We recently covered a talk that JB Straubel gave at the University of Nevada — Reno. He gave the typical overview of Tesla, with updates on many of the projects it has going on, including the Gigafactory, which is just up the road from the university.
One piece of the factory that we have not seen many details on is related to the plan for on-site renewable energy production. All of the Tesla visualizations look similar to the one above… with a roof covered in what looks like photovoltaic solar panels and a hillside speckled with wind turbines. While that’s a nice picture, with the factory under construction, we would expect to see more details starting to come out… and they are.
Friend of CleanTechnica and Google+ user Renaud Janson flagged a key part of JB Straubel’s talk that touches on this critical detail. It was not a part of the main body of the message, instead tucked away in the Q&A as a response to a query from an environmental engineering major, Mackenzie Kohler, asking about Tesla’s efforts to manufacture its vehicles in an environmentally responsible way. JB Straubel lays out the next level of detail about the company’s plans.
“The Gigafactory is maybe the best example we can talk about with this. You know, from the get-go, from the first concept of this factory, we wanted to make it a net-zero facility. So, you know, the most visible thing we are doing is covering the entire site with solar power. The whole roof of the Gigafactory was designed from the beginning with solar in mind. We kept all of the mechanical equipment off the roof. We didn’t put extra, sorta, penetrations through the roof that we didn’t need to and it’s a very, very clean surface that we can completely cover in solar. But that’s not enough solar, though. So we have also gone to the surrounding hillsides that we can’t use for other functions and we’re adding solar to those.
The other interesting thing is we wanted to manage the emissions from the Gigafactory. Solar power can do some of that, but we took kind of a radical move in the beginning and said we are not going to burn any fossil fuels in the factory. You know, zero emissions. We are going to build a zero-emissions factory — just like the car. So, instead of kind of fighting this battle in hindsight, we just said we are not even going to have a natural gas pipeline coming to the factory, so we didn’t even build it. And it kind of forced the issue. When you don’t have natural gas, you know, none of the engineers can say, “Oh, but it will be more efficient, let me use just a little bit.” Sorry, we don’t even have it.
So it’s kind of been a fun activity and just, a lot of challenges that come up. But in every single step of the process, we have been able to reinvent and come up with solutions. There’s a heat pump technology that actually ends up way more efficient than just burning natural gas for steam. And then, we have a facility that has basically no emissions. The only emissions are related to the vehicles that might go there that aren’t electric or things like that. But we’ll try to attack that one piece at a time.”
The updated Gigafactory graphic that JB shared also includes fun details about the overall production capacity of the Gigafactory (50 GWh of batteries!):
I especially love their purist approach to using natural gas — Nope! Don’t even run a pipe over to us… we’ll find a way. That sounds familiar and is no surprise coming from the guy who wants to take us to Mars, power the earth with solar panels, and use that electricity to power the masses of previously unheard of super EVs that Tesla will be producing using the batteries from the Gigafactory.
I wouldn’t call myself a fanboy of Tesla, but I am constantly inspired by and in awe of its bold approach to things we used to accept as givens in transportation, energy, and now, manufacturing.
Images by Tesla
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