Tag Archives: tesla

Four years ago, Elon Musk sent a Tesla to space. What happened to it?

Credit: SpaceX.

In early 2018, SpaceX tested its new Falcon Heavy rocket by launching a very unconventional cargo in space. Elon Musk, eccentric billionaire and SpaceX founder, wanted the payload to consist of a Tesla Roadster, with a mannequin called “Starman” dressed in an astronaut suit sitting in the driver’s seat.

After the initial hype of the publicity stunt wore off, Starman faded into obscurity. But this begs the question: What’s going on with that wacky space Tesla?

Well, it’s still in one piece, that’s for sure. Although the last time the Tesla Roadster was directly observed was in March 2018 (telescope directors aren’t too keen to award valuable observation time to a billionaire’s space junk), the object is still being tracked by NASA just as it does with thousands of car-sized asteroids.

According to the whereisroadster.com website, the Tesla is currently 234,483,948 miles (377,381,556 km) from Earth, moving away from us at a speed of 3,460 mi/h (5,568 km/h). However, overall, the car has traveled over 2 billion miles (3.2 billion km) during all of these years on an oblong orbit around the sun, whose edges intersect with Earth’s and Mars’s orbits.

So far, it has completed 2.6 loops around the Sun, making it the car with the largest mileage in history, by far. The vehicle has exceeded its 36,000-mile warranty almost 55,000 times while driving around the Sun.

Credit: whereisroadster.com

During its closest approach to Mars, Starman and his Roadster passed within 5 million miles (8 million km) of the red planet, or about 20 times the distance between Earth and the Moon. It won’t brush against Mars again until 2035 and it won’t pass within a few million miles of Earth until 2047. By the time the car will return to our planet’s vicinity, Tesla might not even exist anymore, nor Musk for that matter. Just as well, Tesla might become the most valuable company in the world and Musk could be sipping a martini in his new Martian colony.

In any event, the roaming space Tesla could travel for millions of years from now on. In a 2018 study, scientists at the University of Toronto Scarborough found that the probability of the vehicle colliding with Earth or Venus in the next million years was just 6% and 2.5%, respectively. The risk of colliding with Earth within the next 15 million years is about 22%. That’s a pretty low risk, which means the Tesla could be still orbiting the Sun even after humans, in all likelihood, could cease to exist.

A brilliant 100-year-old Nikola Tesla invention is just beginning to make sense

Credit: Public Domain.

Eccentric scientist and inventor extraordinaire Nikola Tesla is known for developing the basis for AC electric power that, today, most of the planet uses. But the Serbian-American inventor, who emigrated to New York City in 1884, held nearly 300 patents for items such as motors, radios, remote controls, X-rays, neon signs, and many other marvelous gadgets and gizmos.

Many of these inventions are still in use today or have heavily influenced modern technology in some way. But one of Tesla’s lesser-known patents, a macrofluidic valve, is only recently being recognized for its genius and worth.

The scientist patented his “valvular conduit”, also known as a “Tesla valve”, in 1920. It is essentially a one-way fluid valve with no moving parts consisting of a pipe with an intricate series of diverting teardrop-shaped loops. The design is such that water can easily flow through in one direction, but when the direction is reversed, the flow is almost totally blocked, or so the initial patent stated.

In a new study, the physics of the Tesla valve was revisited by researchers at New York University who built a 30-centimeter-long replica following Tesla’s original plan. They then performed a series of experiments and measured flow in both directions at different values for pressure.

“It’s remarkable that this 100-year-old invention is still not completely understood and may be useful in modern technologies in ways not yet considered,” explains Leif Ristroph, an associate professor in New York University’s Courant Institute of Mathematical Sciences and the paper’s senior author. “While Tesla is known as a wizard of electric currents and electrical circuits, his lesser-known work to control flows or fluid currents was truly ahead of its time.”

Although Tesla claimed that his valve would make fluid flow 200 times slower in one direction than the other, the researchers’ replica only cut the flow by half.

Comparison of flows in the reverse direction (right to left) at three different speeds. The water current is visualized with green and blue dyes, showing that the flows are increasingly disrupted at higher speeds. Credit: NYU’s Applied Mathematics Laboratory.

However, the researchers learned that the Tesla valve is more sophisticated than initially thought. At low flow rates, there is hardly any difference between forward and reverse flows. But above a certain threshold, the valve abruptly “turned on” like a switch and significantly resisted reverse flow.

“Crucially, this turn-on comes with the generation of turbulent flows in the reverse direction, which ‘plug’ the pipe with vortices and disrupting currents,” explains Ristroph. “Moreover, the turbulence appears at far lower flow rates than have ever previously been observed for pipes of more standard shapes–up to 20 times lower speed than conventional turbulence in a cylindrical pipe or tube. This shows the power it has to control flows, which could be used in many applications.”

What’s more, the valve controls the reverse flow even better when the flow isn’t steady. If the flow comes in pulses or oscillations, the device will smoothen the fluid flow, making the device ideal for use in high-vibration environments. This is remarkably similar to how AC-DC converters transform alternating current to direct current.

“We think this is what Tesla had in mind for the device since he was thinking about analogous operations with electrical currents,” observes Ristroph. “He in fact is most famous for inventing the AC motor as well as an AC-DC converter.”

