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As technology continues to intermingle with our lives and the world’s dependence on
fossil fuels dwindles, the humble battery has grown in importance.
The market for lithium ion batteries, the most popular battery type, has grown by an
average of 21% every year since 2004, and that is expected to accelerate even further
as Tesla and Panasonic’s joint venture, the Gigafactory, a massive lithium ion battery
factory that will double current output, begins to ramp up production and as renewable energy
continues to get cheaper.
So are we moving towards a future where the entire planet is battery-powered?
There are two big factors that will determine that possibility: 1) how light and energy
dense we can make batteries, and 2) whether we’ll even be able to physically manufacture
enough batteries.
This video covers part 2 of this question, and Henry of MinutePhysics is covering part
1 – I’ll link to his video at the end.
When asked how many gigafactories the world would need to transition the whole world to
sustainable energy, this was Elon Musk’s response.
‘Ah, it’s about one hundred roughly.
It’s not ten it’s a thousand, most likely a hundred”
Let’s investigate how much truth there is to that statement.Before we deep dive into
this question.
Let’s first explore how much energy a gigawatt hour, the main unit of energy we will be using
in this video, really contains.
A single battery with 1 Gigawatt hour of storage could power a single 100 Watt bulb for 1141
It would allow the Tesla Model S 100D drive to the moon AND back 8 times or it could power
New York city at peak summer electricity usage for 270 seconds.
The Gigafactory in Nevada is expected to manufacture 35 gigawatt hours of battery cells a year
by 2020, enough to supply half a million vehicles a year.
That’s pretty impressive, but last year 72.1 million cars were built along with 22.5
million commercial vehicles, consisting mostly of large trucks and buses [3][4].
How many gigafactories would we need to replace current fossil fuel car manufacturing with
all electric cars.
Let’s assume each car would use the same battery as the Tesla Model 3, we do not have
a confirmed battery for the Model 3 yet, but Musk has stated it will be between 60 and
70 kWh, so let’s go with 65 kWh.
Even with Tesla’s smallest planned battery, we would need 134 Gigafactories to produce
72.1 million Model 3s per year.
And this isn’t even counting the 22.5 million commercial vehicles produced each year.
I’m not convinced that a Tesla Truck is really feasible with current battery densities
since the 3000kWh of battery power necessary would take about 20 tonnes, but we’re not
at the theoretical limit yet, Brian!
If battery technology continues to improve, something like a lithium-sulfur battery of
that capacity could be as light as 6 tonnes but regardless in order to build enough 3000
kWh batteries, we would need another 20 gigafactories just to replace the quarter of a million trucks
[5] being built in North America alone.
[6] That’s not even including the other 22.25 million commercial vehicles in theworld,
which would likely bring the total required Gigafactories to replace current automotive
production to around 300.
So just replacing automotive production alone would be a monumental task that Tesla simply
cannot take on alone and Musk’s estimate of 100 gigafactories is a bit inaccurate with
current production targets, but Musk did state during the 2016 Tesla shareholder meeting
that they could potentially triple the planned output of the Gigafactory, if the demand was
If that is true, 100 gigafactories seems fairly accurate.
Tesla has equally grand ambitions of providing battery storage for the grid and home too
and have allocated production to the tune of 50 gigawatt hours a year to run alongside
the 35 gigawatt hour cell production for this purpose.
Let’s analyse how many Gigafactories the grid would need to become stable under 100%
renewable energy, keeping in mind that we do not need to produce all of this in 1 year.
The European Renewable Energy Council optimistically targeted 2050 as the year that Europe could
generate 100% of it’s energy with renewable energy.
So let’s say we have 33 years to produce the required storage.
That statistic of a 1 gWh battery supporting New York for 270 seconds should give you an
idea of how much battery storage will be needed to support a city, but not all electricity
will come from battery, much of it will come directly from the power source as it is being
There really is no reason why we could not rely completely on renewable energy supported
by batteries and pumped storage, and the european renewable energy council has suggested this
breakdown of energy sources to reach that goal by 2050.
Let’s first look at the suggested wind power capacity of 462 GigaWatts.
We can estimate how much storage this would need by taking a look at Australia’s new
Hornsdale Wind Farm, which is supported by the world’s largest battery storage facility,
consisting of 129 MWh of storage provided by the Tesla Powerpack.
This storage is there to allow the 99 wind turbines with a capacity of 315 MegaWatts
to provide stable power to the grid.
Removing the problems of variable wind speeds.
Scaling that 315 MegaWatts to 462 GigaWatts would require 1467 times more storage, or
189.2 GWh of storage.
A single Gigafactory could produce that in less than 4 years.
Hydro, Biomass, Concentrated Solar Power and Geothermal would require no battery storage
as they are relatively stable over the course of a day.
Ocean energy would require similar storage to wind.
Concentrated Solar Power can stores its energy in molten salt and Geothermal in particular
has an incredibly stable capacity factor, even beating coal.
The capacity factor tells us an energy sources ability to deliver on it’s maximum possible
Solar has one of the lowest capacity factors over the course of a single day, because it
generates 0% of it’s potential power at night, and thus it requires the most energy
As a case study for how much storage we would need here, we can take Tesla’s project in
Hawaii to provide the isolated community of Kauai with a solar powered microgrid.
The Kauai project consists of a 13 megawatt solar farm paired with a 52 megawatt-hour
battery installation.
Already we can see that the ratio of batteries to power capacity is MUCH higher, and this
on a tropical island in the pacific ocean.
Europe would likely need higher capacity to make up for less sun, which would likely reduce
the ratio of capacity to storage.
This may skew results.
Nevertheless scaling that 13 megawatt solar farm to 962 Gigawatts would require 74,000
times more storage or 3848 Gigawatt-hours of storage.
Adding in our storage needs for Wind (189.2 GWh) and Ocean (26.6 GWh), we get a total
of 4064 GWh for Europe alone.
Europe currently makes up about 13.3% [8] of the world’s energy demand.
So an estimate, full of assumptions, for the battery storage the world would need is 30556
Gigawatt hours.
That much battery storage would allow New York to run at peak usage for 95 91 days straight,
without any additional power, which would take 18.5 gigafactories 33 years to manufacture
and with current prices per (124$)/kWh of storage would cost 3.8 trillion dollars.
This lines up neatly with Tesla’s goal to build 10-20 gigafactories.
With 18 gigafactories running at current production targets, Tesla would be able to produce enough
cars to overtake Ford’s current market share in motor vehicles with 9 million vehicles
AND allow Tesla to produce enough battery storage to help transition the world to a
100% renewable grid over the next 33 year.
Another company working to power the world is Anker — an industry leader in mobile
charging founded by former Google employees — who are currently holding a competition
for you to win $2000 and an Anker power pack by simply creating a 1 minute video where
you share an awkward situation caused by your devices running out of power.
The top 10 videos will win the prize.
For entry details just follow the link in the description.
Anker’s powerpacks are simply the best I have ever used.
I have been using this 20000 mAh battery and it charges my phone faster than any of the
other power banks I have used, thanks to Anker’s patented fast charging technologies.
This power bank has enough battery to charge my iPhone 7 times over, or it could charge
my phone, earphones and IPad Pro once.
It’s the perfect travel companion, I always carry it in my bag and it only costs $40 right
now on Amazon.
It’s an absolute steal at that price, can’t recommend it enough.
I have linked to it in the description as well.
Thanks to MinutePhysics for collaborating with me on this video, be sure to check out
his video right now.
We just released the latest episode of the showmakers podcast with MinutePhysics as our
guest, so if you would like to learn more about how Henry created MinutePhysics be sure
to check that out too.