I won't describe the other 968 articles on Google News.

What is this fuss all about? Someone is producing a big battery. You've gotta be kidding, right?

Christopher Helman at Forbes made some simple calculations backing his point that Tesla's PowerWall is just another toy for rich green people. I think it's impossible for a sane person to disagree with him. You must be both insanely rich – you should send the money via Musk's PayPal to the needy like me instead – and brainwashed by the green idiocy about the fossil fuels' being wrong to be excited about these non-events and buy these products at this stage.

Helman is getting a kilowatthour (mostly from burned natural gas) for 10 cents per kWh. The solar alternative currently costs 15 cents for one produced solar kWh plus 15 extra cents for the storage in Musk's batteries. He calculated the costs of the storage by dividing the cost of the battery by the total number of kWh that the battery supplies in its lifetime (and by the efficiency) – after some number of charge cycles, it has to be discarded. That's 30 cents in total, 3 times more expensive, than the simplest natural gas solution. It's most expensive than my electricity, too. We're paying about 20 cents per kWh here.

And it comes with lots of inconveniences and risks. It's very likely that you will throw away the battery – either because it's broken or it no longer cooperates with the other things or you find it obsolete – well before the maximum number of charge cycles is achieved. In that case, the price you pay for storing 1 kWh is even higher.

If you need off-grid electricity, why don't you simply buy a diesel generator, starting at $299?

For $4,700, the PowerWall (plus extra expenses) price, you can get a very luxurious Kohler generator.

I am a fan of electricity and I think that sometime in the future, it will be used for almost all cars as well – but maybe the energy will be converted to other forms of energy as well. However, some improvement(s) to the solar and storage technologies will have to be made before this technology becomes better than the technologies that most of the people use today. I am not seeing that Tesla is making the required (or any substantial) improvements and I don't even see rational reasons to expect that it has to be Tesla that will make these improvements in the future. Tesla Powerwall is an ordinary lithium-ion battery. Those are used in many devices we have today – e.g. laptops. They have existed since 1979 and I am sure that the name of M. S. Whittingham who proposed them in the 1970s while working for Exxon is unknown to almost everybody (surely to me). So why is the 85th company (and person) that is producing this otherwise mundane and uncelebrated technology treated as God of energy?

The production of batteries doesn't seem to me to be the culmination of the mankind's technologies and the human progress and ingenuity ;-) but even if I were so amazed by this industry, I still wouldn't think that this industry is all about Tesla.

By the way, the amount of crappy hype in the media is overwhelming but there are some sensible stories. Seeking Alpha writes things that make sense. In California, the excess power you produce by the solar panels isn't wasted. The law requires the utility to buy it from you for some nontrivial price. This makes the case for the PowerWall batteries at home even weaker.

I still own this TV "Color Oravan" by Tesla, from the 1980s. You may have it for $20 if you pick it up. ;-) The name "Tesla" is of course particularly funny for Czechs not just because Czechoslovakia was the only country that was praising Nikola Tesla at the time when everyone else had abandoned him; but because Tesla was the most famous electric gadget brand in the communist Czechoslovakia. It was making everything. Vacuum cleaners, blenders, TVs, radios, home computers PMD-85, its copy of Intel 8080 in it, gramophones, electron tubes, and so on.

On Wikipedia, Tesla (company) still describes the Czechoslovak company! The word "Tesla" was also explained as an acronym – technika slaboproudá (weak current technology). But even though the production looked nontrivial, none of us would have had much respect towards this company (whose traces still exist) because we would estimate that Japan and the West were 10-20 years ahead of us. I actually think that those opinions were exaggerated and the actual delay was about 5 years - which was still big enough and it would make any Western company totally uncompetitive.


  1. I think the secret to all the publicity is in the name Elon Musk. It sounds like the name of extraterrestrial, super-intelligent being. (Or else a perfume.)

  2. It sounds like Donald Tusk to me. OK, why is this superior extraterrestrial wasting his valuable time with batteries? It can also be done by Duracell the bunny, can't it?

  3. I once read that one of the reasons China was heavily investing in space technology was for the prestige factor that would help it sell all its products, including those not related to space.

    Perhaps Musk has the same strategy. Fly things into space to generate the mystique, and then use it to sell ordinary stuff as if it were of extra-terrestrial origin.

  4. The amount of stupidity that is appearing the media is growing exponentially. Yesterday the buzz was that human aging would be cured in 10 years all because they understood one particular rare disease. NASA discovered how to build a warp drive, which could all be traced to a single post on bulletin board. As long as they can gather enough money from ads to pay the salary of uneducated people to generate idiotic posts this will continue. Perhaps someone will create an AI that will filter that junk out, but then someone will use that AI to generate more realistic click bait.

  5. Very interesting. But will it actually work for China?

  6. Exactly, i was "impressed" by the same reports...

  7. Perhaps it is working already. :)

  8. "Tesla [stock down 2 percent today] just killed nuclear power ..."

    Hmm ... let's see ... the director of a division at a prestigious national lab in a debate against a high-school teacher ... and the guy that "covers green technology and the environment" for Forbes decides to go with the high-school teacher. Did you expect anything else?

    There's no mystery to the hype surrounding Tesla and its plans for batteries: it's just silly nonsense that provides an excuse for people who are just bad at simple math to experience a momentary pants-wetting bliss

    Like much of the "renewable" nonsense that has come out of Google over the years, it will be forgotten in a few months time. You've got to keep truck'n if you want to find your next fantasy fix.

