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If Tesla's Gigafactory can run on 100% renewable energy, why can't others?

Lucas Mearian | Sept. 10, 2014
Tesla's trifecta of renewable energy sources is likely to surpass its electricity needs

An artist's rendition of Tesla's new Gigafactory.Credit: Tesla

Tesla's Gigafactory, the world's largest lithium-ion battery factory, is expected to generate as much renewable energy as it needs to operate -- and then some.

Last week, Tesla announced it would build the world's largest lithium-ion battery factory outside of Reno, Nevada.

Using what Gigafactoy cals conservative estimates, a trifecta of renewable energy sources could generate more than 2,900MWh of renewable electricity daily, which amounts to 20% more than it needs, according to Tom Lombardo, a professor of engineering and technology at Rock Valley College in Rockford, Ill.

"These are conservative estimates on production and worst-case estimates on consumption, and it's clear that there's enough renewable energy to run the plant with some to spare," Lombardo wrote in wrote in a recent blog.

The factory, preparation for which has already begun at the Reno Tahoe Industrial Center, will be shaped like a diamond. The diamond shape, according to Tesla CEO Elon Musk, better fits the contour of the surrounding environment so that less dirt has to be removed to build it.

The factory is also aligned on true north so that solar panels on its roof are exposed to the maximum amount of sunlight possible, Musk said.

"This factory will produce its own energy as well. Through a combination of geothermal, wind and solar it will produce all the energy it needs," Musk said. "So it'll be sort of a self-contained factory."

Renewable ROI
More than half of Fortune 100 companies collectively saved more than $1.1B annually by reducing carbon emissions and rolling out renewable energy projects over the past year, according to a recent report titled "Power Forward 2.0." Collectively, 43% of Fortune 500 companies, or 215 in all, have also set targets in one of three categories: greenhouse gas reduction, energy efficiency and renewable energy. When narrowed to just the Fortune 100, 60% of the companies have set the same clean energy goals.

As admirable as it is for Tesla's battery factory to run 100% on renewable energy, it's currently not a viable option for most companies mainly because of the variability of renewable energy.

Tesla's 10 million square foot factory will be covered in solar panels, and be plugged into a nearby wind turbine farm and geothermal electricity plant, according to Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

A battery factory of that size is estimated to consume 100 megawatts (MW) of power at peak capacity or 2,400MWh per day, according to Navigant Research. By comparison, that's the equivalent electricity consumption of about 80,000 homes.

"It's an enormous amount of energy for a single facility," said Sam Jaffe, a principal research analyst with Navigant.


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