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Tesla Motors electrifies energy summit

The fifth annual National Clean Energy Summit convened this week at the Bellagio . During each of the past five years, Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., has teamed with John Podesta at the Center for American Progress to hold a brainstorming session focused on clean energy, industrial development and public policy.

This year, former President Bill Clinton was a keynote speaker, joined by an impressive panel that included Ken Salazar, secretary of the interior; Jon Wellinghoff, Federal Energy Regulation Commission chairman; Michael Donley, secretary of the Air Force; Congresswoman Shelley Berkley, D-Nev.; Jim Murren, CEO of MGM Resorts International; Frederick Smith, FedEx chairman; and Neil Smatresk, University of Nevada, Las Vegas president.

Elon Musk, Tesla Motors chairman and CEO, joined with American filmmaker Chris Paine to present their views on the electric car industry and display the Model S sedan, the latest all-electric car to roll off the company production line in Fremont, Calif.

Paine directed the 2011 documentary, “Revenge of the Electric Car,” a sequel to a 2006 documentary titled “Who Killed the Electric Car?”

In the first documentary, Paine profiled the demise of the EV1 electric car project at General Motors. The EV1 was a breakthrough automotive platform that was being produced in limited numbers and leased for evaluation to a loyal following of customers, mostly in California during the 1990s. Actions by GM to halt the all-electric EV1 project triggered a public relations backlash for the company that added to its existing financial problems and reputation.

“Revenge of the Electric Car” chronicled the comeback of plug-in electric vehicles by focusing on the efforts of four men: Bob Lutz, vice chairman of Global Product Development GM, Chairman; Carlos Ghosn, CEO and chairman at Nissan/Renault; Greg “Gadget” Abbott, an independent electric vehicle creator and backyard mechanic; and Musk.

Musk was profiled as he attempted to grow Tesla Motors from a Silicon Valley startup company to compete against established automotive industry giants. Musk and his team brought hard work and perseverance to the production of a two-seat electric Roadster sports car with a 240-mile range, as well as a new world-class Model S that can travel as far as 300 miles on a single charge, which began production in June.

At 41 years old, Musk has now accomplished revolutionary changes on a grand scale across several industries.

During 1995, while initially studying applied physics and materials science at Stanford University, Musk and his brother created a content publishing company for the Internet called Zip2.com that was later purchased by Compaq for $341 million. By 1999, he co-founded X.com, a company that merged with Confinity to become PayPal. That merger provided new ways of using the Internet to process peer-to-peer financial transactions. PayPal became popular among millions of eBay auction users and was purchased during 2002 for $1.5 billion dollars.

Musk took his portion of that sale, about $180 million, and reinvested it in several challenging startup companies. One of them was SpaceX, with an ambitious mission to commercialize rocket launches and reusable spacecraft. On May 25, the SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket propelled its Dragon spacecraft into outer space to successfully dock with the International Space Station and resupply it. The Dragon capsule then plunged back through the Earth’s atmosphere and landed in the Pacific Ocean, where it was later retrieved.

In its quest to fabricate complex parts that were needed for each unique space mission, the company leaned heavily on advanced machine tools and robotics to fabricate its parts. Much of the same equipment also was used for the automation of the Tesla Motors factory in California.

Musk also is chairman of SolarCity, a photovoltaic solar power company whose products can create electricity from sunlight for many diverse applications, including fuel for Tesla Motors’ electric vehicles.

However, Musk was realistic during his address to the National Clean Energy Summit about the road ahead for all of his projects. He was painfully aware of how unexpected pitfalls can occur at anytime. In the end, the success of Tesla Motors and the demand for its vehicles will ultimately be in the hands of the consumer.

Stan Hanel has worked in the electronics industry for more than 30 years and is a long-time member of the Electric Auto Association and the Las Vegas Electric Vehicle Association. Hanel writes and edits for EAA’s “Current Events” and LVEVA’s “Watts Happening” newsletters. Contact him at stanhanel@aol.com.

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