KQED Science Gets Exclusive Details On Tesla Gigafactory – Interviews J.B. Straubel


Tesla Gigafactory Roof

Tesla Gigafactory Roof

KQED Science had an opportunity to interview J.B. Straubel, Tesla co-founder and Chief Technical Officer, about details regarding the $5 billion Tesla Gigafactory. The upcoming world’s largest battery factory still maintains many mysteries. Tesla has been working on it for nearly two years and it may be another four years before it’s completed.

Inside The Gigafactory

Inside The Gigafactory

The factory is located in the Nevada desert, about a half hour from Reno. Straubel took KQED up on the roof of the factory to get a sense of its enormity. It will cover 5.8 million square feet of land and eventually be connected by rail to Tesla’s Fremont assembly plant. He said:

“It’s really hard to get a sense of scale. I mean, it’s huge. I’m not a huge football fan but I think it’s on the order of around a hundred football fields.”

Tesla is already utilizing completed sections of the building. As each section is finished, battery production starts immediately. Nevada offered Tesla an incentive package of over a billion dollars toward the factory. The offer came with specifics that the company must follow. Most importantly, employing Nevada citizens as 6,000 of the factory’s permanent workers.

The Tesla Gigafactory will run on renewable energy, mostly from solar panels on the roof. Energy will also come from batteries and other off-site renewable sources. The goal is to double the world’s lithium-ion battery production, and to significantly reduce costs, in partnership with Panasonic. This would supply 500,000 Tesla vehicles.

Straubel compared a room inside of the factory to a “giant baking oven”, with endless rooms after rooms of specialized machines being run by many workers. He explained the “baking” room:

“So this is a pretty exciting room. It’s filled with huge metal tanks, almost like an insanely-large industrial kitchen. This is where we will actually mix the materials, the raw materials, we mix them into what’s called a slurry.”

Another room is focused on making the Powerwall. This is a 4 foot by 3 foot battery for the home. There are already many stacks of these completed and ready to ship. The Powerwall will store home owner’s excess solar energy that can be used overnight.

Elon Musk Showing Off The Gigafactory At The Model 3 Unveiling Event

Elon Musk Showing Off The Gigafactory At The Model 3 Unveiling Event

Powerpacks, like Powerwalls, are also accumulating on the factory floor. These are a bigger version of a Powerwall, said to be about the size of a refrigerator, that will be used in factories, industrial sites, and electric utility grids.

Tesla sees the future of sustainable energy dominated by electric cars paired with solar home energy and home energy storage. Straubel is excited about the prospects. He commented:

“Batteries are the missing piece in allowing sustainable energy to scale up to 100 percent of our energy needs. We’re confident that eventually just about every vehicle on the road will move to being electric . . . That’s changing the transportation landscape. That’s changing the energy landscape. It is changing the world.”

Many see this as a huge risk to take with the future being unknown. While industry experts and futurists see the truth and advantages of the concept, consumers must see its benefits and buy into it. Energy economist from UC Berkeley, Severin Borenstein, questioned:

“Is [Tesla CEO] Elon Musk far-seeing and investing in the future? Or is he making big bets that could all collapse at once?

Gas prices have been low as of late. Electric rates in many states are low enough that spending $3,000 on a Powerwall to store energy may not yet generate substantial savings. Without solar energy in place on any notable level, most consumers aren’t in a position to reap the benefits. At this point, most solar customers are given incentives from power companies for the excess energy that goes back to the grid. Thus, storing the extra energy at their homes may deter them financially. Borenstein added:

“If we could figure out a way to produce batteries at large-scale and low-cost, it would really be a game changer for reducing greenhouse gas emissions . . . [Early adopters are] people who like that and feel good about it and they’re mostly pretty darn rich . . . Average households are not going to get much or any value from these batteries.”

Despite any speculation or analyst predictions, Tesla is headstrong and well underway in making all of this a reality. Once the monumental accomplishment of the Tesla Gigafactory is complete and fully efficient, battery prices will drop substantially. Straubel estimates a 30% reduction initially. Tesla hopes that lower battery prices, leading to cheaper electric vehicles, home batteries and energy storage, will eventually appeal to the masses. This will not only lead to an “electric revolution”, but also provide Tesla with much anticipated profitability.

