Competition is fierce across multiple industries to discover and develop a better way of producing and using energy, especially as the reality of our planet’s resource scarcity gains an increasing amount of attention in political arenas. Among the flurry of innovation stands Tesla, which has been striding boldly ahead with ambition and vision from its beginnings. The electric vehicle manufacturer, which also produces a line of solar-powered battery systems designed to power utilities, businesses, and homes, is always endeavoring to out-do itself. Outrageous goals-- like churning out half a million electric cars per year starting in 2020-- have other industry actors raising their eyebrows in skepticism.
The Gigafactory: Tesla's Battery Solution
However, the company’s CEO Elon Musk keeps busy articulating new plans for seeing these goals accomplished, starting at their core-- batteries. Half a million new electric cars will require half a million lithium ion batteries, which aren’t currently being manufactured fast enough to keep up with the projected car production. Tesla’s solution? Build a monster factory for mass battery production. “This factory is really important to the future of Tesla, because without it we can’t do the mass-market car,” said Musk upon unveiling the factory plans . Tesla recognizes that in order to bring its electric car to more garages across America, it needs to not only increase production but bump the price down to a range more affordable to a wider customer base. According to Tesla’s chief technical officer, JB Straubel, ramping up production of the batteries has the potential to bring the price down, perhaps even by 30%.
The construction of this enormous factory is the first step. Known simply as the “Tesla Gigafactory” at its origin, the factory is named for the massive production ability it’s anticipated to have. The whole facility is expected to be fully operational by the year 2020, at which point it’ll be generating a greater quantity of lithium ion batteries than were produced globally in 2013. As Musk pointed out with a grin, “It’s not just going to be the biggest lithium ion factory in the world, but it will actually be bigger than the sum of all the lithium ion factories in the world…. It’s a heck of a big factory.”
True to its mission toward sustainability, Tesla designed the entire facility to be both efficient and sufficient in generating and using the energy needed to operate: geothermal, wind, and solar energy systems are in place on the property and expected to fill all of the factory’s energy needs. The building itself is being constructed facing due North, so that the solar panels on the roof are optimally positioned. The alignment has also streamlined the planning process for equipment placement within the gigantic building: Musk suggested the use of GPS systems in mapping it all out.
The construction of such an ambitious facility is sure to be an impressive and complicated undertaking, and many in the industry and the media have kept their eye on the ongoing progress of the gigafactory’s creation. We’ve compiled the highlights here in a timeline.
The Gigafactory Timeline
June 2014 Ground was broken just outside of Reno, Nevada, on the originally purchased 1,000 acres.
July 2014-March 2015 All was quiet on the western front… except for the rumbling and banging that rang out across the Nevada landscape.
April 2015 The facility became known as “Gigafactory 1,” since it became clear just one week after its reveal that Tesla would need to build more like it. Musk expressed his belief that other companies will follow in Tesla’s footsteps and build their own “gigafactories.”
June 2015 Tesla purchased almost 2,000 acres in the backyard of the current complex in anticipation of future expansion before beginning construction on any new locations.
October 2015 Production of the Tesla Energy product line was moved and given a pilot run at what part of the factory was then complete. (The Energy product line consists of the Powerwall and the Powerpack. The Powerwall is a wall-mounted, solar-powered battery meant for domestic consumption. The Powerpack is the larger, commercial version.)
January 2016 The president of Panasonic announced the corporation’s intent to invest 1.6 million USD in the factory. Tesla and Panasonic have an existing relationship in which the latter supplies battery cells but hopes to increase its involvement in the automobile industry.
March 2016 Just over a tenth of the anticipated final facility was finished. The current area of the building is 800,000 sq. ft.! The whole facility is estimated to end up occupying 13 million sq. ft. once fully complete.
May 2016 The initial goal of 500,000 cars a year by 2020 was re-slated for 2018-- a bold aim which has some raising their eyebrows in doubt.
June 2016 Construction continues full-force, with nearly 600 construction workers reportedly on-site in Q1 2016.
Official inauguration is slated for July 29, 2016.
The House That Sustainability and Innovation Built
As construction progresses steadily, Tesla continues to advertise the incorporation of sustainability and innovation in Gigafactory 1’s concept and realization. Reducing waste, utilizing manufacturing innovations, and optimizing production by keeping it all under one enormous roof have been stressed as important considerations. “Tesla is going to be hell-bent on becoming the best manufacturer on Earth…. I have a sleeping bag and a conference room adjacent to the production line, which I use quite frequently. The whole team is super focused,” said Musk. While the zeal toward the project cannot be denied, there is still doubt that it will be rewarding. Bloomberg New Energy Finance analyst Salim Morsy stated, “It would reshape the entire global car industry…. But a lot of things have to go right, and they have to go right on the extremes."
The Next Four Years
The next four years will be telling as the facility becomes fully operational and the company’s resolve to see the factory’s ideal reached is put to the test. In the meantime guests are encouraged to visit Gigafactory 1 to gawk at the remarkable facility, armed with safety glasses, hard hats, reflective vests, and complimentary coffee.