Although the constricting effect of the valve is much lower than Tesla claimed more than a century ago, the design is still useful. It has no moving parts, unlike other valves that need springs and other parts that require regular maintenance and replacements. Ristroph and colleagues imagine a number of applications where the Tesla valve could prove useful, such as harnessing vibrations in engines to pump fuel, lubricants, and other fluids.

Tesla is now the world’s most valuable automaker

The pandemic hasn’t altered Tesla’s capacity of breaking records. The company’s stock price reached $1,000 for the first time in its history, surpassing Toyota in market capitalization and making it the most valuable automaker in the world according to that metric.

Credit Wikipedia Commons

Tesla now holds an over $185 billion market capitalization, meaning the total value of all of the automaker’s shares of stock is worth more than any other carmaker on Earth. Toyota now sits in second place, with its $178 billion market cap, with Volkswagen ranking third with a $85.5 billion market cap.

The news is eye-opening for all carmakers simply because Tesla does so much more than just build sustainable vehicles. The company has spread its activity to also cover energy storage and solar energy, something other carmakers are only now trying to achieve.

Tesla had already surpassed Volkswagen in February, becoming the second-most valuable carmaker. Its stocks have been growing since then amid a rise in its production rates and sales in China, the largest automobile market in the world. New developments in batteries have made stocks soar in the last few months.

It’s also not out of the question that the stock price has been bolstered by the milestone that Musk’s other company, SpaceX, just accomplished when it sent humans to the International Space Station (ISS) for the first time. Its success opens the doors for human spaceflight through a government-private partnership, and some of that success may have spilled over to Tesla.

As with other vehicle makers, the coronavirus epidemic has affected the company. But this doesn’t seem to have had an overall negative effect on the costs of shares or on its annual plans.

With six employees testing positive with COVID-19 in California, Tesla CEO Elon Musk reordered to open the company’s facilities there last month — first in violation of stay-at-home orders and then getting the green light by local authorities. Tesla employs about 48,000, according to its 2019 figures.

Musk fought to keep the company’s California factory open in March, claiming Tesla was considered part of the “national critical infrastructure” as defined by the Department of Homeland Security. The company had just started deliveries of its fifth vehicle, the Model Y SUV, which is expected to become highly popular.

Tesla’s CEO initially used his Twitter account to spread misinformation about the virus, downplaying the threat and calling stay-at-home orders unconstitutional and fascists. He then seemed to have changed his mind, repurposing some of the factories into assembly lines for hospital ventilators.

Despite the disruptions, Musk is still hopeful to keep on schedule the company’s biggest projects of the year. This includes launching one million vehicles for a self-driving ride-sharing network and the production of its first electric truck, which is soon to start after a two-year period of successful tests.

Robotaxis, still on the agenda of Tesla for this year

If there’s one thing that usually drives Elon Musk at Tesla, that’s innovation. But sometimes that goes faster than regulatory procedures, as seen now with the plan to launch robotaxi vehicles.

Credit Tesla

Last year, Musk announced a plan to launch one million vehicles for a self-driving ride-sharing network by the end of 2020. It’s an extension of Tesla’s “Full Self-driving Capability” plan to improve its Autopilot system in all its vehicles produced since 2016 — leading to those vehicles being capable of self-driving.

Now, amid the coronavirus outbreak disrupting factories across the globe, Tesla’s CEO said that he still believes in the company’s ability to deliver on the functionality of the robotaxi fleet by the end of the year. Nevertheless, this will depend on regulatory approval, he added.

Tesla currently offers Autopilot, which is a very competent suite of advanced driver assistance systems when appropriately used, but it’s nowhere near capable of “full self-driving” as Tesla likes to call it – something that would come before the end of the year if all goes well.

Since the autopilot system was launched in 2016, there are also quite a few Teslas in the market that don’t have this feature, meaning the company will have to send an over-the-air update with Autopilot to compatible cars. This will then make them capable of running as robotaxis.

Tesla’s aim is to enable owners to add their properly equipped vehicles to its own ride-sharing app, which will have a similar business model to Uber or Airbnb. Tesla will take 25 to 30% of the revenue from those rides, Musk said. In places where there aren’t enough people to share their cars, Tesla would provide a dedicated fleet of robotaxis.

“I feel very confident predicting that there will be autonomous robotaxis from Tesla next year — not in all jurisdictions because we won’t have regulatory approval everywhere” Musk said last year, without detailing what regulations he was referring to.

The US federal government does not have any laws regulating autonomous vehicles. There are only voluntary guidelines. And if the vehicles are not altered in any way on the hardware side — such as removing the steering wheel or pedals, for instance — it’s unclear how the federal government could limit Tesla.

The concept of autonomous vehicles has been around for quite some time with several tech companies including Google, Uber, and even Apple said to be involved with self-driving automobiles. In many cases, ambitious plans for rapid deployment have run into unexpected problems.

Elon Musk repurposes Tesla factories to produce ventilators

Tesla founder Elon Musk has moved from calling the coronavirus panic “dumb” to repurposing his electric vehicle and solar panel factories into assembly lines for hospital ventilators, for which there is currently a shortage across the world.

Credit Tesla

Early in March, the business leader used his Twiter account to call the coronavirus panic “dumb,” leading to both negative and positive replies. Now, the story took a twist as Musk said that Tesla’s factory in New York will start producing ventilators.