  9. I like to point out that you can spend $3500 to buy it (Plus Tesla gets something like $x000 in subsidies - no one is saying yet -) then install it for $1500 (inverter required) - all so you can store $2.00 worth of electricity. Its like buying a $5000 carafe to keep the coffee warm.

  10. i saw a price tag of 13,000 dollars

  11. The trouble with the Tesla Powerwall is that its capacity is just two darn small. The typical US house uses 30 kW hr/day (easily twice that on a muggy summer day) vs 10 kW hr for the larger Tesla. Your generator is cheap, but is also under powered, and not recommended for your electronics. Also, portable generators are extremely steal-able especially when you need it. Whole house generators start at about 16 kW and $4000 or so.

    I have solar and medical equipment needing power, so the Tesla tempted me, but maybe a generator is a better deal, at least until the 50 kW hr units become affordable.

  12. I think the Tesla’s stationary power storage units have to include the inverter. The inverter and control system must be tightly integrated with the Li-ion batteries for both safety and performance reasons. This is a technology that Tesla has clearly mastered.
    Obviously, a diesel or even petrol powered electrical backup system is much cheaper. Hospitals will not be getting rid of their diesel motor-generators for some time but I think it will eventually happen.

  13. An early electric car will go 100 miles at walking speed on level ground with no headwind. The Tesla Model S will do more than 260 miles at 65 miles per hour. At this speed (if it could reach it) the early electric would do not more than ten miles. The internal resistance of the lead-acid batteries would also cause the liquid electrolyte to boil.

    Tesla’s battery factory (gigafactory) is actually under construction near Reno in Nevada. Scheduled to open in 2017, it will produce about 3 billion Li-ion cells per year (type 18650). This is enough for 500,000 cars per year. Tesla will not likely her a major player in the automobile market but pure electrics are coming and Tesla wants to be the battery source. I do think Tesla can become very competitive in the luxury car market.

  14. Jose Camoes SilvaMay 2, 2015, 2:15:00 AM

    Li-Ion batteries have very short lives when you deep discharge them, so this really is an anti-green toy: will need replacement in short order. The type of batteries that allow for long life is slowly appearing (like Sadoway's liquid metal batteries and a few others), but not yet ready for general distribution.

    On the other hand, as an identity marketing tool, these Tesla walls will sell like crazy, to the same people who drive their Prius, no Tesla model S, to their Boeing Business Jet (or NetJets rental for the poorer people).

  15. The world is getting increasingly juvenile in a stupidest possible way. That's about all, apart from a slow and steady progress in sciences and technology, which is devoid of bombastic, larger than life phantasms for Twitter,Facebook and Hollywood PC generations.

  16. I think it's obscene that taxpayers are subsidizing Tesla. Crony capitalism.

  17. Is it? Wow. How do they justify it?

  18. The composition: exactly. Lots of people are working on actually developing new battery technologies that are more lasting and survive to be to empty. So why would someone suddenly make a decision to produce billions of batteries of the same old type that has been around since 1979?

    And I think you're entirely right about the purpose. This is a plot to make highly anti-environmenal product and highly anti-environmental people look like they are helpful for the environment - in combination with the mass brainwashing, it works for them.

  19. Similar news have been pumped into my eyes in the headlines - largely against my will - in the past. What I don't understand is that you seem to be happy about it. I would probably put in jail the people who have something to do with this scheme for many years and your very comment would be a sufficient proof of their guilt.

  20. It was an early estimate and they reduced it to Tom's figures.

  21. If your global-warming-promoting friends steal some additional trillions of dollars from the taxpayers to realize that plan, the plan may surely happen. But why are you happy - and not as outraged as I am - about it?

  22. An interesting comment. Just a detail: what is a "solar equipment that needs power"?

  23. Inability to do any simple arithmetic is, as far as I can tell, down to people not understanding what the numbers mean as a ("physical") quantity.

    The consequence: no sense of proportion.

  24. Dear Lubos,
    it is not directly your area but I wonder what theoretical physics has to say about the limit of battery development and what are the key factors. May batteries exist that provide the same energy as 50 liters of petrol and are charged in a minute? Also ten times as good? I wonder because battery development is being worked on for 100 years or so and results are less than satisfying.

  25. Hundreds of millions for their electric car development, including a good portion of that since they hacked up some battery swapping performance that qualified for a government initiative. Explains why he's a climate alarmist where rocketeer Burt Rutan is a loud skeptic.

  26. Natural Gas micro - cogen makes power for $0.15 USD / kWh right now, and you get a LOT of 'free' heat, enough to heat the house, pool, etc. In places where green power has come on strong power is already much more than that price from the grid. If you find cold places with cheap gas and expensive electricity (Northern parts of North America), it makes sense now. Yanmar and Marathon systems make the equipment.

  27. If you buy a Tesla there is a federal rebate of $7500 USD, your reward for choosing 'green energy'. Teslas cost about 100k so average people can't afford them, but average taxpayers are contributing to pay the rebates to the wealthy Tesla owners.

  28. dont forget the subsidies tesla gets for recycling their own batteries....

  29. Dear Mikael, well this is too messy - or complex - problem for a trained high-energy theorist.

    But to get to common sense, you must realize how batteries microscopically work. They rearrange atoms to different molecules or configurations so that the electrons have different potential energies in the initial and final configuration.

    So at most, an atom may keep as much energy as something like 13.6 eV, the ionization energy. Well, the energy is higher for bigger atoms, but they're heavier. There is probably some optimum in between.

