If the end game of digital health is to leverage tech and create better, more affordable care, could solar-powered lithium-ion batteries be the tipping point?
A proactive disclosure right off the bat.
I must confess that I am a bit biased towards Canadian-American billionaire Elon Musk. I may even have a crush on this understated, almost self-effacing, inventor, whose first two years of university were spent at Queen's University, a mere two and a half hours from where I live.
After all, I am Canadian and generally star-struck by entrepreneurs (even geek tycoons as he's been called) who take great ideas and actually make something of them. (He co-founded Pay Pal, monetized his belief in electric cars by starting Tesla Motors, and was a billionaire by the time he was five or something – hello).
Tesla Motors CEO Elon Musk, inventor of the Powerwall. Photo: Tesla Motors
So when I heard about Musk’s latest invention, the Powerwall, I did more than sit up and take notice. I bought in right away, especially where digital health and wearables are concerned, for example. He had me at "traditional batteries suck."
Since the digital health revolution is about leveraging new technology (most of which is powered by traditional energy sources) for better, faster, less expensive care, the prospect of using sustainable power to get there is absolutely huge. I mean game-changing, light bulb-inventing, Eureka moment huge.
What exactly is the Powerwall?
The Powerwall is a game-changing, home-based, lithium-ion battery that uses solar panels, or low utility rates, to generate electricity and provide a backup electricity supply. Automated, compact, simple to install and priced at only $3,500 for the home-based model, Powerwall takes homeowners off the utility grid and gives them a greener, more independent power supply.
It takes the Tesla Motors electric vehicle concept and applies it to everything on earth that needs power to operate. I love big thinkers. Wait. Not just big thinkers. Gargantuan thinkers who live at the intersection of science and imagination.
The Powerwall, which functions by harnessing the infinite power of the sun, was likely borne from a DaVinci-style, Muskian moment the rest of us would kill to have at least once in our lives.
We have this handy fusion reactor in the sky called the sun. You don’t have to do anything. It just works. It shows up every day and produces ridiculous amounts of power.
– Elon Musk, founder of the Powerwall.
Advantages of the Powerwall
- Solar panels charge your battery packs, which then become your exclusive power source
- More affordable than on-grid electricity
- Greener, more sustainable energy source than fossil fuels
- Users can go completely off-grid
- Reliable power source in very cold climates or during emergency power outages during events such as ice storms
- Can be mounted in your garage or the outside wall of your home, office or (as with the case of digital health) in hospitals, physician officers or outpatient clinics
- Takes up very little room
- Sits flat against the wall
- Great for charging wearables and other digital health devices without hogging electricity
- Contains integrated safety systems, thermal controls, a DC to DC converter and is designed to work very well with solar systems right out of the box
- Great solution for people in remote parts of the world where there are no power lines (such as the Arctic where diesel fuel must be flown in throughout the year, or Africa)
- Solar panels, combined with the Tesla Powerwall, means you never have to worry about having electricity lines
A globally scalable solution
At the Swish launch of the Powerwall in Los Angeles earlier this month, which was powered entirely by Tesla batteries, Musk unveiled his scalable solution for eliminating the need for fossil fuels and powering the entire world (infrastructure and transportation) through solar-charged, lithium-ion batteries.
Imagine the possibilities
Although some may say his vision is bold, when you see it laid out by the numbers, it makes perfect sense. Musk says the transition away from fossil fuels is entirely possible using scalable power packs that do for power what cell phones have done for landline communication.
Here are some of the numbers Musk quoted during the launch:
- With 160 million power packs you can transition the entire United States to this type of technology
- With 900 million you can transition the world
- With two billion power packs you can transition all transport and all heating to renewable energy
- You can make all electricity in the world renewable
A brave new world
The Tesla power pack is designed to scale infinitely through a gigawatt hour solution. We can do gigawatt installations with the power pack so we can power an entire city like Boulder with a gigawatt-hour class pack. - Elon Musk
To illustrate his point, Musk unveiled his new Gigafactory One, a large Tesla complex currently under construction in Nevada. Its solar-paneled roof and battery-operated power will surely stand as an example of what can be done when the power of Old Saul can be fully harnessed.
Imagine, as we move forward in a world where disruptive technologies like digital health devices, wearables, implantables and the like are improving and saving lives at an unprecedented rate, how much potential the Powerwall has? The cost savings alone are worth considering, be they for individual users or large-scale health care organizations looking to cut costs.
I think Musk is on to something. The only question is, do governments and organizations have the will and the way to give it a try?
One would hope so.
The Tesla Gigafactory One, a solar-powered "machine", as Musk describes it, currently under construction in Nevada. Photo: Tesla Motors
The Powerwall is expected to go on sale within the next few months.
The nuviun blog is intended to contribute to discussion and stimulate debate on important issues in global digital health. The views are solely those of the author.