3/13/20 – Tesla Gigafactory, Nevada
Driving through the night and sleeping only at rest stops I arrived outside at the exit near Sparks, Nevada where my “Mecca,” the Tesla Gigafactory, was located. It seemed odd to me that the freeway exit made no mention of it, nor did any of the street signs, billboards and other customary markers. If I were Elon Musk, I’d have that place lit up like Disneyland. Suffices to say I’m not Elon.
I was so excited I went right past Electric Avenue twice, the street the Gigafactory is located on. I saw a huge building. That must be it. No, that’s a Wal-Mart distribution center. Two or three other enormous buildings were not the Gigafactory either. So I doubled back and asked the receptionist at the Motel 6 who gave me good directions.
“You can’t miss it” she said.
Well, I already had, twice. But sure enough her directions were right on and I was driving due east into the sunrise until I came to a guarded gate with a Tesla sign denoting the entry. The guard told me the Gigafactory was closed for tours due to the corona virus. Reminded me of a billboard I’d seen back in Vegas that read: “Corona virus special: Free lap dance.”
“Sorry, sir, I can’t let you pass. You can pull over and see the building from over there.”
My friend Nick who works for Tesla had told me I could just drive up and get a tour of the factory. Begrudgingly I went to the nearby area where I had been foisted by the guard. From there I snapped a few photos. The single-story, low-to-the-ground building stretched laterally as far as the landscape would allow me to see. It was like a geological seam in the rock. Frank Lloyd Wright would have approved. His philosophy was for a building to blend in with nature. Rather than a building on a hill, the building should be part of the hill. That it was. From the sky it looks, very appropriately, like a giant solar cell.
Miffed at the guard for not even trying to accommodate my request for entry, I decided to try again. I wouldn’t be much of a salesman if I took “No” for the answer only once and didn’t try again. I circled around one more time to face the guard.
His body language clearly told me he wasn’t happy to see me again.
“Look,” I told him, “I am a Tesla owner, I have a 2015 Model S. I’ve traveled a long way to see this place. It’s an important stop for me. I’m riding my solar-powered electric bike to all 50 states. All I want to do is ride my bike once around the building.”
“No,” you can’t go past this point,” he retorted. I offered him my card as proof of my credentials. He wouldn’t take my card or even look at it. It didn’t matter.
As much as I was dying to see the Gigafactory up close, I could understand how this marvel would attract people from all over the world. This is the place from which the new world of energy originates, the world of clean electricity powering everything; and it would be a great place for the corona virus to spread.
I had toured the Freemont factory as a new Tesla owner a few years before. I’d seen the big 15-foot-tall robots picking up entire battery assemblies weighing tons and placing them on conveyors. The inside of the Gigafactory would probably be the same. A bit dejected but sympathetic, I left, but as General MacArthur said in the Philippines, “I shall return.”
With 1.9 million square feet, the Gigafactory’s footprint is the second biggest human-built structure on earth. Elon says it will be a zero net energy building, meaning all the electricity will be met with solar panels. The factory, with all its big machines and heavy loads, operates 24 hours a day. I decided to do the math to see if it’s possible or if Elon is just yanking our chain.
A single solar module producing 300 watts takes up 20 square feet. That means there’s room for 95,000 modules (1,900,000 sq. ft. divided by 20). With 5 peak sun hours, that would generate 142,500 kWhs per day (95,000 x 300 watts x 5 peak sun hours = 142,500 kWh). That would be about the same amount of energy as 5,000 homes would use. Yep. It works.
Like Martin Luther King said, “I have been to the mountain, I have seen the Promised Land.” I like Dr. King, didn’t get to enter but I saw it, with my own eyes, and know what it represents. That would be good enough for now.
I drove from Reno back to Portland, I realized not only was the corona virus working against me, it was also Friday the 13th.