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Power Transportation

Tesla: A Carmaker Or Grid-Storage Company? 151

cartechboy (2660665) writes "Let's be real, the three Detroit automakers were skeptical of Tesla Motors, and rightfully so. But at this point, it's pretty hard to deny the impact this Silicon Valley automaker is having on the industry. Now there's a new question buzzing around: Is Tesla Motors actually a carmaker, or is it really just a grid-storage company? If you think about it, the company's stock price is too high for Toyota or Daimler to just buy it outright. So maybe Tesla's gigafactory will not only make batteries for its own electric cars, but it could also sell battery packs to electric utilities and others. In reality, the gigafactory could become its own separate company and just sell the battery packs to Tesla, and others."
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Tesla: A Carmaker Or Grid-Storage Company?

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  • by Anonymous Coward

    No, its just a carbon offset dealer.

    • Re: (Score:2, Funny)

      by ZankerH ( 1401751 )
      Have you bought your indulgences for the week, comrade? Pay the carbon tax and your sins against Gaia are forgiven!
  • First they would need to lower the stock somehow... perhaps sewing FUD over 2 fires. If that doesn't work, maybe some campaign about how bad batteries are. That would make them aquireable... if it worked.

    • What's hilarious is that no one has seen the obvious: no company's "stock price is too high ... to just buy it"

      Company A: valued at $X
      Company B: valued at $Y

      Company A+B: valued at $X+$Y

      No one has to have the cash on hand to do a merger (the traditional form of "purchase"). If you wanted to actually make a "purchase", all you would have to do is involve a bank.

      Of course, Elon Musk has absolutely no reason to sell his company to a bunch of people that wouldn't know how to run it!

      • That's all fantastic in your zero mass-zero friction theoretical land, but if you can't get financing based on not having enough value in your company that's the same thing as a stock price being too high. Otherwise, I'd be able to form a company tonight and buy Microsoft.

        • Your inability to buy Microsoft has nothing to do with Microsoft's stock price being "too high." And if you could convince a) Microsoft, and b) a bank (or the markets) that you could run Microsoft better than the current management the money would not be a significant hurdle.

          • You're pretty inexperienced in investment aren't you.

            You'll be pretty hard pressed to get ANYONE regardless of your 'skills' to put together a deal to LOAN you the money to buy Microsoft.

            Contrary to your theoretical little world, in the real world, people don't invest billions of dollars in random people just because they say 'I can run it better than the guy running it now' unless the guy running it now is utterly destroying it, in which case the value of the company drops considerably making it a more luc

            • by Teancum ( 67324 )

              I think the GP poster was pretty spot on, and it was sort of tongue in cheek in terms of the idea of buying Microsoft.

              Of course nobody in "the real world" would bother to loan some random homeless dude off the street and give them a few billion dollars to make a leveraged buyout of Microsoft. That is because no average person has the talent nor the ability to operate a company like Microsoft and have it continue to earn money for its investors (which in this case would be the bank). Besides, if the bank h

      • exactly, look at comcast TW issue, the deal is for billions in stock, no cash at all
      • by Shatrat ( 855151 )

        Company A takes enormous write off when they finally admit they paid too much.
        Company A valued at A + log2(B) []

  • Panasonic (Score:5, Informative)

    by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) * <mojo@world3.nBLUEet minus berry> on Monday April 07, 2014 @04:12PM (#46687259) Homepage Journal

    The gigafactory is basically a Panasonic battery factory. Tesla is involved because they want it in the US and are a major consumer of Panasonic batteries, but all the tech is Japanese. So yeah, Panasonic is in the grid storage business. They do home battery packs and wind farm output smoothing in Japan, and maybe soon in the US.

    • Re:Panasonic (Score:5, Informative)

      by Ralph Wiggam ( 22354 ) on Monday April 07, 2014 @04:24PM (#46687391) Homepage

      Tesla is putting up something like $2B of the total estimated $5B price tag. So they would be a partner, not just a consumer.

      But you are correct that US news outlets were overplaying Tesla's involvement in the project and underplaying Panasonic's.

      • Well, to be fair, Panasonic would not even consider building the plant as described if Tesla weren't providing the primary demand projections. Latest reports were Panasonic was still a little hesitant to go in whole hog, which is why Tesla is making so much noise trying to win them over.
    • The current Tesla cells are too expensive for grid storage. Nickle and cobalt are not cheap. Nothing says they can't make two types of batteries though, nickle cobalt for cars and manganese dioxide or iron phosphate for the grid. Or they could have a nice lithium sulfur chemistry they could use for both; there has been a lot of recent development in that area.

