Elon Musk’s Nevada Gigafactory may Save the World

By Juan Cole

KRQE: “Official: Tesla picks Nevada for Gigafactory”

Clean Technica points out that the battery-making factory is on track to reduce battery prices by 30% by 2017, making EVs indisputably cheaper than fossil fuel-driven internal combustion, at less than $100 per kilowatt hour. (Of course, if externalities are taken into account, like the cost of environmental disruption caused by global warming, EVs are already far, far cheaper than gasoline engines. Moreover, if coupled with rooftop solar panels, i.e. with free fuel, their pay-off time is even quicker and households can cut tons of CO2 emissions each year).

Not only will the gigafactory lead to cheaper auto batteries, it will also lead to better battery storage for home solar panels so you can store solar power and use it at night.

Some states now give tax benefits to buyers of EVs or mandate a percentage of EVs on the road by a date certain. But what is really needed is onerous taxes on fossil-fuel-driven vehicles to reinforce the savings consumers will derive from EV ownership and drive EV ownership up toward the millions of vehicles.

The US emits 5 billion metric tons of carbon dioxide annually, or about 16 tons per per person, the highest per capita in the advanced industrial world. Some 28% of that, or 1.4 billion metric tons, derives from transportation emissions.

If you are an American, I repeat, you are putting out 16 tons of CO2 every year. You’re a big part of the global warming problem. Middle class homeowners who put solar panels on their roofs and get an electric vehicle or plug-in hybrid can substantially cut that number, and will actually save a lot of money doing so. While moving to downtown Portland and using public transportation may be even better, not everyone can do that, and it will take time to de-suburbanize the US and move habitations and jobs back into manageable cities. The world doesn’t have that much time, which is why the gigafactory is very, very good news.

29 Responses

  1. What is your take on them building this factory where there is a long term drought? Since there will be more workers moving in to get those jobs, that means even more strain on the environment and we all know a factory uses plenty of water as well.
    While I love the idea of this factory, it should not have been built where there is no water for it and the new workers. Pretty stupid long term planning if you ask me. The drought is one reason we will not be moving west, ever. This one will not be a short 3 or 4 year drought, it;s going to be a long one with huge implications on industry, agriculture, and residents. Think Dust Bowl proportions.

    • You do understand that if we don’t reduce carbon emissions, which the gigafactory will do on a major scale, the drought problem will get 10 times worse. Old Environmentalism that doesn’t calculate CO2 as the primary issue trumping all others is so self-defeating

      • You clearly don’t really understand the water situation of the desert southwest. We’re on the verge of a once-per-thousand-year drought. The last time this happened here entire civilizations were wiped out.

        This is a horrible place to build this factory; the issue isn’t build/don’t build the factory, the issue is where to build it, which is being driven by concerns other than environmental, to wit: what states taxpayers are most willing to fork over the billions of dollars in incentives for a few thousand jobs. This factory belongs someplace with sufficient resources to support it: water, transportation hubs, etc.

        • The factory needed to be near California but to receive tax offsets to encourage Panasonic, the investment partner. With $5 bn, water could be piped in. Without this sort of Big Green project, you won’t be in a position to carp about this project or that project; there won’t be anyone able to live there much less projects.

        • Since there is no reply to Cole’s latest missive, where in the hell are they going to get this water for $5Billion? There ISN’T any water to get unless they invest in desalination plants on the coast of Cali and pipe the water to Nevada, GET IT?
          And I Do understand that building EV is important I OWN ONE already and use solar on my house and barn to power it. I am one of the good guys, Cole, not some ignorant boob who can’t see the right way to do things. I just think the factory is being built in the stupidest place possible given the drought that is not going to end any time soon. Hell you have articles on this site detailing how horrific this is going to get no matter who builds what where. Do you not read your own site?
          link to juancole.com
          link to juancole.com

      • While this: ” But what is really needed is onerous taxes on fossil-fuel-driven vehicles to reinforce the savings consumers will derive from EV ownership and drive EV ownership up toward the millions of vehicles.” sounds ‘right’, it COMLETELY fails to understand the problem where public transportation not only is poor but actually has societal pressures against(think California and Texas for just 2 well populated states).
        Add to that the MANY monetarily poor people who can’t afford EV’s, don’t make enough money to have anything but an older, ‘polluting’ vehicle and I would hope you would see that technology is simply not anywhere near enough of an answer to the situation.
        Here in CA, the State is investigating putting a system into place to scan cars as they pass under freeway overpasses. The scan would use the computer sensors(otherwise known as ‘flags on a readout) for emissions controls to determine is something is awry and then, using the id associated with the car’s computer(which all the newer vehicles have) send a notice to the car’s owner to get it fixed.
        The MILLIONs -if not more- this system development costs would be would probably easily provide EV’s for all who would turn in an older non EV vehicle but you can bet that such ‘socialism’ will never occur.

