Elon Musk’s global load-shedding warning

Elon Musk has warned that the world could soon face electricity shortages due to increased power demand from the growing adoption of electric vehicles (EVs) and power-hungry technologies like artificial intelligence (AI).

The Wall Street Journal reports that the CEO of the world’s biggest fully-electric car manufacturer — Tesla —  raised his concerns on various occasions in the past few weeks.

The most recent was at a conference held by one of the US’s biggest power utilities — PG&E — on Tuesday, where Musk called on energy executives to shorten the time scale for new projects and encouraged a high sense of urgency.

“My biggest concern is that there’s insufficient urgency,” Musk said. “If you have a fairly static electricity demand, which has been the case in the US for a while, it hasn’t changed a lot, then having projects take a long time is okay.”

“But in a rapidly changing scenario, where electricity demand is increasing, we have to move much faster.”

Musk recently also told an energy conference in Austin that he couldn’t emphasise enough the need for more electricity.

“However much electricity you think you need, more than that is needed.”

The billionaire has predicted that electricity consumption in the US could triple by 2045, partly thanks to the growing adoption of battery-powered cars.

Industry players have been more conservative about the potential surge in demand.

For example, PG&E has only forecasted a 70% increase in US electricity demand over the next two decades, while McKinsey has predicted demand will double by 2050.

Nevertheless, PG&E CEO Patti Poppe said the company was not taking Musk’s warning lightly.

“We are definitely taking notes here,” Poppe told Musk. “I’m going to be the last person to doubt your predictions for the future.”

Musk’s timeline for shortages

During an event discussing his new startup — xAI — earlier in July, Musk said he anticipated electricity shortages within two years due to higher power demand driven by AI growth.

“That’s roughly where things are trending,” he said.

Should his prediction about shortages be correct, and utilities don’t act soon enough to ward off a potential crisis, other countries might soon be forced to join South Africa in implementing rotational power cuts to reduce demand.

One of the solutions that Musk has proposed is to install more grid-scale batteries that can store unused electricity during periods of low demand.

Instead of lowering power output from generators during these periods, the produced electricity could be sent to large batteries, which can supply additional power when demand is higher than the on-demand generators can provide.

Musk believes that by doing so, energy output could be improved by between 50–100%.

Eskom is currently constructing its first grid-scale battery project, called the Eskom Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) project.

Once finished, the BESS will boast batteries with 1,440MWh of capacity and a 60MW PV capacity.

The first phase of the project was initially set to be completed by the end of June 2023, but Engineering News reports the timeline for completion of this part of the project has been pushed back by six months.

Now read: Coal power could cost South Africa over R1.6 trillion — and it’s not because of load-shedding

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Elon Musk’s global load-shedding warning