    Needless to say, the energy is stored in basically the same "chemical" form in petrol. That's why the zeroth approximation order-of-magnitude estimate is that one atom in petrol stores as much energy as one atom in a battery.

    You want the "chemical" reactions in the batteries to be as reversible as possible, however - not like H2O, CO2 escaping from burning petrol. And the problem of how quickly the battery may be charged is hard. If you want to understand, search for what is wrong about charging a battery too quickly. The energy probably doesn't get to every atom where it should get, so you get islands inside the electrolyte or whatever that remain in the "uncharged" chemical form.

    Because of the order-of-magnitude estimates, I don't think that batteries will have higher capacities by "orders of magnitude" in the future. There is still some room for improvement but one needs to study the condensed-matter and engineering details to say something sensible about it.

  30. I was traveling in the area when it was announced that Musk had closed a deal to build this factory. Everyone wanted the jobs so much that I guess he got some super good deal with tax breaks etc. The local politicians were talking it up.
    Oil prices have crashed since then. When I heard that he was going to be selling batteries for homes I figured that he realized that electric cars and energy subsidies for buying them were in danger.

  31. Absolutely agree but this is what America calls capitalism.

  32. Right, terrible. Are at least all producers of electric cars getting the same subsidies?

  33. Human stupidity is probably bound to conquer the whole Earth and all of its influential institutions.

    For much of my adult life (I'm 70) I've had a pet idea that "the world is stupider than it's cracked up to be," but recently I've been getting the impression that it's even worse than I thought.

  34. Nah...musk got the subsides because he claimed he was going to complete the battery product life cycle, that is, he promised to clean up after himself; to wipe when he was done. I dont think toyota, for example is engaging in this game.
    Crony capitalism, is what its called in the states.
    Lots of different types of intelligence in this world...and the type musk has may not be the stuff great physicist are made of, but it seems to me the guy has an evil type of be able to exploit the foibles of humans so adeptly, to be able to play and game the system so well...its scary.

  35. I think that you're kidding me - I will investigate it when I have time. You're telling me that only Musk is getting these billions and he's getting them for *promises* that his business will be cleaned? This is amazing if true.

    Was Lysenko a genius as well?

  36. the same way as oreskes for example, maybe....
    it is a mystery to me how it comes to be that bright principled people are liquidated while parasites prosper.
    And yes, I believe that musk is the only guy running the battery scam right now.

  37. Off-topic: I decided not to write a separate blog post because there are too many liberation blog posts here already.

    On Tuesday, it will have been 70 years since the liberation of Europe's most American city, my hometown of Pilsen, by the U.S. army. The festival of freedom is more intense this year than in other years. There are some veterans, lots of shops, historical vehicles, more U.S. flags in Pilsen than in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and so on. Some atmosphere at a randomly glued video here:

    Finally, we can say confidently that the city is more prosperous, colorful, and cleaner than it was back in 1945 - something that we couldn't be certain about up to 1990, to say the least. ;-)

  38. @Luboš Motl - Off topic, but did not know where to post it. Are you going to address the so-called "EM Drive" which has made quite a lot of buzz around the net lately? NASA EagleWorks recently did tests in vacuum of the device.

  39. I have been tempted to write a separate blog post about EM drive. We exchanged 2 short comments about it in this very threat, search for "drive" on this page.

    If they really mean that it violates the momentum conservation, i.e. it propels itself in empty space without shooting anything, then: No way. This is way too silly. One may shoot a propellant. Electromagnetic waves also carry a momentum, so one may shoot electromagnetic waves, too - which is not a feasible way to get to high speeds today. But if he doesn't shoot anything, there's no change in the momentum. It is the momentum conservation law.

    There are lots of crazy superstitious comments that quantum mechanics or quantum field theory allows one to circumvent the momentum conservation law. Sorry, it doesn't. The conservation laws apply as accurately as ever. I discussed that in the recent post about Heisenberg's Nobel lecture - where it's mentioned on the last page, too. If one measures the exact momentum/energy, the same value will be measured at the end, too.

    The only problem is that the energy or momentum don't commute with other things - like positions of objects -so they can't be quite measured simultaneously. If a position is known, the momentum and energy is not, and so on. But for all practical purposes, we are really talking about macroscopic objects here, and classical physics is a good approximation, anyway. The corrections from the uncertainty principle are tiny.And classical physics just forbids the violations of the momentum conservation law.

    So I don't know what they are seeing but they are surely not seeing seeds of something that will become a great new self-propelling space vehicle. Nothing like that is possible. Quite generally, I think that these are hardcore crackpots pretending to be applied physics researchers - combined with hardcore crackpots working as journalists - who just decide that they are supernatural shamans who do miracles if they want to. So they construct a random collection of pieces that has no reason to do something interesting - and they don't know any such a reason or explanation - and they just want to believe that it has some miraculous abilities. They easily convince their journalistic friends because those are 100% imbeciles, too. Some vague affiliation with NASA they get in some trick makes the job even better (I know similar hardcore cranks who were "improving" their "work" by fabricating would-be relationships with Harvard). There is nothing in it whatever.

  40. Hi Lubos, here is the "physics" underlying White's "EM Drive": ... is such a thing as "Chung-Freese" warped model minimally reasonable?

  41. Dear NumCracker, if "Em drive" had any value, it would be rather important that it was "invented" by Roger Shawyer, not by Harold White. The latter was just "ordered" to play with it, and he hasn't claimed any advance that would go beyond the original "invention".

    The paper is complete nonsense and at the same time, it is totally inequivalent to the other descriptions of "Em drive" that may be found elsewhere. So these people obviousliy don't have the slightest clue what they're doing.