        • The poor will suffer most from climate change; you’re not helping them by increasing CO2. The taxes on polluting vehicles will be used in part for public transport.

  2. I believe all that can be said about EVs is they are “less bad” than automobiles fueled by fossil fuels.

    Ultimately the “auto”-mobile should be replaced by mass transit. The suburban sprawl created by cars has as much to do with the 16 tons of CO2 emitted by Americans as the cars themselves. A bit of walking and cycling would go a long way to improve health, also.

    EVs should be viewed as a temporary stopgap measures to reduce the carbon footprint, not an end-all.

  3. Ted Danny

    bcz it will make batteries cheaper. @SavedYouAClick BTW That sounds like a hufpost headline. Way too ambitious

    • It is bizarre. I’ve got one and it is a dream car. The price has dropped dramatically and there is a $7500 Federal tax rebate. If you put solar panels on your house and a fast charger, you can run it virtually for free around town. It is true that it is mainly convenient for homeowners with garages, but there are plenty of those! I just don’t understand the consumer resistance here.

    • The main problem from my point of view is that unlike the Prius, the Volt’s gas engine cannot be used to charge the batteries. To get the benefit of owning a Volt (or a plug-in Prius), one needs to be able to plug it into a charging station. This typically means a garage – and this rules out many urban dwellers. Suburban dwellers who have converted their home’s garage into a spare room are also ruled out – unless there’s an electrical outlet within reasonable extension cord reach of one’s parking place.

      And so, the Volt is not only expensive expensive up-front, it also has drawbacks for people who either don’t have an easy way of recharging it, or worry that they may not have such in the future.

      • Sorry, but this is silly. There are far more people with garages (millions and millions) than people who have bought EVs. You can put a charging station outside on the curb. And the Volt is not expensive– it is a very nice car and much, much cheaper than others in its class. It is a steal, both in its price and given that you don’t have to pay $3.60 a gallon to fuel it. Get solar panels and you can pay $00.00

        • I guess I must be silly, then – this is the analysis I did when I decided to buy against buying either a Volt or a plug-in Prius – in favor of a standard Prius. I live in an apartment, like lots of people… and there’s no electrical outlet in my building’s garage. If I move to a different apartment, I may only have on-street parking as a choice.

          My point is that buying a Volt makes sense for people who own their own homes (and can install solar) – but there are lots of people who don’t fit that mold: thus making the pool of potential customers smaller. Throw in general insecurity, resistance to change, and factors such as “I can’t give it to any of my kids if they go to college, because they won’t be able to charge it in the college parking lots”, and you’ve got a good idea as to why many people are choosing to stay with gas guzzlers or the Prius rather than jumping to the Volt.

          If I buy a house, my next car would be a Volt, a plug-in Prius or an all-electric car – but not until I own my own home and can make sure I’d be able to have somewhere to plug it in.

        • Yes, I say explicitly in my blog entry that Volts only make sense for people with homes/garages to plug them in. But that’s like 60% of American households and the drawbacks you rightly point to for renters don’t explain the anemic sales, since there are plenty of homeowners who would save a lot of money with a Volt.

        • How hard is GM trying, when it comes to marketing the Volt? The corp needs the product for its Corporate Average Fool Economy rating, but is GM really in the game? Not as bad as Chrysler, that is still seemingly making Big Iron klunks, but there’s those pesky save a buck ignition switches as a clue to where their C Suite heads are at… I would love to afford a Volt and grid-free solar, but even with SS and a full time nursing job as I mear age 70, that’s a sad dream ( that still won’t save the planet.)

