The Tesla Gigafactory

Bradley Knox
December 10, 2016

Submitted as coursework for PH240, Stanford University, Fall 2016


Fig. 1: A Tesla employee takes a tour of the unfinished Gigafactory. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The idea for the Tesla Gigafactory was announced in 2013, and was proposed to be the second largest building in the world by usable space behind the Boeing Everett Factory, and the largest building in the world by area (Fig. 1). The factory is designed to produce massive amounts of lithium ion batteries to keep up with their projected increase in car production. Tesla currently plans to produce approximately 500,000 cars per year for the remainder of the decade, meaning that it will also need approximately 500,000 lithium ion batteries to power these cars. However, the company ran into a problem when they realized that this would require every lithium ion battery that is produced from every factory around the world. They needed a solution, and decided to build a factory just outside Sparks, Nevada in order to meet their quota.


What truly makes the construction of the Gigafactory incredible besides its square footage is that it is expected to be completely self- sustainable, and could potentially produce more than 20% more energy than it will actually use for production. Currently, the projections for a lithium battery factory of this size indicate that the factory will need approximately 2400 MWh of energy daily to meet the energy needs, which is enough energy to power roughly 80,000 houses. Knowing this, Tesla has constructed the factory in a way that enables them to maximize 10 million square feet of surface area for solar panels, generating approximately 850 MWh per day. They have also built approximately 85 wind turbines, which are expected to produce slightly over 1800 MWh daily. [1]

Why Nevada?

One of the main things to consider when constructing the Gigafactory was not the logistics of how it was going to be constructed, but more importantly where it was constructed. In deciding where to construct the Gigafactory, which is projected to cost between $4-5 billion, Elon Musk and Tesla were diligent in determining which state would provide his company with the most incentives. Ultimately Tesla was able to close a deal with Nevada in which they would take in approximately $1.3 billion over the next 20 years in tax benefits. The current projection is that Tesla will spend 20 years free from sales tax and 10 years free from property tax. [2] Besides the monetary incentives in choosing Sparks, Nevada as the home of the largest factory in the world, there were also some practical advantages to this geographical location. First of all, this location in Nevada gets 5 hours of peak sunlight per day, which compared to many other locations around the country is exceptionally high, enabling the solar panels to work much more efficiently. Another benefit of this location is that the Earth's crust is thin enough in this region in order to use geothermal energy, or heat, directly from the Earth's mantle, which is expected to produce roughly 240 MWh of energy per day.


Ultimately, Tesla has taken a giant step towards self-sustainability in industry, as they were able to efficiently cut costs and reduce the energy required for production by consolidating the business all in one location. Tesla CTO JB Straubel described the company's goal for the gigafactory, saying "We are going to build a zero-emissions factory, just like the car. So, instead of kind of fighting this battle in hindsight, we just said we are not even going to have a natural gas pipeline coming to the factory, so we didn't even build it. And it kind of forced the issue." This decision to not even build a natural gas pipeline forced them to go all out in self-sustainability, forcing their engineers to work around some potential problems in order to construct an extremely efficient factory. Tesla has once again shown to be an innovator in the field of industry, taking massive steps towards leading the planet to a cleaner future.

© Bradley Knox. The author grants permission to copy, distribute and display this work in unaltered form, with attribution to the author, for noncommercial purposes only. All other rights, including commercial rights, are reserved to the author.


[1] M. Ramsey, "Tesla Races to Finish 'Gigafactory' in Time for Model 3 Rollout," Wall Street Journal, 24 Jul 16.

[2] M. L. Wald, "Nevada a Winner in Tesla’s Battery Contest" New York Times, 4 Sep 14.