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Thursday, November 27, 2014

Can Tesla Power Its Gigafactory with Renewables Alone?



Elon Musk has said that all the energy that the Tesla Gigafactory uses will be from onsite solar, wind, and geothermal renewable sources.

Engineering.com recently pulled out their calculator to run the numbers. They wanted to see if it penciled out. Could the entire Gigafactory run exclusively from onsite renewables sources.

Being both a renewable energy advocate and an electric vehicle advocate, I found this to be a fascinating question.

Since the factory is not yet built, they had to make some assumptions based on the announced plans and the size of the plot. I'll spare you the math (which they did in detail) and cover just the highlights.

Assuming the factory roof is covered in solar panels and considering the regions solar capacity, solar photovoltaic would generate an estimated 850 MWh each day. Additional solar panels could be ground mounted if needed and they could be even more efficient if they have sun tracking mounts. But we'll assume just rooftop solar for now.

The image has 85 wind turbines according to their count. Given the regions average wind speed, this would generate roughly 1836 MWh of wind energy per day.

Nevada has several geothermal energy plants in operation today. The newest of these is a 20 MW plant. They assumed that Tesla would build one that is only half this size. This would produce 240 MWh of electricity each day.

Adding these up:
  850 MWh of Solar
1836 MWh of Wind
  240 MWh of Geothermal
-------
Totals up to 2926 MWh per day.

For perspective, this is enough to power about 97,000 homes.

How Much Does the Factory Need? 

Navigant Research estimates that for all the factory's activities, it will consume approximately 2400 MWh per day (about 80,000 homes worth).

Net Zero? Yes. Even Better, Energy Positive!

Given these assumptions, 2900 MWh are produced and only 2400 MWh are used per day. So it is possible for Tesla's Gigafactory to be powered by 100% onsite renewable energy. The additional capacity will allow the factory to feed the local grid with surplus renewable energy during peak generation times. This will allow for net-metering or "running the meter backwards" during sunny and/or windy days.

Additionally, this is a battery plant. One of their products (in addition to vehicle batteries) will be grid-level energy storage systems. One of these systems would both showcase their product and allow the factory to store surplus energy when it is generated and then draw from it as needed. This would smooth out any intermittence caused from the sun and wind.

Via Engineering.com