11-01-2021 | | By Robin Mitchell
Rumours have been spreading around Elon Musk’s wanting to build a gigafactory in Somerset. What information is known so far, what are gigafactories, and how do they differ to standard constructions?
Elon Musk, the billionaire tech giant, has been rumoured to be planning to construct a Tesla gigafactory in Somerset next to the M5. In early 2020, the UK government looked for appropriate sites to construct a Tesla gigafactory (which is confirmed). Elon Musk had visited the UK in June 2020 to continue the global expansion of Tesla.
While the construction of a 90-acre site is confirmed, this site's location has not been confirmed, but rumours have suggested that the site could be in Somerset. Gravity, a planned smart campus project, is currently trying to secure 635 acres of land next to the M5 which aims to provide direct road access, freight and passenger train access, and many facilities and buildings to encourage the development of future tech companies.
The conclusion of Brexit, and the resulting negotiated deals, is providing economic stability, an increase in the FSTE 100, and an increase in the pound's value. Previously, Elon Musk said that Brexit would make placing a site in the UK too risky, but this may have changed now that the UK government continues to look for suitable locations for a gigafactory.
Another suggestion that Tesla may desire to construct a gigafactory is to become a UK energy supplier. Tesla battery products are being developed for use in both automotive and energy storage, thus constructing a battery manufacturing plant in the UK makes economic sense.
Elon Musk is known for making up his own naming terms for generally established technologies, and the gigafactory is no different. Simply put, a gigafactory is a very large factory that is responsible for the production of batteries, but the sheer size of the factory enables Tesla to take advantage of economies of scale.
While the batteries are built at the sites, a particular area of the factory is dedicated to Panasonic who provide secretive key technologies needed to manufacture the batteries. Furthermore, Panasonic being on-site allows them to make checks throughout the production cycle to ensure quality and reliability of the final batteries.
One key feature that makes them unique its modular design. Traditional buildings are designed with a degree of uniqueness and singularity, but Tesla final batteries' are constructed from modular. This means that portions of the factory are built first, then completed, then start operations while the rest of the site is still under construction. This can be seen with Gigafactory 1, that is currently operational but still under construction.
Not only is Gigafactory 1 still under construction, but its final size lives up to its use of the term “Giga”. When completed, Gigafactory 1 will be over 4.9 million square feet, while Gigafactory 2 is currently 1.2 million square feet, and the Gigafactory 3 in Shanghai has a land plot of 210 acres (approximately 9 million square feet).
Elon Musk had a vision to make all cars electric, but merely designing an electric car is not enough. As he quickly found out, global battery production is nowhere near enough to be able to handle the production of millions of cars.
Thus, the development of the gigafactory came out of necessity; if there are not enough batteries, then might as well make them yourself. But, the fact that global battery production is not yet ready to handle the electric revolution may be a warning to Musk and other developers of electric cars.
If the technology waits good acclaimed, it would have taken over very quickly. However, electric cars have been around for 100 years, and yet they have never gained popularity. The development of lithium-based batteries has helped to make strides, but even then this battery technology may not be ready yet for use in the automotive industry.
If Li-Ion technology is not ready for such mass deployment then the sudden scale of production of Li-Ion batteries could be faster for Musk. Flooding the market with many millions of batteries that may become quickly outdated by a revolutionary energy technology would result in millions of unusable batteries.
However, Li-Ion batteries have been in development for more than 30 years, and the range of modern electric cars is now getting closer to that of petrol cars. Furthermore, the introduction of quick charging stations means that electric vehicles can be topped up without needing a full charge, thus making electric cars more desirable. It should also be stated that it is unlikely for a revolutionary energy technology to suddenly show up and make Li-Ion batteries redundant; hydrogen is the only alternative energy source that comes close, but it appears that Li-Ion is taking the lead in electric vehicles.