  42. I tend to agree. I give this extraordinary claim a 2% probability of being true... but with all we don't know about the quantum vacuum it's difficult to be certain. That being said, I have a question for you. Gravity waves most certainly carry momentum and I can not say with absolute certainty that some as yet undiscovered mechanism allows for some coupling (via the vacuum) between Microwave cavities and gravity waves.

    Another semi-plausible explanation could be asymmetric ionization of the vacuum. For example, think of a half moon shaped event horizon (which I understand isn't stable). Wouldn't that produce a non zero momentum vector via a asymmetric Hawking radiation?

    Again, I doubt this is true. But I believe it warrants further research to figure out the source of the error or to verify the claims.

  43. 2% is insane. Some 0.0000000002% would be far more reasonable.

    Your comment about the "quantum vacuum" is a typical example of the irrational thinking - or the lack of it - that is systematically being encouraged among the laymen for them to swallow the most embarrassing kinds of crackpottery.

    First of all, the question whether a mundane gadget like the gadgets talk about does something like "violating the momentum conservation law" has nothing whatever to do with the "quantum vacuum". Brainwashed people like you talk about "quantum vacuum" because it sounds cool and mysterious but it doesn't mean that it's relevant.

    Second, even when the "quantum vacuum" is relevant, it leads to none of your remarkable conclusions like a "2% chance that the momentum conservation law is violated by a mundane apparatus". The reason is that your comment about "all we don't know about the quantum vacuum" is bullshit as well.

    Physics understands the quantum vacuum exactly as much as it understands everything else that occurs in the given theory relevant for the given phenomena. It may sound magic and mysterious to the laymen who are constantly brainwashed by the idea that quantum mechanics is strange, and perhaps also ill-understood or inconsistent, but none of these claims has an epsilon to do with the truth as understood by legitimate physics. Quantum mechanics is perfectly validated, 100% consistent, 100% complete concerning its predictions of similar mundane phenomena - and the role of the quantum vacuum in these phenomena, and it 100% predicts that the conservation laws hold.

    Completely analogous claims hold for the "gravity waves". None of these gadgets they create in their labs creates any detectable gravity waves - i.e. gravity waves that could be imprinted on the observable motions of macroscopic objects etc. But even if gravity waves were relevant, it's again untrue that something as elementary is misunderstood about them.

    I won't comment rest of your weird comment because my pressure got too high. You may claim to be a moderate between these übercrackpots and science, and say that there is "only" a 2% chance that nonsensical claims like that are true. But by doing in the middle in this way, you are in the middle between the years 700 and 2015. You mentally live somewhere in the 14th century.

    It makes absolutely no sense to try to rationally talk about physics with people like you and I am already sorry of my decision 5 minutes ago to have wasted these 5 minutes!

  44. After some more thought, the Casimir effect most certainly produces a non zero force on each plate - although the net force, and hence momentum vector, is zero. Is it known for certain that this holds for all geometries? Does there exist some asymmetric geometry where a net momentum may be imparted. Speed of light is 2.99 in vacuum, but between the plates you have vacuum minus delta... would we still measure light as traveling at 2.99? That would seem to be consistent with what NASA has measured.

    Again this is likely an error, but I don't see how it can be summarily dismissed. This is much more realistic the something like the eCat... which you posted about several times?

  45. Yes, it's trivial to prove that the momentum conservation law holds exactly - for all configurations and processes - in a quantum mechanical theory or QED or a Poincare-invariant quantum field theory - and an undergraduate student who got an A in the basic QM courses should be able to write and explain the proof in minutes.

  46. I can think of a few people we could send to Mars, which, indeed would , if not be the "salvation of humanity", at least improve living here :)

  47. Lubos, my PhD is from a top 10 department and I have more published papers than you, so please don't treat me like some Layperson off the streets. And I promise you that here in American, most undergrads know nothing of Poincare, Noether, or QED. (perhaps Noether is covered in Mechanics... I forget).

    Anyway, where is the crackpottery? Do you not believe in the Casimir effect? It is absolute, undeniable, experimental fact that Casimir imparts a non-zero force to each individual plate. The experiment breaks no physical laws or the translational symmetry of the Lagrangian... You are making the argument that conservation of momentum precludes the vacuum from imparting a force on physical objects... we know that to be false, so what part of your argument am I misunderstanding.

  48. Lubos, you have to look at Elon as a religious leader. He is getting people to buy into his green products with a religious fervor, similar to Apple. Indeed, when his company was close to bankruptcy, he got Google to pay 6 billion, and promise to spend another 5 billion. He walked away from the deal after Tesla got good results.

    I don't know if he is the only one getting rebates. I think the Prius rebates ran out because there is a limit to how many can be cashed in by a single company.
    However, he did get $100 million from California with fraudulent automated battery swap stations.

    The gigafactory in Nevada is also part of his religious sales pitch, that somehow by producing in bulk he is going to lower the costs so much that he will solve the world's energy problems. The reality is that he is essentially getting paid by Nevada to have that factory. This is something typical of southern states, for example the deal Alabama made with Mercedes. Nevada is exempting him from payroll tax, and even giving him some tax credits that he can resell to other companies.

    Consider in the video, he takes forever to get to explaining what is PowerWall, and even then is rather vague. Then I realize, that is the point. He is flattering the audience and trying to make them think they are smart, by feeding them irrelevant details about how the sun produces energy. Then they will think they are smart for giving him their money. I didn't watch the whole thing, but I don't think he mentioned that you still have to buy an inverter.