Source: KQED Science

Categories: Battery Tech, Tesla

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52 Comments on "KQED Science Gets Exclusive Details On Tesla Gigafactory – Interviews J.B. Straubel"

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Great place to have a paper airplane contest….

“It’s really hard to get a sense of scale.”

Indeed it is! I just read the original article, at the KQED Science website (link at the end of the article), and saw a picture there of a semi tractor next to the Gigafactory. It’s described as having two floors, but both those floors must have very high ceilings. Compared to that truck, it’s the height of a 4-5 story building.

That’s… BIG. And it’s not even half built!


It’s only 14% built. That number is well-known. A recent BB article on Tesla’s factory re-iterates the number:


And that article was written by a very pro-Tesla reporter (just before anyone cries foul again).

14% is less than half. He said, it’s not even half built. I don’t get you dispute with what he said?

Because the 14% figure shows exactly how little Tesla has built so far and how unrealistic the “500k EV batteries by 12/2018” – I’m not even talking about storage batteries here – is.

They need to spend billions more (raise money first) and it would take 4-5 years to complete the missing 86%.

How Tesla wants to ship the projected Model3 numbers by 2017 or 2018 is beyond me.

Ask anyone how knows about car plant manufacturing and testing timetables involving hundreds of suppliers and critical path items.

The new Model3 / battery ramp schedules and output projections are crazy imho.

PS: Current Production heads just left Tesla…


Still pedaling your FUD, eh tftf?

Yes, we fully understand that the two folks who are leaving / have left Tesla is real info.

The FUD statement accurately depicts the ongoing “sky is falling” statements from you concerning Tesla.

I suspect that the folks in charge of Tesla understand what it takes to build a car. If that is 100,000 Model 3 cars in the next 18 months, then that’s likely at least close to what will really happen.

Tftf, 14% Includes the machinery.
The building itself is nearing completion.

Jerry, no, the building itself is only 14% complete. Here’s an overlay…

Compare the full red building plan with the current pilot plant.


But how can you tell the scale with no banana in the picture? 😀

Seriously, thanks for the photo! I tried to find something similar once, but couldn’t. This time I bookmarked it.

P.S. — Yes, when I was in school, 14% was indeed less than half. Perhaps you learned that “new math”? 😉

“… and it may be another four years before it’s completed.”

That adds up with the 500k Tesla cars /year by 2018 and 30+ % battery cost reductions…NOT.

It’s simply amazing how many people still believe in Tesla’s timelines.

They are basically stating their goals. How else do you want them to word it? Everyone knows that the execution of such large goals has it’s issues, resulting in delays, and cost overruns, etc.

Note, you don’t have clue what their battery cost reductions will be to declare a “NOT” on that.

The battery cost reductions (per Tesla reasoning) can only occur thanks to the Gigafactory.

Now let me know given the…

1) small investments from both Panasonic and Tesla (they have to disclose the numbers to Nevada because of subsidies etc.)

2) timetables to build additional factory sections

how Tesla can churn out 500k EV batteries per year by 2018 (!) – that’s just 18-24 months from now.

Building the additional outer shells alone will take another year or so – and you can’t ramp up the production so quickly.

PS: I doubt they can even make 500k cars by 2018 – without any batteries.

Why don’t you bother to disclose your financial motives (your Tesla shorts) here as you spread your FUD tftf??? Could it be that it will discredit your self-benefitting arguments?

It is pretty obvious that with over 14 BILLION dollars in M3 pre-orders that Tesla will be vastly accelerating the build-out of the Giga and the production of cells/packs within to match their acceleration of the production of the M3 at Fremont.

