Last week an area outside of Reno, Nevada was chosen as the site of the first Tesla battery Gigafactory. In addition to bringing 6,500 much-needed jobs and a cutting-edge manufacturing facility to Nevada, Elon Musk has also promised to power the Gigafactory using only its own, green energy sources. Can it be done, and if so, how?
It is no small task to power a facility as huge as the Gigafactory, which is said to cover 929 square-meters and about a thousand acres of land, and over at Engineering.com Tom Lombardo ran some calculations to see just how much power the Gigafactory would need. Based on a Navigant Research study, Lombardo estimates the Gigafactory could consume as much as 2,400 MWh each day if it’s running at full-tilt (that is to say, 500,000 battery packs per year). That’s enough energy to power 80,000 average American homes. Where the hell is Elon Musk going to get all that power?
Well Lombardo goes on to say that if 850,000 square-meters were covered in efficient solar panels (from, say, Solar City?), that alone would generate about 850 MWh of energy per day, about ⅓ of what’s needed. The official Gigafactory picture also included about 85 windmills on the hills in the background, and despite the Reno area not been particularly friendly to wind farms, a setup of similar size would generate about 1,836 MWh of energy, which puts the Gigafactory well past its 2,400 MWh needs. Musk also said geothermal energy could play a role, and a small 10 Mw facility could produce 240 MWh of usable energy each day. All told, the Gigafactory could actually produce 20% more energy than it needs on a daily basis.
The catch, of course, is storing that energy; solar power will be non-existent at night, and on calm days wind energy will be hard to rely on. Given that the Gigafactory can make a half-million battery packs per year though, they’ll probably be able to come up with some pretty effective storage solutions, and at an affordable cost.
Those arguing that Tesla is more than just a car maker may have a point, as the Gigafactory could set a new standard when it comes to the definition of what makes a factory green, and what’s just greenwashing.