    I suspect he will try to sell this in combination with SolarCity's 'free' installations of solar cells. They collect the government subsidy themselves, and then sell you power at a lower rate than the local utility. I have been unable to get what their prices are in Texas, but In California they are around 15c /kWh.

  49. Dear imho, too many PhDs are distributed and too many papers are accepted. This is a part of the problem, not about you - I have no idea who you are.

    But what you wrote above is a pile of rubbish and you shouldn't have gotten a PhD for that.

    Casimir effect is a nice thing - nontrivial but understood - but when represented by actual bound states of electrons and protons, like metals, it violates no conservation law and it does none of the other supernatural things that are discussed in your comments or in the preposterous media coverage of this kind of nonsense.

    When we say that the momentum conservation law is not violated, it means that the sum of all the momenta of all widely separated objects or bound states that the system is composed of remains unchanged, too. It is simply not possible to exert force without the reaction. You can't violate the third Newton's law - about action and reaction - that's just a damn equivalent thing to say the very same thing.

    The Casimir effect attracts one plate down, but the other is attracted up and the total force acting on the whole object on which the two plates are attached is zero. So what you write about the possible loophole is plain junk.

    In Prague, we have surely been exposed to tons of Poincare, QED, and Noether as undergrads.

  50. It's a scam. Musk is a rentier who makes his money off subsidies and regulations.

    It would be cheaper both in capital investment and operating costs to buy a whole-house propane generator and a 500-1000 gal propane tank.

    We have one in our back yard. The propane mostly is used for winter heating and hot water, but we live in the country and have occasional blackouts

  51. Thanks, Mike, for your description of the situation. Shocking.

    I couldn't finish watching that promotional video where he spoke, sorry.

    New religious leaders like him may be (even) more hip than e.g. Pope Francis in some way but these new religions are probably more dangerous because what Christianity can do has been kind of tested for 2000 years.

    But the Church of the Salvation of the World by a Battery Plant in Nevada can do lots of insane things that the Christian churches have been too modest or uncreative to do.

    Imagine how many sane people pay money through these projects to the insane ones.

  52. No Lubos, It seems that Harold Sonny is claiming some advances (despite physically nonsense):

    "On April 5, 2015, Paul March reported at’s Forum that Dr. White and Dr. Jerry Vera at NASA Eagleworks have just created a
    new computational code that models the EM Drive’s thrust as a three-dimensional magnetohydrodynamic flow of electron-positron virtual

    These simulations explain why in NASA’s experiments it was necessary
    to insert a high density polyethylene (HDPE) dielectric into the EM
    Drive, while the experiments in the UK and China were able to measure
    thrust without a dielectric insert."

  53. Solar panels supply power and certain medical devices use it.

  54. Before your comment, I spent 5 minutes with this talk by Harold Sonny

    and before that, 5 other minutes with the 3-part video with Roger Shawyer, the first part is here:

    The other parts are in the right column.

    Holy cow... This is just amazing. If someone were asking me about job prospects in physics for someone who sucked at everything but who wants to earn lots of money, I would tell him to study antiphysical technologies for intergalactic travel like that. What kind of breathtaking stupidity they can get away with is just beyond belief.

    Take this Shawyer. He shows some random pictures of church bells, says that he pours some random superconductors and dielectrics and blah blah blah which play no role, and then he observes some micronewtons or force he can't explain.

    Some mosquito was sitting there, and if not: Why should a self-evident crank whose slide shows look like this be expected to expect the right force? He can't have an idea what is the right calculation that predicts forces in such complex situations. He doesn't have an idea about much simpler things - I wouldn't hire him as a manager of the toilet paper, either.

    When he shows some of these completely incoherent conglomerates of random buzzwords and objects related to various branches of physics, he picks some nice intergallactic spaceship from sci-fi movies and uses it as a symbol of his being a better competitor of some *actual* space technologies that have already been flying to space. You have to be kidding.

    And the same thing with this Sonny guy. Pictures of a hugely warped gravity field around Jupiter. Jesus Christ. We can't really change the curvature of space away from the normal one in any measurable way at all, let alone to catch Jupiter... he wants to change topology around Jupiter.

    Then someone tells him that his gadget is a normal thing with B and E fields that are perfectly understood and have no exotic energy density and other supernatural things. So he says that he wants a "quantum" B and E fields and those will surely allow him to trap Jupiter in a knot. NIce! A problem is that physicists - as opposed to mental cripples like himself - know quantum B and E fields, too, and their energy density is as positively definite as in classical physics. It's nice that there are quantum corrections that make the density negative in some counting, but all these things disappear at macroscopic separations. So in effect, all these quantum corrections may be viewed as microscopic corrections for forces between elementary particles that don't change anything when their separation is large.

    All the Casimir forces, however religiously they present them, may in principle be calculated using Feynman diagrams involving charged particles that make the metal. The negative energy in between the plates is just some effective description of terms in energy that can also be assigned to the standard forces between the charged particles - those that effectively make the electric fields in the metal disappear etc.

    If one only looks at one aspect of the Casimir force, it can look religious and as a step towards the violation of some laws of physics at the macroscopic scale. But one may also organize all the calculation differently so that it's manifest that all the usual laws will hold at every step.

  55. If you live in the American Southwest and have a roof, you can be off the grid most of the year - but not at night. Add an energy-dense battery pack and inverters, then give the grid the finger.