As long as Tesla starts production of M3s in late 2017 they will be fine and conversely you and your fellow Seeking Liars shorters will be out your money. As they say, a fool and their money are soon parted.

tftf desperately wrote: “Building the additional outer shells alone will take another year or so – and you can’t ramp up the production so quickly.” BZZZZZT! Wrong, but thanks for playing! Gosh, and you were doing so well before that with your Tesla bashing in this comment thread, tftf. Talking about the critical path to completion, and to be honest, I myself am rather skeptical that Tesla can accelerate the build-out as much as Elon has recently said they’re going to. Strong-arming Panasonic into accelerating the build-out of battery capacity never worked very well, so what is different now? Tesla is still dependent on Panasonic for the battery cell manufacturing side of the Gigafactory. But really, dude, claiming they can’t accelerate the build of a long, wide, relatively flat, utilitarian building? What, you think it’s impossible to rapidly build out ordinary utilitarian flat walls and ceiling? Dude! They could do it in six weeks if they wanted to. Heck, even less if they wanted to pay for 24 hour construction. Nine women can’t have a baby in one month, but nine construction crews can certainly build out nine sections of the Gigafactory as fast as one crew could build out… Read more »
Push-Pull, tftf is right. This is not FUD. This is business and construction reality. Do you have any commercial/industrial construction experience – specifically building large heavy-manufacturing buildings? This ain’t no lightweight pre-engineered, off the shelf pre-fab metal warehouse. There are massive infrastructure elements to coordinate & install with each phase – water, waste water, power, HVAC, communications – not to mention the massive foundations and slabs required to support the heavy production machinery and maintain the vibration-free, stable base required to achieve the precision mandated by cell manufacturing. The building structural shell goes up real fast, but months and months of foundation work, underslab infrastructure, and steel fabrication is required ahead of time to pull together all the parts and pieces so that assembly could be good to go for a “tinker-toy”-like assembly process. Then after the skin is on, the real work for putting in all the above-slab infrastructure required for the machinery and tooling. Typical build cycle is 1-1.5 years before tooling and production machinery can be installed, which adds more months to a year to the build-out to get that “phase” in production. So figure 2 years from breaking ground to product rolling off the line. To… Read more »
Perhaps you’ve forgotten that one of the serial Tesla bashers’ former whines was that after ground was broken at the Gigafactory site, after the land cleared and flattened, the site sat idle for months, as Tesla negotiated with Nevada over the deal. Contrariwise, I remember quite well that the bashers were trying to tell us that Tesla had abandoned plans for the Gigafactory. The story came out later that a construction company did the land clearing and earth moving to demonstrate that they can do construction work there very quickly, when needed. And I don’t need to be an expert in this particular subject to have an informed opinion, HVACman. I’ve seen how very quickly a shopping mall can be constructed, by driving past the construction site almost every day. Pouring the concrete and letting it cure would take the longest time. Just putting up a steel skeleton, walls, and a roof of corrugated metal panels won’t take long, especially if they have multiple teams working on it simultaneously. I thought my point was clear: With such a large, wide, relatively flat building, they can have multiple teams working at once. As many as needed. Contrariwise, I’ve also seen a… Read more »

It’s true. I don’t think the current manufacturers have an incentive to lower prices, much in the same way the space industry hadn’t. The nice thing about the Gigafactory is that it is governed by a core belief about the future, rather than a board of directors, bureaucracy, and pure profit-seeking motives. A drive for cheap energy is needed, and the money will come after the fact for the Gigafactory eg. it’s a land grab.

If you look at the slides, the Model X was suppose to be out in 2013…you see the point.

Tftf, THE GF IS AHEAD OF SCHEDULE and most isn’t needed until they are selling 500k/yr.
The GF was designed to be finished as needed as planned for the future, not today.

