The man with a plan … or two

Elon Musk’s plans don’t stop with harnessing the power of the sun in Nevada

Richard N. Velotta

Richard N. Velotta

Elon Musk, the entrepreneur behind PayPal and electric car manufacturer Tesla Motors, must have a place in his heart for Las Vegas.

Musk is chairman of SolarCity, a solar panel installation firm that celebrated its valley debut last week at an event attended by Sen. Harry Reid and Gov. Brian Sandoval.

SolarCity sees great potential for developing solar energy in Nevada for residential rooftops and corporate buildings. It hopes to develop solar system manufacturing and distribution centers throughout Southern Nevada.

Musk is making news for other ventures, as well.

For several months, he had been dropping hints about Hyperloop, a proposed passenger transportation system. In a 57-page document for his SpaceX, which designs, manufactures and launches rockets and spacecraft, Musk described his disappointment with California’s high-speed rail proposal and pitched Hyperloop as an alternative.

Hyperloop would transport passenger in pods that are whisked through tubes at 760 mph, faster than a jet or train. The technology is similar, albeit on a much larger scale, to the tubes that carry cash and receipts from drive-through banking lines.

Musk envisions a system linking San Francisco and Los Angeles. He predicted that a one-way trip would take 35 minutes and that pods could be released every two minutes during slow times and every 30 seconds during peak periods.

Tickets could cost as little as $20 per passenger, Musk said. Hyperloop also could carry passengers in vehicles.

The San Francisco-Los Angeles route would likely be the most popular, but the proposal includes descriptions of a handful of branches and stations off the main line. San Diego, Sacramento, Fresno – and Las Vegas – are prospective destinations.

With high-speed rail between Los Angeles and Las Vegas in hibernation, Musk’s Hyperloop brings a fresh perspective to the discussion.

But Musk doesn’t want to pursue the project. He published specifications for the system hoping someone else would build it. He said he has more than enough on his plate with SpaceX and Tesla.

The Hyperloop propulsion system, like maglev, uses electromagnets to push vehicles along a cushion of air. So I called Kevin Coates, CEO of the North American Maglev Transport Institute, to ask what he thought of it.

“You mean the Hyperbole-loop?” he said.

There’s little likelihood technologists who support magnetic levitation will jump into the Hyperloop camp.

Coates said he doubts people would want to climb into a sealed tube and be “shot through a hamster trail.”

“Anybody with claustrophobia would never make it, and there are so many unanswered questions about the technology,” Coates said. “It would be better to pursue a proven system, maglev, than to look at this.”

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