    Musk has achieved a pre-emptory strike against the next utility turn of the screw: dynamic demand pricing. With smart meters everywhere, a utility can price small users out of use (or just screw them) during heavy usage days (every day) when "renewable small carbon footprint" Enviro-generation karks its breeks. A battery pack charges at cheap night and runs off-grid during expensive day.

    A fossil fuel generator will be specially Carbon Taxed on Everything during use, or simply declared illegal.

  56. Technical progress in battery design has always been very slow and the chance of a breakthrough is minuscule. Sakti3 is 99.999 percent wishful thinking so don’t hold your breath. There will be at least ten years of development ahead of them and, likely, more.

    Tesla already has, with massive help from Panasonic, some three hundred million individual cells in the hands of happy customers who, according to Consumers Union, are the most satisfied car owners on the planet.
    No one can guarantee success in any venture but pure (not hybrid) electric cars are coming and there will be a huge battery market.

  57. I agree, Ann, but I might buy a Tesla anyway. The total rebate is $10,000 in California and it is more likely to go up than down. Musk’s various commercial enterprises also get all kinds of city and state tax relief. He is not a stupid man and if money is being handed out he is Johnny on the spot! Can you blame him?
    Our fair state also has its own carbon trading scheme and an established intent to drive CO2 emissions down to 40% under their peak. Hey, I didn’t vote for the fools that are giving our public money away!

  58. I have kind of the same feeling - they have introduced some error which contributes to the result. Static electricity, magnetic fields or whatever. I used a lot of time to try to figure out the affiliations between NASA and both NASA Eagleworks and - are they legit? are they part of the system? As Materials-tech guy, I don't have a great deal of knowledge of the different things they talk about at the latter sit..

  59. They are not my friends, Lubos; I assure you, and I certainly did not vote for all the idiots in Sacramento or in Washington.
    How, exactly, am I contributing to the nonsense?
    As an engineer/physicist I am amazed at the engineering job that Tesla has done but that does not mean that I am not disgusted by the huge waste of public money. There are also local “environmental” issues that cause me even more grief and my professional career was twice seriously damaged by do-gooder environmentalists. If you think I am happy about all this you are just plain wrong, Lubos.
    If I should actually buy a Tesla Model S I would do it because it is the best choice for my needs. I am not a fool enough to turn down tax credits.

  60. Gene, the man is taking advantage and being disingenuous. Sounds like that is OK by you as long as you too get something out of it. I have been reading these blogs a long time so I am sure you don't really feel that way.

  61. It does 0 a 60 (mph) in 3.1 seconds. That might be a good reasons to buy it if one must have that. I paid the so called gas guzzlers tax for a car that takes 4.1 to that speed.So I guess I am that fool but I am glad you are at least not supporting the scam.

  62. The price that they are offering is very surprising if true(I doubt it myself, must be a catch somewhere). Today's price for Li-ion goes 3-4 times higher. Such price was predicted for year 2020, maybe they have bought some mines which hit big or they have excess lithium from SpaceX(joking)!

    Whether that is enough to get the price down for solar energy is volume and situation dependent, but the electric car should benefit.

  63. So if I remove all of your insults, I think I'm reading that you agree that the vacuum can impart a force on a physical object without violating any know physical laws (conservation of momentum included). This means the vacuum can and does absorb any equal and opposite momenta. You also say that the local translational symmetry holds for macroscopic objects. Yes, Plate A feels a force and the vacuum feels an equal and opposite force. I can't make any sense of your comments about "the whole object" since Casimir works whether the plates are physically connected or not.

    If we're being intellectually honest here I think we can agree that the "violates the conservation of momentum" argument is not applicable to the EMdrive... My guess is that there is a 98% likelyhood that they are wrong for other reasons, but it isn't conservation of momentum.

    Productive day, thanks for the discussion :-)

  64. Thanks. I didn't know this; it is obscene. And what's the justification - that the Tesla owners deserve this tax-payer-derived rebate because the former are helping to save the environment and thereby the future of humanity? I think that even if the climate were going to hell, this kind of scheme to help save it would still be absurd.

  65. You think they'll hit the 40% target? At what cost? And why is this so important to them?

  66. Lubos,
    There is a good reason that Tesla gets so much publicity. The Tesla cars are really nice toys - they accelerate very rapidly, go fast, look cool and in general are reported to be great sports cars. In other words, they are great play things for the wealthy and great status symbols for those who want to look wealthy. On top of that, they warm the hearts of, well, the warmists. All of this makes for good press.

    In that regard, Musk really is an innovator and I admire him for it. It is possible that his work will accelerate the technology for electric cars, and I think that would be a good thing – not for environmental reasons, but because electric cars, with the right specs and a supportive ecosystem, are just better things to own than IC cars. They are far simpler mechanically and have better performance because the motors supply the same torque at all speeds. Note that the right ecosystem, in my mind, means that you can swap out your battery for a charged one at a service station, rather than waiting to charge it.

    None of this is to disagree with the observation that Musk is a rentier. The global warming religion has created a lot of opportunities for rich entrepreneurial rent seekers, and Musk has taken advantage of that. Also, I haven't seen any technological breakthroughs by Tesla. But... marketing, manufacturing and design breakthroughs, which Tesla has made, can be very important - even if the base technologies are 100 years old.

  67. Lubos, the unreasonable effectiveness of quantum theory in mathematics:

  68. And yet Musk is being quite a bit more successful than Burt Rutan in the rocket business.

  69. No, they won’t hit it, at least not by the year 2030 as intended. I would not try to make longer term forecasts.
    These people actually believe that our planet is in trouble and their hearts are in the right place. Their brains are another matter.
    Unfortunately, Goebbels was right. A lie repeated 100 times becomes the truth.
    If Al Gore had actually become President in the 2000 election we would probably be better off. The President,s actions are much more constrained than his have been.