New York currently has access to roughly 6,000 ventilators and if the virus keeps spreading at the current rate, the state would eventually need as many as 37,000 of them, according to estimations by Governor Andrew Cuomo. For patients suffering from the worst effects of the infection, a ventilator offers the best chance of survival. Simply put, a ventilator takes over the body’s breathing process when the disease has caused the lungs to fail. This gives the patient time to fight off the infection and recover.

“New York State is the most impacted state in the nation,” state assemblyman Sean Ryan wrote in a letter earlier this week, urging Musk to start making ventilators at the Buffalo plant, according to local newspaper, The Buffalo News. “It makes sense that increased ventilator production would happen here.”

Reacting to the request, Musk first said Tesla’s factory will reopen to manufacture ventilators “as soon as humanly possible,” adding he will do “anything in his power to help the citizens of New York”. Later he also added the company is “making good progress” with the ventilators.

Tesla had already started producing ventilators in its factory Fremont, California, in collaboration with the medical supply company Medtronic. Musk is using the factory’s capacity to manufacture one of Medtronic’s lower-end ventilators, which are easier to produce in an off-site facility than more sophisticated models.

Earlier this week, Musk also donated 1,255 ventilators — which he said he’d bought from “an oversupply” in China — to hospitals in California, where Tesla is headquartered.

The business leader is also moving fast on facemasks. He sent 50.000 N95 face masks from Fremont to the home of a doctor working for the University of Washington Medical Center (UWMC) in Seattle, shortly after learning that there’s a shortage of face masks in the area.

“It was just so, so fast,” doctor Adams Waldorf, who received the donation, told The Seattle Times. “I feel so, so good about being a small part of these donations. To be at this critical shortage of personal protective equipment is frightening. We can’t have our health-care system crumbling at this moment.”

The million-mile battery promised by Tesla is here

Elon Musk promised a battery that could take an e-vehicle a million miles and last for years at a time. Jeff Dahn, one of the pioneers of the modern lithium-ion batteries, has now delivered on that promise.

Image credits Paul Brennan.

In a new paper, Dahn announced that the company will soon be in possession of a battery that would make its robot taxis and long-haul electric trucks viable. Dahn is a Professor in the Department of Physics & Atmospheric Science and the Department of Chemistry at Dalhousie University, as well as a research partner of Tesla.

Charge for days

“Cells of this type should be able to power an electric vehicle for over one million miles and last at least two decades in grid energy storage” Dahn says.

Dahn’s research group is recognized as one of the most renowned and prestigious worldwide in the field of electrochemistry. Their new paper details the new power cell they created and a benchmark of its capabilities for further research.

The power cell is constructed using a nickel-rich NCM (nickel-cobalt-manganese) alloy for its cathode. The team explains that the alloy they used, known as NCM 523 (50% Nickel, 20% Cobalt, 30% Manganese), is stable and an excellent reference and starting point for further developments. Other elements that the team tested include graphite anodes, and different mixes of solvents, additives, and salt for the electrolyte solutions

All in all, the cells have a specific capacity (the ratio of energy storage ability to weight) 20% higher than that of the cathodes used in Li-ion batteries that power today’s mobile electronic devices. What’s more, the findings can be turned into useable batteries right away.

“However, since the goal of the study was to provide a reliable benchmark and reference for Li-ion battery technology, the specific energy density of the batteries described is not the highest compared to what can be really reached by advanced Li-ion batteries,” says Doron Aurbach the batteries and energy storage technical editor for the journal that published the study.

“Based on the study, Li-ion batteries will soon be developed that make driving over 500 kilometers (over 300 miles) from charge to charge possible.”

The paper “A Wide Range of Testing Results on an Excellent Lithium-Ion Cell Chemistry to be used as Benchmarks for New Battery Technologies” has been published in the Journal of The Electrochemical Society.

Tesla’s new batteries could last for one million miles or two decades of energy storage

Tesla’s electric vehicles are designed to last a very long time. That’s because Elon Musk wants to, at some point, launch a huge fleet of autonomous taxis, and the economics of this venture only make sense if each car can operate for hundreds of thousands of miles, preferably around a million.

While the other parts are already up to the task, the lithium-ion batteries are rated for only 300,000 miles (480,000 km).

However, Tesla researchers say that they’ve now completed tests showing the new battery pack they’re working on could last for up to a million miles (1.6 million km) or 20 years of operation if used for energy storage in a home or by a utility. That’s two to three times longer than current commercially available battery packs offered by Tesla.

The new battery is based on a next-generation single-crystal nickel-manganese-cobalt (NMC) cathode, as well as a new electrolyte.

Tesla researchers led by Jeff Dahn tested the new technology for the last three years, including “long-term charge-discharge cycling at 20, 40 and 55°C, long-term storage at 20, 40 and 55°C, and high precision coulometry at 40°C,” according to their new study published in the Journal of The Electrochemical Society.

Even at 40°C, which is pretty extreme, the cells lasted for about 4,000 charge-discharge cycles. If an active cooling system is added, which is already present in Tesla’s battery pack, then the cells can last up to 6,000 cycles or roughly 1 million miles.

“This situation may change with the proposed introduction of “robo taxis”, long haul electric trucks and vehicle-to-grid applications. In the former, vehicles will be driving all day, much like a conventional taxi and undergoing nearly 100% DOD cycling. Long haul trucks will almost certainly run in near 100% DOD situations,” the researchers wrote, describing the enormous potential their improved battery life could have on transportation.