  4. Sad to say you’ve bought Tesla’s hype (as did the state of Nevada for billions of public dollars). You’re right that desuburbanization and transit are far better at reducing GHGs and are necessary, so please explain how making cars more efficient will promote desuburbanization or the revitalization of car-free cities. What about the “rebound effect” from the decreased cost of automobile operation as people drive more? Moreover, I’m sure the bulldozers that strip mine the resources for LI-ion batteries, aluminum, steel and the petroleum that goes into the plastics in EVs will all be “carbon neutral,” right? How about the disposal of tens, perhaps hundreds of millions of dead batteries once EVs get a significant market share? EVs produce fewer tailpipe emissions, but the larger system of sprawl and consumption will remain untouched. It’s not about buying a different car and continuing to drive everywhere and pretending you’re making a difference, it’s about significantly ratcheting down fossil fuel energy consumption. This kind of techno-utopianism makes people feel good, but it overlooks some inconvenient realities.

    • this is such a blinkered point of view. If you think about it you will see that fossil fuel use is actually increasing. The goal is to decrease it. The gigafactory will do that. Moreover, there is no reason we have to make the batteries in the current way. There is nothing wrong with using petroleum for plastics in cars! And there is no reason steel has to be produced in high-carbon ways. EVs don’t produce fewer tailpipe emissions, they produce *none* where they are charged from solar panels or wind farms. Where the cars themselves are made with green energy (as they increasingly will be), production can move to net zero carbon. This can work. Your ideas are utopian in any time scale that matters.

  5. The question that needs asking – how long is the life of a battery? Most battery powered appliances – notebooks. mobile phones – would never make the five year mark and their battery life drops until many laptops become only useful plugged in.
    An internal combustion engine lasts decades and does not decrease in efficiency. Any comparison of costs has to include costs of replacing batteries and since the range of a fresh battery is still marginal, any drop in performance is going to have an impact.
    Incidentally, Chinese cities ban motorbikes and the streets are full of e-bikes. I suspect this will be the driver for electric vehicles as 100 million cheap electic scooters outweigh a few thousand exotic sportscars.

    • The batteries last just fine for the life of the car, and can be potentially used thereafter for home solar panel storage. And all the time you have the battery, if you charge it from your solar panels, you are paying 0 for gasoline. That is a huge savings, both on fuel costs and on home electricity costs; keep your home/panels and EV for a decade and you’ve saved an enormous amount of money.

    • Also, why do electric car bashers never bring up the fact that oil refineries themselves are major users of electricity? If oil companies didn’t treat that figure as a trade secret, we could tell how many miles of electric car driving would be produced simply by diverting that electricity from gasoline production.

  6. I’m sorry that you continue to confuse the terms “kilowatt” and “kilowatt hour”, as many do and as you have often done before. I suggest you do a Google search on ‘Kw Kwh Difference”. If, as you state, a kilowatt hour were to cost $100, it would be 1,000 times more expensive than the kilowatt hour I buy from my utility company.

  7. I spoke too soon. Reading the Cleantechnica article I see now that it’s a tangled error, but one worth understanding. What they mean when they mention “$100 per KWh” is that the price of a battery with the capacity to store and deliver 100 KWh of electric energy will fall to $100. In that context the correct number for them to have used would be “$1 per Kwh of storage capacity”. It’s certainly confusing that the term KWh is used to designate two different measures, 1) the one time delivery/consumption of 1000W of power for one hour, and 2) the capacity of a battery to store and deliver that same amount of energy over and over again.

  8. The EVs on offer, with the sort of exception of the Smart vehicle, are still heavy carriages for the fat comfortable asses of Murican consumers, complete with leather and chrome and a/c and very special seats and entertainment and ‘control’ systems.

    I wonder if Mr. Musk has considered some design more along the lines of a dune buggy. Some have extraordinarily strong and protective space frames that use very little material, and foamed body panels and polycarbonate glazing would also keep the weight (the obverse of “range”) very low. People are going to be FORCED to walk away from the kinds of idiotic iWantitnow self-indulgent consumer preferences shaped by generations of manufactured demand. Is Musk in a position to start tooling up for something much more efficient that could even be a lot more fun to drive than the swoopy sheet metal pe_is substitutes marketed under Tesla’s name, devices I bet old Nicola would be disgusted and asmused by?

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