  70. He is not being disingenuous, Rehbock; he is just being an entrepreneur and businessman. He operates within the law and, to me, a perfectly acceptable code of ethics.

    He has not defrauded anyone and has actually been much more forthcoming than was Jeff Bezos, for instance, who founded Amazon.

    As a co-founder of two high-tech startups myself, I understand that you have to be an optimist in order to be an entrepreneur. The system weeds out the frauds rather efficiently because most investors are not stupid. Musk is not a fraud and can claim a rather good success record.

  71. I am never, never in favor of subsidies unless public health and safety is involved and rarely even then. The case for public health and/or safety must be based on good science, above all. I do know what that means, Lubos.

  72. The subsidies go to the buyer, not the manufacturer, not that it matters.

  73. We happen to live in a democracy. We have a perfect right to elect idiots and frequently do. Our recourse is the ballot box and the soap box.

  74. I don't think he believes the hype. I don't believe the hype.
    I don't assert that he has committed fraud. I didn't say he was committing crimes.
    Disingenuity is the right word for someone who hyes something as though he was sincere and believed while not really being frank. I doubt it is optimism that drives his battery in every pot solution.
    I also doubt that investors are stupid. The ones that make the most know however that as a whole Americans are not critical consumers. They get a tax break to build batteries for a car. They sell the car by a tax break but when fuel prices plummet they can sell the battery using another tax break. Fraud is not fraud unless it is illegal.
    As I posted earlier it is called capitalism.

  75. You can pretty much kill any battery by completely discharging it. Proper management of the charge-discharge cycle is the key to longevity. If you replace the battery
    when it falls to 75% capacity, your Tesla battery will last between 100k and 200k miles
    or even more, depending on usage details. Fortunately, the lithium is easily recyclable. Also, on a per atom basis, lithium is more abundant than copper in the earth’s crust.

  76. Of course he believes it. And he believes it without more that a minimum amount of self deception. We all engage in self deception, Rehbock. Richard Feynman understood that principle very well. Do you?
    Even Al Gore really believes his horse shit, which is many orders of magnitude less credible than Elon Musk’s.

  77. EM drive could stand for the Elon Musk drive ... If he can get some more tax breaks.

  78. Witten 2014:

  79. I cannot prove whether Musk or Gore believe the hype or whether they know better. I do believe that you belief Musk is spouting this stuff for noble reasons other than avarice, greed and is driven by more than personal gain. I don't think so, but the p85d accelerates better than anything, so I can put that aside.

  80. Ah, the eternal curse of humankind!

    Follows the imaginary internal dialog:

    They are all idiots, so what do I do?

    Clearly, I'm outnumbered. In fact, even this chick that I'm sleeping with is as stupid as all of them. So I better be diplomatic.

    Gosh, she's actually my wife! And that other femake is actually my daughter. Poor kid, she'd better be compliant with the system, otherwise she'll never get married. Can't spoil kid's chances to succeed in life.

    And my brother, he ain't smart either. He votes for all the morons. Let's not rock the boat and let's keep the family happy. Talk about the bullshit, cats, dogs, movie and rock stars.

    And most of my friends are really nice guys, but, gosh, they are all morons. They really believe all that crap.

    So what do I do?

    I fly in the sky with Maharishiiiiii!

  81. You have to add in $4000 for an inverter.

  82. Dear Gene, I can't believe these things. Was Lysenko also a perfect entrepreneuer? He also operated within the law - in fact, the leaders of the Soviet Communist Party placed him at the center of the law.

    There were thousands of good scientists - believing Mendelian genetics - who were marginalized, fired, and sometimes even killed due to the influence of this Lysenko entrepreneur, plus millions that ultimately had less food to eat due to the unscientific attitudes of Lysenko to agriculture.

    In the U.S., there are tens of millions of people who realize that the transition to the electric and fossil-fuel-related things is a scam that doesn't help anything. They're forced to pay lots of money through the tax system in ways that are closely analogous to what was happening in the Soviet Union, and much of this money goes directly to Musk's pocket.

    If you think it is not unethical, I am shocked.

  83. LOL, at 24:01, Witten shows a picture of Glashow, with "photo courtesy of Wikipedia". That's actually a wrong way to cite it. I took the picture and the right way to refer to the picture is written in the description. ;-)

    The hand on Glashow's shoulder is Kenneth Lane's. ;-)

  84. gene...what musk is doing is the antithesis of ethics...hes not moral, he's amoral, as capitalism, and the entire field of economics is...

  85. We live in a constitutional republic in the States, at least thats what our system of government used to be called.

  86. I think the market can solve the swap-in battery quality issue. Batteries could be tamper-proof with built-in tracking and status monitoring devices. Governments could have anti-fraud laws (they already do, but there could be ones targeted at this). It might take awhile for this to stabilize, but I don't see it as a killer issue.

    I think the biggest problem is that batteries would have to be standardized for this to work. A service station is not going to keep 40 different kinds of batteries ready for swapping. Gasoline is standardized - most US stations keep only three flavors.

  87. Actually the device is only 2KW output(works for 5 hours fully charged, hence 10KWh) so the inverter will cost about $1200.

    However, my issue which seems nobody is paying attention to is the price of those batteries which are about 3-4 times LESS market price. something is wrong, this is what should be discussed first.