Tesla not only builds its own cars but also its own batteries via Gigafactories. Having top-down control over the supply chain means that Tesla is at an economic advantage over the competition that could enable it to control a fleet of thousands of autonomous Tesla taxis around the world.

Imagine a fleet of around the clock Ubers that only stops to charge, making trips and deliveries. Tesla owners would also be able to send their cars off to make money for them when they’re not using them, when they’re sleeping or away on vacation, for example. I don’t know about you, but this all sounds like the future — I like it!

A closeup of one of the first Tesla Solar Roof installations. Credit: Green Tech Media.

Tesla’s new solar roof will cost as much as a shingle roof and electricity bill

At this year’s shareholder meeting, CEO Elon Musk said that Tesla’s next generation of solar roof tiles will be even less expensive than initially announced. Musk says that a Tesla solar roof should cost less than the cost of a composite shingle roof and a home’s associated electric utility bill.

A closeup of one of the first Tesla Solar Roof installations. Credit: Green Tech Media.

A closeup of one of the first Tesla Solar Roof installations. Credit: Green Tech Media.

Traditionally known for making fast electric roadsters, Tesla is now a much more robust company with big ambitions in energy generation and storage (PowerWall series), not just in sustainable transportation.

In 2017, not long after Tesla’s merger with Solar City, Elon Musk presented a new product line consisting of roof tiles capable of harvesting solar energy. Tesla officials had announced that customers would have access to the tiles in 2018, but so far only some company executives and a few select customers have gotten their hands on them.

In a recent shareholder’s meeting, Musk said that the company was forced to delay volume production in order to meet very stringent requirements. The tiles not only need to look good, but they also have to be cheap and last for at least 30 years. Progress, however, seems to be good. According to Tesla’s CEO, the company is now close to finishing version 3 of the solar tiles, which ought to be no more expensive or cheaper than a composite shingle roof plus the home’s electricity bill.

“I am very excited about version 3 of solar roof. We have a shot at being equal to a comp shingle roof plus someone’s utility cost or being lower than that. That’s one of the cheapest roofs available. So you can have a great roof with better economics than a normal fairly cheap roof and your utility bill.”

Credit: Tesla.

Credit: Tesla.

A shingle roof can cost as little as $4 per square foot. If Tesla can beat this price — taking into consideration electricity savings over decades — the offer would be unbeatable. Last year, the solar tiles cost about $21.85 per square foot, so there’s a lot of ground to cover.

Many people want to transition towards solar energy, but their big objection is that solar panels ruin the home’s aesthetics and lower its value. Tiles that are beautiful and mask the solar generation component can deliver the best of both worlds. But even with the announcement of this 3rd iteration in the technology, it’s still not clear when mass production will be ramped up. “I’m sometimes a little optimistic about time frames — it’s time you knew,” Musk joked at the meeting.

Tesla Autopilot engaged in Model X. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Tesla’s Autopilot reaches one billion miles driven: that’s 10 times the distance from Earth to the Sun

Tesla Autopilot engaged in Model X. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Tesla Autopilot engaged in Model X. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

Tesla electric vehicles have collectively driven more than one billion miles on Autopilot. That’s 10% of the total mileage driven by all Tesla vehicles across the globe to date, including vehicles sold before Autopilot was even introduced.

Autopilot was first rolled out in 2015, and ever since Tesla has introduced both hardware and software updates that improve autonomous driving. Last month, Tesla introduced new features in Software Version 9, including Navigate on Autopilot, which brings the company’s cars a step closer to becoming fully autonomous on the road.

“[Navigate on Autopilot] is one of the first major steps toward full self-driving. You can enter in an address, and from highway on-ramp to highway off-ramp, the car will change lanes. It will go from one highway to the next automatically and take off-ramp automatically. It’s pretty wild. It’ll overtake a slow car. It’s basically integrating navigation with the Autopilot capability,” Musk recently said during his recent appearance at the Recode Decode podcast. “I think we’ll get to full self-driving next year. As a generalized solution, I think. Like we’re on track to do that next year. So I don’t know. I don’t think anyone else is on track to do it next year.”

As it stands today, Autopilot is not fully ready for all types of roads. However, Tesla seems compelled to make all its cars fully autonomous. According to Andrej Karpathy, Tesla’s AI Director, the company already has large neural networks that are capable of safely navigating Teslas through different types of roads and traffic. However, these updates can’t be rolled out momentarily due to hardware constraints. For Autopilot to evolve into a truly autonomous feature, Tesla cars will have to be fitted with more computing power in the future. Upgrade to Hardware 3, which involves swapping the Autopilot computer, is free for all customers who purchased the Full Self-Driving suite.

“This upgrade allows us to not just run the current neural networks faster. But more importantly, it will allow us to deploy much larger, computationally more expensive networks to the fleet. As you make networks bigger by adding more neurons, the accuracy of all their predictions increases with the added capacity. So in other words, we are currently at a place where we’ve trained large neural networks that work very well, but we are not able to deploy them to the fleet due to computational constraints,” Karpathy said during the third quarter earnings call.

The Silicon Valley auto-maker is also rolling updates to its valet parking feature dubbed “Summon”. The feature works on all cars manufactured in the past two years and, in the future, it will drive the electric vehicle to your phone location — even across the continent. The advanced Summon also allows users to “follow you like a pet” as long as you hold down the Summon button on the Tesla app. The update should be ready in a couple of weeks as an over-the-air software upgrade.