      • Re:Panasonic (Score:5, Interesting)

        by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) * <mojo@world3.nBLUEet minus berry> on Monday April 07, 2014 @04:59PM (#46687699) Homepage Journal

        In 15 to 20 years time when "worn out" Model S battery packs start to become available I expect one of the main applications will be storage for domestic solar installations that can tolerate having only 70% capacity remaining. Tesla have said they estimate a 250,000 mile lifespan for their packs (down to 80% capacity), and offer an 8 year unlimited mileage warranty that seems to back that up (averaging 15k/year for 8 years is 120k miles, but some people do double that).

        Japanese manufacturers already offer this.

        • Very likely. Especially since it seems that Prius battery packs are holding up even better than expected, I'd expect the same from the Tesla packs (unless they use a different type of battery), and buying an older one for a low price seems like a good idea if you need the storage.

          Unfortunately my roof is pretty unhelpful as regards solar panel placement. I have a large flat roof in the shade. Otherwise I'd have already installed solar panels.

          • The Prius used NiMH batteries, Tesla use lithium.

          • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

            Give it time. Eventually the panels will be so cheap every roof will have them, even the less than optimal ones.

            • Re:Panasonic (Score:4, Interesting)

              by blindseer ( 891256 ) <blindseer&earthlink,net> on Monday April 07, 2014 @06:38PM (#46688825)

              I had a discussion with a coworker about the viability for solar power and out of that discussion came a challenge to find out what it would cost for a solar power system for a home. Taking up the challenge I spent a weekend doing the math on what it would cost to take my house off-grid and live off a solar and battery system. What I found was that it would cost ten times what I pay now for electricity.

              What I worked with was the going average cost of common lead-acid batteries for storage, the estimated cost of common solar panels, and the electronics to make it all work. It's been a while since I did this research and I'm not sure if I assumed three or four days of electric storage. If we assume just one day of storage, which means no backup for a stormy day, then I might be able to halve the cost of the system but that still only gets us to five times the cost of utility power.

              I calculated that if I cover my entire roof with solar panels that even in the winter I'd have enough power to run my home, assuming average power usage, excepting big power items like stoves and clothes dryers, I assumed that such items would be run off of natural gas. In the summer I'd have a glut of power, enough to run an electric car.

              For a moment let's assume you are correct and prices come down to where everyone would rather buy solar panels and a battery pack for their home than rely on utility power. What happens for extended periods of poor weather? People would have to have either utility power for that or, I assume more likely, a backup generator. A utility is going to want a monthly service fee for the wire to the home even if no power is consumed, at least that is how I pay for my natural gas service. A generator isn't free either but we are assuming the total cost is still in favor of solar panels on every rooftop.

              What other question I have is how much material will this take? That's a lot of valuable metals in people's basements, or placed on a grid for utility provided storage. I recall seeing someone that did the computation and for grid storage for the entire USA it would take a battery the size of Oklahoma that was two stories tall. Perhaps I recall incorrectly, I'm probably off by an order of magnitude or two but the battery had to be huge.

              If your prediction does come true I don't see that happening for a very long time. Solar panels and batteries have a long way to go until they are cheaper than coal and natural gas. I think we will have nuclear power cheaper than coal first.

              • Please mod parent up as interesting.

                I went through a similar exercise for my house, but my goals were different. I want some things to keep chugging during a power outage or brownout. I wanted some lights (not all of them) to keep working during a power outage. I didn't seek to totally power the house, but to independently power (and self-contain) a few subsystems to eliminate wires and some panel circuits. (low-power IT gear, outdoor LED floodlights, air-exchange vents, attic vents) I also didn't seek

                • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

                  In most places when you have a solar system you are required to have an easily accessible cut off switch, and if it isn't by the main breaker there must be a clear sign there pointing to it. Maybe there was some confusion when the Prius was new but even back then EVs and hybrids were not new, and these days every fire department will be aware of the safety standards covering them. One of the biggest safety requirements is that the body of the car does not carry dangerous electrical potentials in the event o

                • by dj245 ( 732906 )


                  Recalling that rescue workers dealing with Prius might not know if a vehicle is de-energized, one of the thoughts that went through my mind is that an electrician or fireman might think that by cutting off power at the breaker, they can assume the entire house and all subsystems are de-energized. I wonder if their procedures involve checking for alternate sources of power such as checking for solar panels and uninterruptible power supplies.