Again, the PILOT plant is ahead of schedule (even that is debatable, but let’s not go into details): How this small portion (14% of total building) can churn out up to 500k batteries/year by 2018 remains to be seen. And if anyone tells me “well, Tesla/Panasonic can just import the other cells/batteries from Japan” where are the 30% cost reductions (only achievable thanks to the Gigafactory) on those imported cells? And why build th GF in the first place then? The original 2020 schedule for the GF was tight and Tesla/Panasonic need(ed) billions more to complete the 86% but 2017-2018 for the new Model3 ramp is nearly impossible imho. Even producing 400k Model3 cars is nearly impossible (assuming the 500k mix by 2018 includes around 100k Model S and X) – one giant recall can crush a small car maker. The sensible thing for Tesla would have been delaying the Model3 to 2019-2020, instead they are doubling down and increase vertical integration. More cap-ex, tighter schedule and production chiefs leaving (hmm, why?…). I call it a suicide mission – good for EV consumers (unkess they get a lemon, it’s hard to imagine good QC on those 2017-2018 Model3 cars), bad… Read more »

Unfortunately, the best event that can help Tesla is Trump becoming POTUS because it would lead to war with Iran, Saudi Arabia, etc..and $200 dollar oil. Demand would increase for Tesla cars.

Get a life Mr. G

tftf continued sputtering FUD: “How this small portion (14% of total building) can churn out up to 500k batteries/year by 2018 remains to be seen.” Oh, stop with the silly FUD already, tftf. Nobody is claiming that the pilot plant, whether it’s 14% or 20% or whatever estimate you want to cite of the planned full size, is going to supply 500k Tesla cars per year. Obviously Tesla’s ability to build its BEVs will be limited by how many kWh of batteries the Gigafactory can churn out. Elon previously said the Gigafactory was not in the “critical path” for the Model ≡, meaning GF construction was going to stay ahead of what’s needed to supply its cars. (And that’s why Tesla has been talking about building PowerWalls and PowerPacks, to take up the slack between what the GF can supply, and what Tesla needs or its cars.) I too question that the GF can be completed significantly ahead of schedule. I too question that Tesla can motivate Panasonic to speed up its construction and hiring schedule, or that Tesla can persuade Panasonic to speed up its investments in building out the Gigafactory. But nobody is actually suggesting that the pilot… Read more »

“Oh, stop with the silly FUD already, tftf. Nobody is claiming that the pilot plant, whether it’s 14% or 20% or whatever estimate you want to cite of the planned full size, is going to supply 500k Tesla cars per year. ”

I haven’t claimed that either. I wrote that selling (even making) around 400k Model3 cars and EV batteries by 2018 is next to impossible – exactly because there’s only a pilot plant ready for cell production by late 2016.

Then you only have 12-24 months left. The schedule is just impossible…and I’m not even starting about product quality on these rushed Model3 cars and batteries (because Tesla will need to hire THOUSANDS of new workers).

On the car side: Do you know how many suppliers (and sub-suppliers) a car company has? This is largely outside of Tesla’s control.

And there are enough stories out there that Tesla pays its suppliers very late. Do you really think they want to jump on the Model3 “opportunity’?

Companies like Hoerbiger (Model X doors) now have lawsuits pending. They probably wish they never signed that Tesla contract…

As usual, your short position in TSLA stock blinds you to the real details.

500,000 production estimate in 2018 includes Model S and X which at that point, likely still uses cells from Panasonic’s plants in Osaka, Japan. Further, the average amount of battery capacity per car is lower than most had originally estimated. The Gigafactory capacity is also higher, with additional floor space. The first phase alone is enough to achieve their initial price goals… It doesn’t need the whole thing to achieve their price goals. Therefore to achieve the end of 2018 production rate estimate, they need around 60-70% of the Gigfactory.

About $1 billion more of Tesla’s investment is necessary to achieve that size.

I wrote about 500k cars above, 350-400k of those could be Model3 units (according to Tesla).

We will see in 24 months were Tesla stands and what the output capacity is by December 2018.

I predict that Tesla will miss these targets ( both cars and batteries, and also product quality in 2017-2018) by miles in 2017-2020.

I don’t know what other industrial facilities are in the areas, if any.
However, I wonder if eventually an entire industrial cluster could grow around the GF, not just Tesla-related.
Once the GF has a huge solar electricity generation facility such industry could buy their excess; if they’ll a rail link, such factories could use it, only paying for the incremental cost etc.

The Giga is actually very close to the Tire Rack west coast distribution facility and many other warehouses are relatively nearby as well a rail line.

The limiting factor to growth in the Reno-Sparks Metro Area is potable water.