“Also, you’ll be able to drive it from your phone remotely like a big RC [remote control] car if in line of sight,” added Musk.

Credit: SpaceX.

Tesla Roadster and Starman have now traveled beyond Mars

Credit: SpaceX.

Credit: SpaceX.

In February this year, SpaceX tested its new Falcon Heavy rocket by launching some very unconventional cargo in space. The eccentric billionaire and SpaceX founder, Elon Musk, wanted to do things differently — so the payload was comprised of a Tesla Roadster, with a mannequin dressed in an astronaut suit sitting in the driver’s seat. Now, according to a SpaceX tweet, the car has made it past Mars’ orbit around the sun.

In the eight months since it was launched into space, the ‘Starman’ mannequin has traveled over 370 million miles around the sun at an average speed of 35,000 mph. That’s quite the trek for a Tesla Roadster, which has exceeded its 36,000-mile warranty about 10,000 times. During its latest loop, Starman has even made it past Mars’ orbit, currently drifting 179 million miles away from Earth.

When a new rocket is tested, manufacturers typically send a dummy cargo into space — such as concrete or steel blocks. That was too boring for Elon Musk, though. In the process, SpaceX got the chance to test its spacesuit in real-world conditions while Musk secured great publicity for both of his companies in one move.

The successful test launch also marked the introduction of the world’s most powerful rocket currently in operation.

The Falcon Heavy is essentially made up of three Falcon 9s strapped together, which allows it to ferry roughly three times more payload into space than a single Falcon. Its design was first unveiled in 2011, but a series of setbacks have delayed the original launch plans.

Credit: SpaceX.

Credit: SpaceX.

The 224-feet-tall (68.4 meters) rocket is capable of delivering 54 metric tons (119,000 lb) of payload (satellites, cargo, astronauts etc.) into Earth’s low orbit, to the moon, or even to Mars. That’s the mass equivalent of a 737 jetliner loaded with passengers, crew, luggage, and fuel. It can even carry up to 4,000 kilograms of payload all the way to Pluto!

But Musk has his eyes set on an even more powerful behemoth, the BFR. According to Musk’s initial plan, the 348-foot-tall (106-meter) BFR system is powered by 42 Raptor engines. It should be capable of carrying up to 100 people in a pressurized passenger space that’s larger than that of an Airbus A380 airplane. BFR consists of a 190-foot (58-meter) tall booster for its first stage, and a 157-foot (48-meter) tall spaceship that also doubles as a second stage.

As for the Tesla and Starman, the pair should keep orbiting around the sun. Each time the car comes close to Earth, it will get a gravitational kick that will send it into a wider or narrower obit — but where to and for how long? Physicists at the University of Toronto Scarborough actually crunched the numbers finding that the Tesla Roadster will collide with Earth or Venus over the next million years with a probability of 6 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively. In all likelihood, however, the vehicle won’t make it that far.

According to Tom Narita, an astrophysicist at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, the Roadster could be obliterated by high-speed space dust and cosmic ray radiation. In only a couple of years, all the plastic and rubber in the car should get shredded into pieces by radiation while the metal structure itself can last for hundreds of thousands of years.

Elon Musk’s Roadster will most likely crash into Earth or Venus millions of years from now

Elon Musk’s personal cherry red Tesla Roadster that was recently shot into space on the most powerful operational rocket in the world will eventually collide with Earth or Venus — but that’s millions of years from now.

Credit: SpaceX.

The car and an onboard dummy named “Starman” acted as a test payload for SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy test flight on February 6. Not only was the launch a resounding success, with two of the reusable side boosters making a perfect, synchronized soft landing, it also provided both SpaceX and Tesla with great publicity.

Right now, the Roadster is set on crossing orbit between Earth and Mars, which will see it travel on an elliptical path beyond Mars and then back to Earth’s orbital distance from the sun. Each time the car comes close to Earth, it will get a gravitational kick that will send it into a wider or smaller obit. Over multiple iterations, Elon’s Roadster could end up on a pretty wild orbit — but where to?

It’s possible to rather easily determine where the roadster will end over a couple of orbital cycles. The thing is that there are so many variables that it becomes almost impossible to precisely predict where the car will end up after a certain number of cycles. It’s just like weather forecasting — scientists can come up with a fairly accurate forecast for tomorrow but for each additional day, the projection deviates from reality more and more.

You might have heard of the “butterfly effect”, which is to say that a small change in one state of a deterministic nonlinear system can result in large differences in a later state. Over time, minute changes compound so much that the expected outcome wildly differs from what you actually get. That’s why the weather forecast seven days in advance is not very accurate — but it’s still better than flipping a coin.

And just like weather forecasters perform dozens of parallel simulations and pick the likeliest outcome, physicists at the University of Toronto Scarborough studied a large number of simulations and arrived at a statistical distribution of possible outcomes. Their analysis suggests that the Tesla Roadster will collide with Earth or Venus over the next million years with a probability of 6 percent and 2.5 percent, respectively. That’s about what scientists expect from the class of small bodies on Earth-crossing orbits termed Near-Earth Objects, or NEOs.

The first close encounter with Earth that the Tesla will have will be in 2091 when simulations suggest it will pass within few hundred thousand kilometers of the planet.

