Musk And Straubel Talk Model 3 Ramp And Solar Power

A press conference in the lobby of the Gigafactory featuring Elon Musk and JB Staubel delved deeply into how Tesla will manage the ramp up to production of the Model 3. It then transitioned to one of Elon’s favorite topics — solar power. Here’s what the pair had to say.

Tesla Model 3

On The Model 3

Musk: “I believe we are on track to meet the half million by 2018. The hardest thing to predict is really the ramp. The ramp looks like an S curve and grows exponentially. Initially the ramp looks really tiny and as you eliminate bottle necks you climb the ramp and you level off. Its always difficult for us to forecast the exact shape of the S curve for the production ramp.

“It’s much easier for us to forecast when things are going to be steady state. So we’ve been pretty good about forecasting 2018, whereas 2017 is much more in the air because we’ll be working through a complex production ramp.”

Straubel: “One of the points is the schedule and ramp up plan for the Gigafactory. With the pull up of the Model 3, and the volume goal to meet a half million cars by 2018, we also have had to pull up the Gigafactory schedule to supply the cells and battery packs for the Model 3.

“What that means is for the earlier schedule for the Gigafactory, we’ve had to pull that ahead by two years. By 2018 we have to be at 35 gigawatt hours of production to support those Model 3s. You can see the evidence of that around the factory. And Panasonic has done their part to absolutely stay in sync with that as we’ve accelerated the schedule for Model 3.”

On The Size Of The Gigafactory

Musk: “What you’re seeing is only 14% of the size of the factory overall. It’s quite huge. One of the things we discovered as we got more into the Gigafactory design and optimizing what it could do, we thought we could probably achieve about three times the output that was originally planned.

“So we originally expected to make about 35 gigawatt hours at the cell level and about 50 gigawatt hours at the module or pack level. Now we are expecting to do about 150 gigawatt hours in the same volumetric space as the original design. We can expect to see 10,000 [workers], compared to the 5,000 or 6,000 previous estimate. Maybe in three to four years.

“Things are on track to be able to meet the Model 3 plan next year. We’re really excited about what’s happening here.”

Powerwall and Powerpack business

Musk: “Stationary storage will be as big as the car business long term. The growth rate will probably be several times what it is for the car business. We roughly assume that it’ll be probably a third of our output. But the growth rate is faster, so then grow to probably match what it is for cars.

Solar Power And The Utility Grids

Many traditional utility companies are not at all happy about individuals and companies making and sharing their own solar power. They have been protected monopolies for more than a century and would like things to stay that way.  NV Energy in Nevada is owned by Warren Buffett. It has formed a cozy relationship with with the Nevada PUC, which has promulgated new rules that penalize those with rooftop solar systems in the state. As a result, SolarCity has recently shut down operations in Nevada, putting 500 people out of work. At the press conference, Musk made several remarks about the solar power industry and traditional power generation. He was careful to acknowledge that alternative energy can cause strains for traditional utilities and grid operators.

Musk: “Solar power production actually helps the grid to a certain point. Only past a certain point does it create issues with the grid. A utility can handle up to 20% of production from solar and that helps the grid because it produces electricity when needed. Solar power peaks in the middle of the day and that’s also when air conditioning is running and businesses are operating, so power production matches usage.

“But once you exceed the 20% level, then it does become more difficult for utilities to power balance the grid. So I think it makes sense for net metering to be there up through the point where it helps the cost structure of the grid. That’s the logical thing. The utilities in some cases have tried to obfuscate that its actually helpful, and have tried to lower that number of 20% to like 3%.

Tesla And Grid Services

Musk: “I think we’ll get into grid services eventually. The goal of Tesla is to accelerate sustainable energy, so we’re going to take a step back and think about what’s most likely to achieve that goal.

Source and photo credit: Fortune


Steve Hanley

Closely following the transition from internal combustion to electricity. Whether it's cars, trucks, ships, or airplanes, sustainability is the key. Please follow me on Google + and Twitter.