“The Tesla Gigafactory will run on renewable energy, mostly from solar panels on the roof”

Where did that knowledge come from? Not by a long shot. The panels on the roof will only supply a few % of total energy. Most will come from large fields of panels or wind turbines elsewhere.

“Energy will also come from batteries…”

Another misconception. Batteries can not produce energy, only store it.

Only a few percent? arne-nl, I’m beginning to notice a pattern here: You never do any fact-checking before writing a post, do you? Please get acquainted with Mr. Google; checking with him before posting will help you greatly with your signal-to-noise ratio.

According to one unofficial estimate, solar power will provide about a third of the total energy the Gigafactory needs:


Now that’s a back-of-the-envelope estimate, but surely it’s far closer to reality than your misstatement about only “a few percent”.

I think your source overestimated the energy production of the rooftop solar array by a factor of 4. Free field or flat roof installations usually have between 50 and 70 W/sqm of land area. Because the panels are inclined to face south and are in rows that have some distance between them (so they don’t shade each other and for access by personnel). Let’s go a bit hiegher with 80 W per square m of roof area. The area of the gigafactory is 5.5 million square feet, which is 510,000 sqm. Let’s optimistically say 500,000 of that is usable. 500,000 * 80 = 40 MW nominal power. In Nevada (very sunny) this will generate anywhere between 1500 and 2000 kWh per kWh per year. Let’s go with the upper limit: 40 MW * 2000 = 80,000 MWh/year. Divide by 365 and you get roughly 220 MWh per day. Using the Navigant research estimate of 2400 MWh per day, that is less than 10%. I got my numbers from a post more than a year ago and I can’t remember where it was. That guy used data on lithium ion battery production (kWh of energy inputs per kWh battery produced) to… Read more »

Ok, got the number:
“our estimates of primary energy use and greenhouse gas emissions, which range from 870-2500 MJ/kWh”

source: https://www.epa.gov/sites/production/files/2014-01/documents/lithium_batteries_lca.pdf

Let’s go with the lower limit: 870 MJ/kWh.

870 MJ = 240 kWh of energy input per kWh of battery produced.

35 GWh per year = 35 million kWh * 240 = 8.4 billion kWh per year. Divide by 365 and you get 23 million kWh per day, or 23,000 MWh. That is an order of magnitude more than the Navigant Research number. (And let’s exclude the energy for making full battery packs, which takes place at the GF too. This energy estimate only accounts for the cells).

Now, the energy inputs for battery production includes mining, which obviously doesn’t take place at the GF. But Tesla has stated that raw materials come in, and fully assembled battery packs go out. So I must assume that the larger part of these energy inputs take place at the GF.

How much of the energy cost will occur on-site at the Gigafactory, and how much in pre-processing of materials, is an open question. I don’t think either of us has enough information to make an educated guess about that. Yes, the Gigafactory is said to start with raw materials such as steel, copper, and aluminum. But it has also been said that Tesla is going to (probably already has, by now) invite suppliers to build their own factories and/or distribution centers near the Gigafactory site. So obviously Tesla plans to have some pre-made parts come in from outside, and that won’t need the energy for manufacturing to be supplied from the Gigafactory. Both the source you pointed to and mine are making back-of-the-envelope calculations, using ballpark figures. Arguing about which is more accurate, at this stage, is pointless. However, Tesla has stated that they plan to depend on on-site power generation for total Gigafactory needs. Now, I do expect there is some hype there; I expect that on cloudy days, the solar panels won’t generate enough power, and it will have to be supplemented by grid power. I expect the same when the wind farms are becalmed on still days.… Read more »

When Tesla stated that they want all energy for the Gigafactory on-site (or maybe call it near-site), I think they’re also talking about wind power on the nearby hill sides, and maybe ground mounted solar panels> Maybe they-ll cover the parking lot with solar canopies, etc. That is doable, if you have enough area at your disposal. I sincerely hope they can pull it off.

Oh, and I didn’t accuse Tesla of any hype, I don’t think the claim in the article came from Tesla. They can source renewable energy from wherever they want imo, and still claim the factory runs on renewable energy. We have a grid to transport that stuff.