“Each time it passes Earth, the car will get a gravitational kick,” says Dan Tamayo, a postdoctoral fellow at U of T Scarborough who is a co-author on the paper that has yet to be published.

“Although we are not able to tell on which planet the car will ultimately end up, we’re comfortable saying it won’t survive in space for more than a few tens of millions of years,” he says.

Tamayo and Hanno Rein, also a physicist at U of T Scarborough, only calculated the Tesla’s trajectory for the next three million years but the two are confident that the most likely outcome for the electric car is to crash into Earth or Venus in about ten million years. There’s an 11-percent chance of it smashing into Earth after three million years.

If it does crash into Earth, there would be no danger since the Tesla won’t be able to survive atmospheric re-entry.

This is all actually very good news for many scientists who were concerned the Tesla might crash into Mars, contaminating it with Earth microbes. And what’s more, the car might not even get a chance to crash into Earth in the first place. According to Tom Narita, an astrophysicist at the College of the Holy Cross in Massachusetts, the Roadster could be obliterated by high-speed space dust and cosmic ray radiation. In only a couple of years, all the plastic and rubber in the car should get shred into pieces by radiation while the metal structure itself can last for hundreds of thousands of years.

Tesla’s new Semi is an electrical monster, but can it really deliver?

Elon Musk has hinted at the new Tesla truck for ages, and now it’s finally arrived. Like everything that Musk showcases, it’s sleek, innovative, and extremely promising. But also like everything Musk presents, it also leaves a lot of questions.

Artistic depiction of the Semi. Credits: Tesla.

Developing an electric truck offers massive benefits, but also raises huge challenges. You get the chance to revolutionize one of the world’s most polluting industries (trucking), but the odds are stacked against you. For starters, you need enough power to move the mammoth car around, along with the big load trucks usually carry and a heavy battery. You also need to ensure a huge range, as trucks usually travel long distances and overcome the lack of aerodynamics.

Not everything is bad, however. Electric engines actually offer some advantages over conventional diesel engines. Namely, they generate a tremendous amount of torque, which is ideal for heavy-duty trucks. Many heavy-duty trucks also have 10 gear transmissions, to get the truck rolling fast enough for highways — but this also introduces a lot of wear and tear.

Tesla’s new truck, simply called the Semi, has one gear and no transmission. This drastically reduces wear and tear, saving money and time spent on transmission repairs. Furthermore, once the truck starts rolling, it can also use its huge mass to generate extra power to expand its range.

Still, the elephant in the room when it comes to electric trucks is the battery. Simply put, battery technology just hasn’t been at a point where it can power a truck. But Tesla Motors believe they have the case cracked. In front of a jam-packed audience, Musk presented the Semi to roaring applause. He says the trucks could go for up to 500 miles at maximum weight at motorway speeds, in spite of the heavy battery. Its diesel counterparts are able to travel up to 1,000 miles on a single tank of fuel so they have twice as much range, but Musk said diesel trucks were 20 percent more expensive to run per mile. Without cargo, the Semi can do 0 to 60mph in five seconds or reach 60mph in 20 seconds while carrying the maximum weight allowed on US highways — more than 36,000kg. Those are some impressive figures.

You can watch the full presentation here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=31xvmvAq8ms

Musk also says the Semi features several other upgrades: it has a centered driver’s seat for a “more commanding view of the street,” replaces real mirrors with screens and cameras, and does a lot to reduce the “clutter” from third-party items and gadgets. But whether or not those are actually improvements remains to be seen. For instance, some have said that having a centered seat makes it more difficult to lean out the window when passing paperwork to the police or border patrol. It might also reduce visibility in some instances, especially for backing up. The lack of physical mirrors is also certain to make many drivers uneasy and can make for some unfortunate situations.

The inside of the Semi. Credits: Tesla.

As always, Musk’s products are a mishmash of brilliance, innovation, and hazard. If the Semi can do all he says it can do, it can be revolutionary. But can it, really? The question seems to be annoyingly floating around, and for now at least, there’s no clear-cut answer. However, electric trucks seem to be an inevitable development. It might not be now, next year, or the year after that — but it will happen sooner rather than later, and it will do a big difference. Despite advancements which have made trucks more efficient, the trucking industry contributes 1.6 billion metric tons of CO2 per year globally. If that can save money and make the streets safer, what’s not to like?

Musk presenting the Semi. Credits: Tesla.

No price tag has been presented. Here’s the full technical sheet of the Tesla Semi:

  • 0-60 in 5 seconds
  • 0-60 with 80,000 max gross weight in 20 seconds
  • 65 up 5 percent grade at max gross
  • 500-mile range at maximum weight and highway speed
  • .36 drag coefficient/.65-.70 diesel truck/.38 Buggati Chiron
  • 4 independent motors and independent suspension
  • 1 Gear – No transmission
  • Center driver position like a race car
  • 400-mile range with 30-minute charge (aka MEGA CHARGE)
  • Charge at origin or destination
  • Auto braking
  • Auto lane keeping
  • Million mile guarantee
  • Regenerative braking (brake pads last forever)
  • Tesla app just like the Model S
  • $1.26 per mile Tesla Semi vs. $1.51 per mile diesel truck
Send tesla.

Musk says Puerto Rico’s power grid could be built from the ground up with solar and battery packs

In the wake of two hurricanes, Puerto Rico’s power grid was blasted back to the stone age. In an effort to return power to the people who need it, Tesla has been shipping Powerwalls over to the island. Now, CEO Elon Musk says the company might rebuild the entire power grid, scaling up their battery-and-solar model to service the entire state.