                  The typical procedure in industry is to put a very large and very prominent warning label on the panel cover- "THIS PANEL ENERGIZED FROM MULTIPLE SOURCES", and then list the panel #'s which power the subject panel. I assume this is compliant to OSHA and NEC standards since I have seen this approach in many different places.

              • by Teancum ( 67324 )

                Where it becomes flat out obvious to use a combination of a small wind far + solar power + some sort of power storage (a water tower works surprisingly well if you don't want to mess with different battery types and hydro-electric power plants are incredibly efficient) is in a rural area where you need to pay the power company to string miles of aluminum wire + power poles (and maintenance of all of those poles from hazards of nature & people) from the nearest distribution point. Going off the grid def

              • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

                Your numbers are way off. For a start no-one would use lead-acid batteries these days, they would be used (probably recycled) NiMH or low temperature sodium sulphur batteries. Those are the most common types used in Japan, where the technology is much more advanced and space is at a premium. You certainly wouldn't need a battery "the size of Oklahoma", it's just insane. A typical home battery is about 1x1x0.3m.

                Solar PV is improving quickly and now uses few rare metals, hence the low price. A lot of what goe

                • You certainly wouldn't need a battery "the size of Oklahoma", it's just insane. A typical home battery is about 1x1x0.3m.

                  To power the entire USA overnight you'd need a battery somewhere on the scale of Oklahoma. I my calculations I figured a battery the size of my desk, 1x1x2meters, but I also computed a size to last through common Midwestern winter storms that can leave you without sun for four days.

                  Eventually organic cells will be good enough and cheap enough for widespread deployment anyway.

                  Eventually we will have nuclear reactors that chew up seawater, sewage, and nuclear waste and spit out clean potable water, rare metals, and electricity. I have my own theory which we will see first.

                  I never suggested anyone go off-grid either, but any connection costs can be more than covered by feed-in tariffs on any excess you produce. One reason that some German cities are looking to buy their electricity grids is so that they can reconfigure them to better support small scale generation and feed-in.

                  If the grid is using natural

          • " I have a large flat roof in the shade." - have you got space in the garden?
        • Yep. Re-purposing is potentially way more efficient than recycling. There's no AC power running to my tool shed. Yet, flick a standard light switch just inside the door and LED lights come on. I recycle less-efficient "worn" solar panels and "worn" laptop batteries by re-purposing them to less demanding tasks.

          I'm far from a hippie or greenie. I just love to tear things apart, tinker, learn and redesign with items that would likely have been trashed.

        • In 15 to 20 years time when "worn out" Model S battery packs start to become available I expect one of the main applications will be storage for domestic solar installations that can tolerate having only 70% capacity remaining.

          Or even just regular UPS systems. A battery pack that a Tesla owner throws away because it's down to 15kWh will power my server room for 90 minutes.

      • by snsh ( 968808 )

        Not to mention, batteries for cars are are optimized for weight, while batteries for grid power are optimized for everything but weight.

        • Not to mention, batteries for cars are are optimized for weight, while batteries for grid power are optimized for everything but weight.

          Batteries for cars are optimized for weight, size, power delivery, low maintenance and cost. Batteries for grid storage are optimized for power delivery, low maintenance and cost. Size and weight are bonuses that make them cheaper to deploy (less land/manpower). So they really aren't as different as you make out.

          No utility in their right mind is going to deploy billions of lead-acid cells that will need constant watering and replacement in 5 years when they could buy EV batteries cheaply (due to combin

      • Re:Panasonic (Score:4, Interesting)

        by wchin ( 6284 ) on Monday April 07, 2014 @06:25PM (#46688677)

        At the cell level, Tesla is probably already paying under $250/kWh. Maybe even just under $200/kWh. That's below most lithium iron phosphate battery costs which are already competitive with lead acid batteries for total life cycle costs in an off-grid solar battery setup. So this "too expensive" comment is probably not right. Further, if they recycle battery cells from transportation use to grid storage use, then the costs could be far lower.

    • Giga-factory is no more panasonic than tesla belongs to Mercedes and Toyota. It belongs mostly to Musk/Tesla. In addition, it is vastly re-engineered from what panasonic runs. With this factory, they will more than double the world's production of lithium batteries, while using less than 1/10 of the labor that panasonic does.

