J. B. Straubel
J. B. Straubel

The first HIVE conference kicked off with a keynote address from someone who knows a little about innovation. J. B. Straubel, founder and the chief technical officer of Tesla, gave attendees a brief history lesson of the company and spoke about broader issues on innovation and disruption.

Here are the key takeaways from Straubel:

  • The genesis for an electronic car came from climate change concerns, specifically the increasing number of Spare the Air days in California, which alerts residents when air quality is unhealthy and urges them to drive less. “That’s not even comparable to what happens every day of the year in India and China,” he said.
  • Tesla was created to accelerate the transformation to sustainable energy and sustainable transportation. But it’s only a start. “This [climate concern] is a probably not going away anytime soon,” he said. “It is going to require massive change in many industries to address this.”
  • Initially Tesla had to break through the stigma that electric cars were these tiny, funny looking vehicles that had no performance capabilities. “People thought it was like a golf cart,” he said.
  • Tesla is seen as a disruptor. But he says that’s not a particularly positive connotation. “We’re constantly teaching kids to follow rules [ and not break them],” he said. “Much of society runs on a healthy respect for rules.”
  • The invention of lithium-ion batteries paved the way for Tesla to become what it is today. GE’s EV1 electric car in the 90’s could only go 80 miles. Battery advances doubled that, but Tesla had the arduous task of convince skeptical investors and consumers that it could work. “True innovation, like when you’re in the middle of solving problems that matter, is really unfun,” he said.
  • Tesla used the car battery platform as a launching point for its Powerwall battery for homes. The battery stores solar energy (or energy from when utility rates are low) for home owners. “The charger and battery can pull and push ten big nuclear power plants off and on the grid,” Straubel said.
  • Tesla is aware of the multifamily market, but mainly vies apartments as a place where cars can be charged. Straubel thinks getting building owners to buy its batteries, who often have residents paying their own utility fees, might be something that happens down the road. “Multifamily dwellings might be included [in the Powerwall program],” Straubel said.