Arner, you forgot the ground panels and wind generators going in too.

You are cutting too fine of a line there… There are certainly times where the factory will run off battery.

Yeah, I know, but the way it was mention in the same breath as the solar panels, it seemed as if the batteries were considered a source of energy instead of just storage.

With the elimination of net metering in Nevada, Tesla will probably be running off battery power for a significant amount of their electricity. Musk said that the Gigafactory will be a Net Zero energy factory and that there will be no natural gas hookup for the Gigafactory. After Musk made those statements, Nevada eliminated net metering. Thus, if Tesla wants to use the grid to store excess solar energy made at the Gigafactory during the day to power the factory during the evening or overnight, it will have to sell it to the grid at daytime wholesale rates and buy it back at retail rates. While the Gigafactory could still be net zero energy use under this scenario, Tesla’s electric bill would be much higher (depending on the electric rate structure), since Net Zero metering has been eliminated in Nevada and as a result Tesla would not getting retail rates when it sells excess daytime electricity back to the utility. The question is whether Tesla will use it’s Powerpacks to store excess daytime solar electricity for use at the Gigafactory in the evening and overnight, and whether it would made financial sense to do this. Tesla might do is out… Read more »

““Is [Tesla CEO] Elon Musk far-seeing and investing in the future? Or is he making big bets that could all collapse at once?”

Neither. He is shaping the future.

“Average households are not going to get much or any value from these batteries.”

He’s right. Just like people get no value from doing kitchens over, some will grid defect as another expression of themselves.

The mistake utility sector analysts make is banking on break-even, when a couple percent of “kitchens” are all it will take to propel the higher kwh rates, more “kitchens” spiral.

“Is [Tesla CEO] Elon Musk far-seeing and investing in the future? Or is he making big bets that could all collapse at once?”

Appropriate question for Elon’s investments….in 2008. Now that question has been answered.

The more appropriate question, not asked, is if the Gigafactory will provide enough capacity for the exploding demand of storage.

I don’t see what the oil price has to do with much of what they do. In a sense the whole company is basically making it’s entire own business case irrelevant from the oil we do now. In a sense it’s what others have said before, it’s the car end-game. It doesn’t use less petrol, it uses no petrol at all. So the whole petrol price has become moot at this point, from the end-user perspective. I’ve also said before that the regulators and government have a large hand in what happens next. My expectations are that governments will start imposing tighter limits which at some point will just become unfeasible with conventional technology, or the price to meet the limits goes up too much. You can already see this happening at various countries around the world, and it doesn’t appear to be declining either. It appears that 1996 was just too soon for it to be feasible. The user experience was there, but the technology wasn’t. It appears to be moving mostly under it’s own weight now, and it should be entirely in 2020. I still think it’s a good idea we are moving away from burning things, if… Read more »

A lot of people assume in their anti-Tesla arguments, that Gigafactory 1 needs to be 100% complete (in 2020+), before it can be used to create batteries and powerpacks.

This is not the case. It’s producing both of those now. It’s just a matter of scale, as they ramp production and expand the facility. As scale increases, cost per kWh at the pack level, also drops.

Attention Automotive Execs: The train is on the tracks– it’s moving, and there is no stopping it.

It already makes cells? I thought that was slated for Q4 of this year.

As has already been posted in this discussion, the Gigafactory is producing PowerPacks and PowerWalls at the Gigafactory, but using cells shipped in from the outside. Volume production of cells is not yet happening at the Gigafactory. That’s one reason such a small number of PowerPacks has been produced, as well as part of the reason why the current price is so high.

Oops! My bad; the comments about PowerWalls and PowerPacks being built at the Gigafactory were in another current article here at InsideEVs.

Info here:


Where will the get all that Lithium from?

The volume Tesla will need probably means they’ll need multiple suppliers of lithium carbonate. But as I understand it, there are multiple lithium mines in Nevada, so hopefully most of it won’t need to be shipped very far.

“Tesla plans to buy lithium for Gigafactory from nearby Nevada mine”