Three to Five Gigafactories Likely by 2020

Elon Musk Steve JurvetsonPhoto Credit Steve Jurvetson

By Clayton Handleman

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Featured on CleanTechnica.com “the number one clean-tech                                                        focussed website in the world.”

UPDATE:  The wildly successful unveiling of the Model 3 with 225,000 reservations and counting as well as comments from Musk suggesting revision of plans, suggests that this article (first published in November 2014) may be conservative in its estimates.

The transformational aspect of the Gigafactory is that it will bring down the cost of Li-ion storage using volume and the experience curve effect.  That, in turn will bring down the cost of electric vehicles accelerating their move into the mainstream.  What Musk and company aren’t sharing is the backup plan for the Giga Factory.  Should energy storage and EVs hit a speed bump the traditional ICE auto industry offers an addressable market for more than the entire output of the factory.  Li-Ion is very close to the tipping point at which it will replace traditional lead acid batteries for engine cranking.  This assures that they can keep driving down the cost of EV batteries even if unforseen events, such as collapsing gasoline prices, reduce the rate of growth of the EV marketplace.

At 80 million cars per year the legacy auto industry alone could soak up the output of an entire Giga factory by switching to Li-ion starter batteries.*  If trucks and other starter applications are included, 2 Giga factories will be needed to meet demand.  This will provide the volume to continue the relentless downward cost trend of batteries and storage.

“No doubt, one of the reasons Tesla vetted more than one site for the Giga Factory is that they wanted to be able to respond quickly to increased demand.  Given that the starter battery market alone could soak up the output of two Gigafactories, it is not out of the question that there could be demand for three to four Giga Factories within 5 years”

Li-Ion batteries are on the verge of surpassing lead acid batteries in terms of life cycle costs.  They already surpass their lead acid competition in all performance metrics:

  • Weigh 60% less than lead acid batteries,
  • Take up less space,
  • Better charge discharge properties,
  • Last 2 to 4 times longer and
  • Are very resilient in hot environments such as engine compartments.

But the Coup de grace for lead acid is that cost trends strongly suggest that, even on an energy basis, Li-Ion will reach cost parity with lead acid in less than 5 years. The Giga Factory will only accelerate this trend.  With their light weight and space savings, the auto will have no choice but to make the switch.

No doubt, one of the reasons Tesla vetted more than one site for the Giga Factory is that they wanted to be able to respond quickly to increased demand.  Given that the starter battery market alone could soak up the output of two Gigafactories, it is not out of the question that there could be demand for three to four Giga Factories within 5 years, particularly if energy storage takes off.  It would appear that Elon Musk may have had more reasons than simply shopping for low cost sites when vetting a full 5 sites for the Gigafactory.  And all stand to benefit from this bold, or maybe in hindsight, not so bold move to transform the battery market.

* Car batteries have about 1kWhr of storage.  1 million auto batteries therefor have 1 billion kWhrs of storage or 1 GWhr.  80 million autos therefore require 80 GWhrs of storage capacity or 150% of the Gigafactory’s output.

This post had a short section that looks at the potential for starter motors.  Notice they talk about the high cost of the Porsche but that is a 4 year old approach.  Li-Ion batteries have been plummeting in price in that time.  The Giga factory will likely put them in the cost effective range for starter applications.

More about the amazing Tesla Model S.

A123 moving into the Lithium-ion starter battery market.

An interesting graphic on growth of the battery industry.  It incorrectly shows Tesla coming online at full capacity in 2016.  The gigafactory will not fully ramp until roughly 2020.  However the graphic is clearly a lower bound, no doubt more capacity will be announced in the coming years so it is probably a very conservative view of the next few years.

Clayton Handleman

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This entry was posted in EV PEV, New Energy Paradigm, Path to a New Paradigm, Storage and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

2 Responses to Three to Five Gigafactories Likely by 2020

  1. Pingback: Panasonic Putting $1.6 Billion Into $4–5 Billion Tesla Gigafactory

  2. Pingback: Popular and ‘Best-Of’ Posts | The Handleman Post

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