Andreas Späth

Dear Elon Musk: Please come home!

2015-05-25 13:08

Andreas Wilson-Späth

Dear Elon

South Africa needs your help, so won’t you please lend us just a fraction of your spark to get us out of a spot of bother we’re in.

The reason why I’m writing to you (and please excuse my addressing you by your first name, but what with all the press you’re getting these days, I feel like I actually know you) is that you are probably the most high-profile person in the world to realise that the future will be powered by the sun. Not only have you realised this – you’ve taken the idea by the scruff of the neck and run with it. Now, we’d really love you to share some of that drive with us over here.

Please understand that I’m not trying to guilt you into ‘paying back’ something you supposedly owe the country of your birth. You don’t owe us anything. Instead, I’d like to appeal to two character traits you appear to have by the bucket load – the gift of spotting a golden opportunity and a love of taking on a challenge. We’ve got both!

The opportunity

Remember those sunny Pretoria days of your childhood - all day, all summer long (and pretty much all of autumn, winter and spring, too)? Well, we’ve got plenty more of that all over the country. Solar power and South Africa are a match made in heaven and there’s no one better placed than you to convert this incredible potential for perpetual, clean, cheap and sustainable energy into a reality.

The challenge

The folks currently in charge of providing the country with electricity are literally in the dark when it comes to renewable sources of energy. They insist on pursuing dirty coal, oil and fracked gas pipedreams along with plans for ridiculously expensive, dangerous and out-dated nuclear power. Please help us show them the light!

The proposal

I’d like to make some rather modest suggestions on how you might help us extricate ourselves from our current energy quagmire and will leave you to work out the technical and business details.

We’re not quite ready for some of the amazing ideas you cook up in that imaginative mind of yours. While the vision of a SpaceX rocketport in the Northern Cape really, really appeals to my sci-fi sensibilities, it’s unfortunately not very high on our list of national priorities right now. Similarly a Hyperloop tube connecting Jozi to Cape Town would be awesome, but will have to wait.

How about you start by building a decent-size solar panel factory here? We’ve got plenty of people looking for work and many with the technical skills required. Offer affordable, home and business scale solar power systems and services to kick-start the local renewable energy industry.

Add a battery factory and start building Tesla electric vehicles. In both cases, the challenge would be to create more affordable versions than the ones you’ve currently got on the market. Smaller and cheaper ones that are more appropriate to conditions here in the developing world and that are more widely accessible to ordinary South Africans.

Basically what I’m asking you to do is to lend us a hand in propelling ourselves into the solar century. It’s not rocket science (although if it was, that wouldn’t be a problem for you, obviously).

I’d like you to look at this proposal not simply as a fantastic business opportunity or even as a case of worthwhile altruism, but as a necessity. You see, ultimately your dream of a solar-charged future is futile if it only happens in affluent pockets in the developed world. You have to bring those of us who live in developing countries along for the ride, otherwise the planet will continue its slide to hell in a hand basket. With or without Tony Stark.

Kind regards from sunny SA,

- Andreas is a freelance writer with a PhD in geochemistry. Follow him on Twitter: @Andreas_Spath

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