Tesla may grow its Gigafactory to meet huge demand for stationary batteries

By David Ferris | 05/08/2015 08:02 AM EDT

Last Thursday, Tesla Motors Inc. announced a new line of batteries to power buildings and the electric grid. Two days ago, CEO Elon Musk said that the response was so strong that Tesla is considering raising production by 50 percent or more at its new battery factory, already slated to be the largest in the world.

"So, I mean, there’s, like, no way that we could possibly satisfy this demand this year, and we’re basically like sold out through the middle of next year in the first week. It was just crazy," Musk said on a phone call with industry analysts.

Tesla Powerwall
The Tesla Powerwall is a consumer battery intended for homes. Many of the company’s stationary batteries, though, will be much larger products meant for industry and utilities. | Photo courtesy of Tesla Motors Inc.

Musk’s words were partly hype, because the company said earlier that it expected not to fulfill all orders during a modest rollout. But the wave of interest seems to be causing a genuine rethinking of priorities. Tesla was founded as a car company but now finds itself with surging demand for batteries that don’t need wheels, especially among big industries and utilities.


Tesla’s new products are part of a new division called Tesla Energy. Its lineup includes two versions of a battery for homes intended to be paired with solar panels, and a larger product for commercial, industrial and utility customers.

The home version, the Powerwall, comes in a 7-kilowatt-hour size, intended for those who want to go off-grid and for foreign markets where electricity is expensive. Tesla also has a 10 kWh version meant as backup in case of power outages. The industrial version, the Powerpack, comes in 100 kWh blocks and can be stacked to any scale, the company said.

As of Wednesday, the company had received 38,000 requests for the Powerwall and 2,500 for the Powerpack. Because Powerwall installations are sometimes doubled up, and since Powerpack installations can be very large, that may translate to 25,000 Powerpacks and up to 60,000 Powerwalls, Musk said.

Tesla’s role as both the leading manufacturer of electric cars and as the emerging pacesetter in stationary batteries is proving to be a production challenge, even as it builds the so-called Gigafactory, the world’s largest battery plant, outside Reno, Nev. (EnergyWire, May 6).

Musk shared some numbers that make clear how the scale of demand for stationary batteries, especially big ones, may engulf that for cars.

When measured in terms of megawatt-hours or gigawatt-hours, he said, Tesla’s battery production for stationary uses could be double that of cars. And while the home-oriented Powerwall is getting the most media attention, it is the Powerpack and its large customers that will spur the most production.

"I should say, like, the most of our stationary storage sales to be at the utility or heavy industrial scale, it’s probably — and just a guess because early days — five to 10 times more megawatt-hours will be deployed at the utility in heavy industrial scale than at the consumer scale," Musk said.

Originally, Tesla had planned most of the batteries for cars and set aside 15 gigawatts of its 50 GW production of battery packs for stationary purposes. That’s 30 percent. Musk said yesterday that it won’t be enough.

"I mean, clearly, given the very high demand that we’re seeing for Tesla Energy products, we’re actually trying to figure out if we can go from, like, our current production target of, like, 35 gigawatt-hours at the cell level and 50 at the pack level in our Nevada plant to maybe 50 percent more than that or even higher because just the sheer volume of demand here is just staggering," he said. "We could easily have the entire Gigafactory just do stationary storage."

Without making any promises, Musk said that increasing the size of the Gigafactory by 50 percent or more "seems like the logical thing to do."