Designed from the ground up to reimagine everything about how a factory works and push the limits of the men and women who build it, Tesla’s Gigafactory, located in Sparks, Nevada has earned the nickname “the machine that builds the machine,” from Tesla founder Elon Musk.
The roof of the factory alone is a marvel of green energy engineering. It’s the largest rooftop solar array on the planet with over 200,000 solar panels that when paired with Telsa’s batteries, generate most of the factory’s considerable electrical demand.
The roof is just the beginning of a long list of innovations and firsts that make this factory unique. The process of making batteries uses a lot of equipment and this equipment generates heat. Lots of it. This is already a problem given the facilities’ desert location. To beat the heat, cool water needs to be pumped throughout the building in place of traditional, energy-draining air conditioning. But chilling the water also uses a great deal of energy, so Tesla designed a chilled water plant that goes to work at night when the desert air cools down. The plant, which features the largest thermal storage tank in the world, makes chilled water in excess of what is needed to cool the environment inside the factory. The extra chilled water is used to cool equipment. The whole process slashed the electrical needs of the environmental control system by 40%.
While Tesla directly benefits from the revolutionary design and methods in use at the factory, contractors working on the facility benefit as well. According to Rodney Westmoreland, director of construction management for Tesla, “Tesla engineers partnered with our equipment vendors to look at ways we could reverse-engineer air compressors to handle incredibly hot waste heat, which makes our factory and equipment more efficient. These have become solutions that vendors can use throughout the industry.”
The facility, which has been producing lithium-ion battery cells since early 2017, entered it’s second phase of production by building motors and batteries for the Tesla Model 3 in 2018 along with the company’s Powerwall and Powerpack battery storage. It is currently only 30% complete. When construction is finished it will be the largest building in the world.
Tesla hopes the facility will serve as an example for other manufacturers. “We believe Gigafactory could be a blueprint for a more sustainable construction industry,” Westmoreland says. “When Tesla decided to create a net-zero initiative for the completed facility, we took it seriously. We care as much about the sustainability of our products as we do the way we build them.”