      So few ppl understand Musk, but his real claim to fame is NOT simple engineering. It is Industrial engineering. In all aspects he is looking at the economics of how this works. For
  • ""the company's stock price is too high for Toyota or Daimler to just buy it outright"

    Which Daimler? The Jaguar witht a different badge, or Mercedes (Benz)

    the latter's hybrids seem to be doing quite well at the moment (in Formula 1)

    • The Daimler that owns Mercedes, Smart and 4.7% of Tesla.

    • by gmhowell ( 26755 )

      the latter's hybrids seem to be doing quite well at the moment (in Formula 1)

      I wouldn't call KERS a 'hybrid' in the same sense of the word as used in context with the Prius.

      Nor would I consider much F1 tech to be relevant to street driven autos.

  • Better Yet (Score:4, Funny)

    by Jim Sadler ( 3430529 ) on Monday April 07, 2014 @04:22PM (#46687377)
    By covering the top of the Tesla with solar cells the cars could gather solar energy, store it and sell the excess to the power companies. Social chaos will soon follow. Just wait until the power companies have to hop scotch over homes that provide their own energy and the price of energy for homes on the grid goes through the roof. Big oil, coal, the nuclear industry as well as traditional car makers and associated trades could sink below the waves. The shifting of incredible amounts of money from those industries alone could generate financial chaos. Combined with breakthroughs like 3D printing we are entering an era in which we have no economic model to apply to this new way of life.
    • Put down the bong, step back and think, this time with numbers.

    • Re:Better Yet (Score:4, Informative)

      by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) * <mojo@world3.nBLUEet minus berry> on Monday April 07, 2014 @05:05PM (#46687749) Homepage Journal

      The surface area of the roof isn't really enough to provide much solar PV electricity, but that isn't to say it can't be used for something. For a few years now Toyota have offered a solar panel on the roof of the Prius that can run the AC while it is parked without using fuel or depleting the batteries. The Nissan Leaf uses a solar panel to keep the 12V battery topped up (not the main lithium pack, the 12V vehicle power lead acid) and I'm surprised more manufacturers don't do that now.

      • The Audi A8 was offered with a warm weather package, the sunroof goes from ordinary metal to carrying a solar panel which is used to run the fresh air blower while it's parked in the sun. Came out in 1994. Doesn't charge the battery though, which is unfortunate given how much electrical crap is in there.

  • by gwstuff ( 2067112 ) on Monday April 07, 2014 @04:23PM (#46687383)

    Facebook could have bought them instead of buying WhatsApp and Ocular, and spending just a little bit more.

  • Anybody interested in Grid-tie utility level battery energy storage systems should look at Fairbank's BESS [], a 6.75 MWh battery system that's to cover any outages until alternate power can be spun up.

    Of course, they're NiCad batteries right now, but given enough time, I can see LiIon being cheaper. Still, at $35M it's not cheap.

    • With a car battery, or a laptop / phone battery, you care about kWh per cubic cm. With a grid storage battery, the amount of space it takes up isn't that much of an issue, but you do care about about how much of the kWh you put into the battery you get back out, and how much it costs per kWh of storage.

      • I'm not sure why you posted this, I didn't make any mention of size, weight, or efficiency. Still, to expand -

        Grid storage is indeed not very concerned with size(volume, weight), but are interested in overall cost and efficiency. Everything I've read has LiIon being not just top of the line for energy density, but also comes out high for energy efficiency - this is where lead-acid tends to fall down. It's energy efficiency tends to be about equal to the Nickel chemistries - NiCad and NiMH.

        I mentioned the

  • If you want to store grid surplus energy you also need circuits to feed it nack into the grid, like DC to AC converters and transformators.
    In germany we have research projects how home owners, or more precisely residents, can connect the car to the grin in a way that the car itslef is the storage.
    Extra batteries, like Li-ion or NiCad makes no real sense. After a few years they are worn out ... for nothing but storing excess grid energy, pointless, expensive, wasteful. If it was that easy, we already would d

    • Easy solution, pump your car up onto the roof.

    • by AmiMoJo ( 196126 ) *

      Nissan offers a "whole house UPS" feature for its Leaf EV in Japan. In the event of a power failure your car can run important appliances like the fridge for a few days. You can use it to reduce your energy bills by storing solar energy not used during the day too.

    • Yeah, its not like solar, wind, and micro hydro ever use DC->ac converters, and transformers.
      • Erm, hydro uses DC/AC converters, or wind for that matter? Thats new to me. Also it is a slight difference if you have _one_ transformer for a plant yielding a few hundred or thousand MW, or if you need a transformer for every small battery storage of a few kWh of storage.