  88. Maybe, but the opportunities for fraud and the purely technical issue of determining a battery’s (declining) charge capacity will probably kill it. The remaining capacity depends on many variables, not just the number of “miles” driven.
    When you buy a used car you look at far more than the odometer reading. All of the important things are hidden in a battery.

  89. I spent my entire career, Lubos, in a competitive environment that was very effective in weeding out unethical people. I know exactly how it works and I suspect those mechanisms simply did not exist in the corrupt Soviet system.
    If Musk used bribery to influence public policy he would, almost certainly, go to prison. Of course he has not done so.
    All car companies tout their low CO2 emissions and take advantage of every subsidy they can get and there are lots of them. There is nothing special about Musk. In fact, if he has a clear fiduciary responsibility to his shareholders (I am not one of them) and if he did not take advantage of the subsidies he would be thrown out on his ear and could even face personal liability.

  90. Actually, I don’t give a shit what he is saying.

  91. We agree on both points, sort of. I started looking to see though what is hot in A,Erica other than this. The new Corvette Z06 will manage under 3 seconds with automatic transmission. It is around 80k -less than the Tesla.
    Now I will curl up with some QM because there is no uncertainty that I spend too much already on cars for a guy who rarely drives more than I could walk and who lives in icy climates that allow zero to twenty in less than a minutes half the year. :-)

  92. Dedicated to PlatoHagel and Chuck Norris

  93. The idea of an electric car is really quite appealing. However, the idea of using a battery to store energy will be its downfall. Its energy density (in terms of energy/unit mass) is far to low. Far better in my opinion to generate the required electrical current as needed using a much higher density energy source (ie gasoline, diesel, natural gas etc). People think of batteries as a direct storage of electricity, (like the electric field of a capacitor) but this is not true. All the battery is is a store of chemical energy which can be drawn from as needed, but compared with the energy density of a hydrocarbon, it is orders of magnitude less dense.

    I think the hybrid model is the way of the future. Think about internal combustion engine with a conventional drive system needs to be sized to meet the instantaneous power demand of the vehicle. But the 10 second average demand, or the 1 minute, or 90 second average demand would each demand significantly less power. With a hybrid, employing a short-term electrical storage device (perhaps invoking the latest and greatest in super capacitor technology), the motive drive could be much smaller than is presently required using drivetrain technology, with the electical storage system smoothing out the average peaks.

    What about all the energy it took to accelerate your vehicle up to highway speed just to have it wasted away as heat as it wears away your brakes when the light up ahead turns red? A regenerative braking system can salvage a good fraction of that energy and store it in the electrical field of the onboard supercapacitor system, ready to be drawn from once the light turns green.
    So, weight savings from smaller engine, no drivetrain or transmission. Weight would increase from electrical generator, short-term/high current electical storage system. Overall, if its a net weight savings compared to present conventional system, It seems like a no brainer. I would think that you could realize 40% increase in fuel economy, you would not need to rely on an electical charging system for a giant heavy 85 kWhr battery like the folks at Tesla want for us, and you could fuel up most anywhere in the world and be on your way in minutes.

  94. Gotta disagree. We have a lot of recent experience in monitoring and assessing the state of this kind of battery. I think clever business folks can easily make all this work. There is very little hidden in a battery. If the manufacturer lot # is known, and the charge and discharge history is known (easy to do, modern laptop batteries do this), then the state of the battery is trivial to determine.

    Yes, there will be fraud, as there is in all human endeavor. This does not seem particularly likely to be a fraud target, though. The technology that builds the battery packs can pretty easily make them very hard to tamper with.

  95. One thing to add about energy density, with a hydrocarbon you do not need to drag your oxidant around with you,since you can draw it from the atmosphere as needed (as long as you arent driving at too high an altitude)

  96. The Church of the Salvation of the World by a Battery Plant in Nevada does what ordinary "confidence games" (frauds) have done since humans have traded things; it plays on (it gains confidence from) the smaller greed of the local participants in the endeavor.

    Here at ground zero, in Sparks Nevada, dreamers and suckers have been born in every second.

  97. Home battery could be the after life of car battery. I'd assume that the cost would cut down substantially. Say from 300$/kWh to 100$/kWh.

    System producing 365*10kWh a year with PV and Battery will cost 3500$ plus PV about the same, making the 10 year zero interest payment for electricity to cost 19c/kWh. Not excellent, but not bad either. (plus 299$ aggregate)

    Now, cutting PV and battery cost in half in next 5 years or even 30%, i'd say, utilities are in trouble. And I dont mean that we should do so and wheather this is global optimum for distributing energy, but big utilities are in trouble.

  98. Islamic people react to criticism just like followers of thee religion of peace shooting people who say things they dont like.

    Islam..the religion of pieces...pieces of people:

    Unfortunately for these two...individuals, they chose the wrong locale for their antics.



  99. The words in that news in the dailymail is despicable, it's not "anti-Islam", is in support of free speech. They are risking their lives for freedom of speech or draw.

  100. well, dont mess with texas....

  101. Would you please refrain from polluting the thread, you can have many other occasions to spew your wisdom to mankind.

  102. I feel the same way about you.
    deal with it.

  103. its a shame he doesn't feel the same degree of responsibility to the poor in the US who fund his crony capitalism as he feels towards his shareholders.

  104. It is what capitalism has become, business wedded to big government. it is not what free eneterprise represents.

  105. Now where have we seen this sort thing before?

    Ah yes, Krupp and I G Farben, for example. That all turned out nicely, didn't it?

  106. Big Business virtually elects the government.