Even before disaster hit, Puerto Rico wasn’t in the best place energy-wise — electricity rates were already quite high, at about US$0.20/kWh, and was drawn almost entirely from fossil fuels. Of course, this situation hardly improved after two hurricanes battered the island within weeks of one another. Change, however, begets opportunity. After it was pointed out that Puerto Rico’s destroyed grid offers the chance to build a new, better one, Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk wrote on Twitter:

Musk is referring to battery-and-solar projects Tesla recently deployed to other islands, such as Kauai (where the company installed a very impressive Powerpack) or the American Samoa (where they set up a battery and solar panel microgrid). These projects are meant to supply small populations, granted, but Musk always insisted they’re easily scalable and could potentially power larger islands, or entire continents.

Puerto Rico’s governor, Ricardo Rosselló, later offered to talk through the idea with Musk.

However, this renewable grid would not be immune to subsequent disasters. Puerto Rico would still use power lines to feed larger users, which can be snapped by a hurricane, to serve larger groups of users, and the generators themselves would also be quite vulnerable. Some of Puerto Rico’s previous wind and solar farms were badly damaged in the recent hurricanes, amplifying the island’s energy woes. However, Tesla’s grid would be harder to knock out completely. By relying on solar generation instead of fossil fuels, it can be spread throughout an area, improving the odds that at least some parts will remain online and that normal operations can be resumed more quickly in the event of a natural disaster.

Tesla is already making efforts to restart Puerto Rico’s grid. The company’s home battery pack, the Powerwall, is being shipped to Puerto Rico to allow homeowners with existing rooftop solar panels to connect to these battery packs instead of the power grid in order to power their homes — or even communities. It’s more of a patch than a fix, however. Local installers are often difficult to get a hold of, and some are charging up to $12,000 for a Powerwall and its installation. Tesla’s website says that the Powerwall and the supporting hardware costs $6,200, with a “typical installation cost ranges from $800 to $2,000.

Given the outrageous third-party costs involved here, it’s no surprise that locals are increasingly turning to car batteries and inverters, which are both highly inefficient and increasingly rare in Puerto Rico.

Overall, the plight of Puerto Rico offers a great opportunity for renewable energy to flex its muscles. However, we mustn’t forget that this situation impacts real people, with very real consequences. Action — any action — is needed, and sooner rather than later.

Tesla Model 3

Tesla Model 3: All About The Most Anticipated Car Ever

It accelerates with the rush of a hungry cheetah, comes with a massive 15-inch touching dashboard, and if a Japanese and German car ever had a baby, this is what it would look like.

Starting at $35,000 and with more than 400,000 pre-orders, the Tesla Model 3 is the eco-friendly sedan everyone’s been dreaming of for years. Some say the Model 3 will go down in history akin to Ford’s Model T which made vehicles affordable to the working class at the dawn of the past century. Back then, the horse and buggy were replaced by the combustion engine, which in turn will now have to make room for the future: the electric, self-driven vehicle of choice for the average American home.

Tesla Model 3 design

The Model 3 is a compact four-door sedan which was unveiled for the first time by Elon Musk on March 31, 2016, at the company’s design studio in Hawthorne, California. In its first week, Tesla garnered 130,000 pre-orders from prospective buyers who had to put $1,000 down. Right now, there are 400,000 pre-orders worth upwards of $10 billion — all for a car people barely got a glimpse of. No other automaker in history has managed to pull this off before. Not even close.

While the car’s back looks a lot like the Model S, Tesla designers seem to have taken the front end into a new direction. The hood is super low (we don’t have to worry about a combustion engine anymore) and the arched roof offers ample breathing space for the five passengers it can fit inside. Speaking of which, the roof is mostly glass apart from two beams offering a stunning view of the sky.

The designers also made a new door handle for the Model 3. These stay embedded in the doors but when the user gently pushes the metal, the handle pops out immediately.

As for size, the Model 3 stretches 184 inches (4.6 meters) from bumper to bumper making it about a foot (0.3 meters) shorter than the Model S. It’s still very roomy though, providing 400 liters of space in the trunk.

Tesla Model 3 specs

Here are the key specs you need to know, all confirmed by Tesla.

  • Goes 0 to 60 mph in 5.6 seconds. The Tesla Model S P85D could accelerate that fast in 2.275507139 seconds in Ludicrous+ mode or faster than any other production car.
  • It can drive for 215+ miles (346 km) on a full charge. The 2017 Model S 100D has a range of 335 miles (539 km) but because the Model 3’s wheelbase is too short, the P100D 100-kWh pack will not be available. The Model 3, however, will come fitted with the latest generation of batteries made at Tesla Gigafactory that are denser than its predecessors.
  • Model 3 owners will have to pay to use the Supercharger network whereas Model S owners charge for free. Owners will have to pay for supercharging, whereas Model S owners get it for free
  • It has five seats.
  • There’s a 15-inch touch screen that provides all the information a driver needs from navigation to entertainment. There’s no separate console anymore for things like gas or speed indicators — they’re all embedded in the touchscreen now.
  • It comes with standard Autopilot. You have to pay extra for Autopilot’s ‘convenience features’.
  • But also 14 cubic feet (~400 liters) of trunk and rear cargo volume.