  • Probably not (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Animats ( 122034 ) on Monday April 07, 2014 @04:39PM (#46687517) Homepage

    Batteries for grid storage have different properties than batteries for cars.

    • Weight doesn't matter for grid storage.
    • Recharge time need not be faster than discharge rate.
    • Grid storage batteries should last a decade or two. Car storage batteries only need a working life of a few thousand hours.
    • Efficiency over a charge/discharge cycle matters more for grid storage.

    So grid storage tends to use different battery technologies than vehicles.

    • Weight doesn't matter for grid storage.

      But having lighter batteries is a plus, not a drawback, even so.

      Batteries for grid storage have different properties than batteries for cars.

      And yet, using old car batteries for grid storage is Nissan's Leaf battery recycling plan.

      Recharge time need not be faster than discharge rate.

      Won't hurt though, and it may well be a benefit.

      Grid storage batteries should last a decade or two. Car storage batteries only need a working life of a few thousand hours.

      The car batteries only keep their peak charge characteristics for the first few thousand hours, but they still keep working for a decade or two.

      Efficiency over a charge/discharge cycle matters more for grid storage.

      What? Who told you that?

    • Yeah using expensive lithium polymer batteries for utilities sounds like a bunch of bologna- there is a bunch of research right now going into making inexpensive sodium ion/sulfur batteries for this purpose.

    • by aqui ( 472334 )

      You are correct. the needs for a car are much much more demanding. For lead acid batteries you would also be correct in that a "starter" battery or a "marine/rv" battery need to be different design.

      However for a lithium ion battery (as used in the Tesla) this is not the case. A battery designed for the car (or your laptop) aren't fundamentally that different.
      ( [] ).

      The primary driver for grid storage is going to be different, however I bet that if you take a battery designed f

  • by ElitistWhiner ( 79961 ) on Monday April 07, 2014 @04:42PM (#46687543) Journal

    The real position in play is abstraction over the GRID and selling it back as a viable business model. EV's are transitional technologies on the way to the future. Tesla cars are proof-of-concepts that a future can work without petroleum dependancy. They spotlight those millions of tailpipe emissions which only electric and hydrogen eliminate.

    Power markets refuse to invest in the capture of smokestack emissions at source so the exercise Tesla is running remains retail only. When hydrogen competes with electric fuel cells that day will mark petroleum's last tailpipe gasp. Then emissions at the smokestack are all that's left to capture then.

    Tesla will be there and in position to sell you power for your business, home or car in whatever form required from an eco-conscious GRID that puts the cost of capture into the end product and puts producer's responsibility back onto the consumer end user.

    • Fact: The U.S. power grid has continually reduced its overall emissions for decades now.

      Fact: Electric vehicles produce less overall emissions than a 35mpg car, even on the dirtiest grid in the U.S, and most EVs are operated on much cleaner grids.

      Fact: Over 1/3 of EV drivers own enough solar generation to offset the power used in their cars, making them truly zero emissions.

      Zero-emissions electric vehicles exist now, if you have the money or lifestyle to fit it. I too think it will be a great day when h

    • Hydrogen isn't even close to petroleum's last gasp. 99% of that hydrogen is going to be made by reforming natural gas and other fossil fuel feed stocks.

      Why do you think the Bush admin pushed hydrogen so hard?

  • by HizookRobotics ( 1722346 ) on Monday April 07, 2014 @05:05PM (#46687757) Homepage
    If Tesla makes the cars' power bidirectional, the excess capacity of cars plugged in for recharging (essentially) becomes a grid-connected battery itself. I recall seeing homebrew electric cars used as "generators" during brownouts a few years back. Tesla could do this on a massive scale using individuals' cars -- and pass some of the gains (peak power) back to the car owners.
  • ...No.

    (What was the question again?)

  • How big would a battery have to be to run the USA overnight so we can run everything off of solar power? How much material would this take? How much would it all cost?

    I've seen these numbers before and it's not good. We are going to be a coal powered nation for a very long time. I see wind power as promising, the price isn't too far off from what natural gas and coal costs. Solar is just so extremely expensive that it is only considered in the most unusual cases. Wind and solar both rely on cheap elec

"This is lemma 1.1. We start a new chapter so the numbers all go back to one." -- Prof. Seager, C&O 351