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The Musk Family Plan for Transforming the World's Energy

Elon Musk and his cousin, Lyndon Rive, have always been close. Their mothers are twins, and Messrs. Musk and Rive grew up together.

"We've known each other for as long as we've been conscious," said Mr. Musk, speaking at a panel this week at a private conference in New York.

There is an obvious, almost brotherly affection between the two men. Mr. Musk says Mr. Rive "is an awesome guy and really hardworking and driven, and you can trust him with anything." And when Mr. Rive recounts the drive to Burning Man in 2004 when Mr. Musk told him his next venture should be in solar power, Mr. Rive says that when Mr. Musk tells you what area to get into next, you get into it.

Their closeness continues, and if Messrs. Musk and Rive can achieve their shared vision, the result will be a transformation of the world's, or at least America's, energy infrastructure.

The companies the two men run—Tesla Motors Inc. and solar energy system provider SolarCity Corp.—are uniquely compatible. It isn't just a product of the affiliation of their founders, but is also a consequence of Mr. Musk sitting on the board of SolarCity and being its largest individual shareholder.

Tesla makes cars, but it also—in the not too distant future—will make batteries. Lots of them. Tesla is building a $5 billion "gigafactory" in Nevada for batteries, one so large that it will, says Mr. Musk, be larger than the whole of earth's current capacity for manufacturing lithium-ion batteries, most of which currently go into phones, tablets, laptops and other mobile devices.

At the conference Wednesday, Mr. Musk disclosed that a portion of the gigafactory's capacity will be set aside for building "grid-scale storage."

In other words, Tesla is going to continue its tradition of manufacturing battery packs for SolarCity, only on a much grander scale.

Up to now, SolarCity has sold Tesla-built battery packs to a handful of corporate and residential customers. The rationale is simple: The sun doesn't always shine, so the best way to manage solar power on-site is to save it up for cloudy days and overnight.

SolarCity's revenue has been growing 100% a year since its founding in 2006, and Mr. Rive says his goal is to maintain that pace for as long as possible. To that end, SolarCity announced in June the acquisition of Silevo, a Silicon Valley-based maker of solar panels that Mr. Rive insists is capable of producing at scale the most efficient solar panels on the market.

Mr. Musk said that while his gigafactory won't exclusively sell grid-storage batteries to SolarCity, conversations with the company are "our best feedback as to deciding what the product would look like."

Mr. Musk went even further, describing "the product" as a bank of batteries that "looks good," is about 4-inches thick and can be mounted on the wall of the garage in a home.

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