As for the money, the Model 3 starts at $35,000 before federal tax exemptions. You might be able to get it for less or more than this figure depending on where you live.

Tesla Model 3 vs Model S

You’re probably wondering how the Model 3 stacks up against the Model S. Tesla gives us the gist with this graphical overview.

model-s-vs-model-3

Credit: Tesla.

Tesla Model 3 pictures

Pictures of the production version of the Model 3 were finally revealed on July 9 during a series of late-night tweets by CEO Elon Musk.

Tesla Motors Model 3 production unit. Credit: Tesla Motors

Tesla Motors Model 3 production unit. Credit: Tesla Motors

According to Electrek, this is probably Elon Musk’s own vehicle since he was gifted the first place in line by Ira Ehrenpreis, an early Tesla investor and board member, for his birthday. Musk seems to have gone with black this time, as well as bigger 19″ wheels. There are reportedly 100 possible configurations for the Model 3, a far cry from the 1,500 possible configurations for the Model S. Tesla has turned down the number of options for its customers so it can scale production at the maximum rate. The fewer options also come as an incentive for prospective buyers to hop on the Model S, which is roughly three times more expensive than the Model 3.

Tesla Motors Model 3 production unit.

Tesla Motors Model 3 production unit. Credit: Tesla Motors.

For now, there’s not much to look at. The car itself looks great but there are no official pictures of the interior or roof, and there likely won’t be any until the first Model 3 customers get their hands on it. For now, Elon Musk seems to be the only one enjoying the most anticipated car, well, ever.

Here are more pictures of the Model 3 prototype taken previously and released by Tesla.

Tesla Model 3 pictures

Credit: Tesla

Tesla Model 3

Credit: Tesla.

Silver Model 3

Credit: Tesla

Tesla Siver Model 3

Credit: Tesla

The Model 3 features an amazing roof design. Credit: YouTube/Motor Trend.

The Model 3 features an amazing roof design. Credit: YouTube/Motor Trend.

There are also some great sneak peaks like this gallery posted by Reddit user “inamachineshop”. The gallery includes pictures of the now famous spartan dashboard of the Model 3. Many posted disappointing comments on social media complaining the dashboard doesn’t look appealing and not much seems to have changed since last spring when the first photos of the interior rolled out.

Tesla Model 3 interior dashboard

Credit: ‘inamachineshop’ Reddit user

Tesla Model 3 dashboard

Credit: ‘inamachineshop’ Reddit user

White, blue, and black Model 3s of an unknown version (not production). Credit: Credit: 'inamachineshop' Reddit user

White, blue, and black Model 3s of an unknown version (not production). Credit: Credit: ‘inamachineshop’ Reddit user

Tesla Model 3

Credit: ‘inamachineshop’ Reddit user

Tesla Model 3 price

Tesla has one of the most brilliant marketing campaigns. And like all good marketing, Tesla has a found way to deceive its customers and not even make them mad.

What I mean by that is that everywhere you read, the Model 3 is priced at $35,000. You see, that’s a truthful lie. It does start at $35,000 but for that cash, you’re not really getting a Tesla — not the kind you wish for. This version is so bare it doesn’t have Autopilot, a self-driving feature which for many is the only reason they’d buy the car in the first place. If you want Autopilot, you need to dish out an extra $5,000. Want full self-driving features? That’s $3,000 extra. Want a nice interior and better range? That’s $9,000 extra. Oh, you don’t have a charger at home? Tesla will fix it for you for a nominal fee of $1,500.

So, realistically, a Tesla Model 3 costs $43,000-$53,000, though of course you could get the $35,000 version.

Tesla Model 3 release date

After Elon Musk tweeted the first pictures of the Model 3 production unit, the CEO claimed the first thirty Model 3 customers will have their pre-orders honored at a special event held on July 28. From there on production will be incrementally ramped up from 100 cars in August to 1,500 in September and 20,000 by the end of December. If you’re only now looking to buy one, know that new orders will start shipping in 2018 but there’s a huge waiting list. Now, who wants one?

 

Tesla pack.

Curious what a Tesla battery rack looks like inside? Watch these guys throw one off the roof to find out

Ever wondered how Tesla’s tech can power an actual car for whole trips? What secret their batteries might hide? If so, you’re in luck, as the father and son duo of “What’s Inside” shoot, smash, and slash their way inside the things to show us what’s going on.

Tesla pack.

Image via What’s Inside / YouTube.

Dan and his son Lincoln, the creators behind YouTube channel “What’s Inside“, sadly had to let their family car go, a Model S Tesla. They’re pretty bummed about it but decided to make the most of a bad situation and study the company’s impressive battery tech. In the best way possible: with smashing, slashing — and arrows. Check it out.

 

Wondering if a Tesla battery rack would fare better than muggle batteries (which blow up) when pierced, say by a random piece of jagged metal lying on the road, the duo first shoots their spare Tesla battery rack with a bow and metal-tipped arrow. They were hoping for ‘some kaboom’, but thankfully (sadly?) Tesla makes them pretty safe so it doesn’t really happen. The arrow lodges between the rack’s metal casing and the cooling strip, does structural some damage but nothing really pops.

Not ones to be daunted so easily, they move on to the next logical step — Lincoln takes the rack and throws it off the roof. Twice.

Pressed this hard, the battery rack submits and breaks off into a hundred tinier batteries, which finally gives us a good look at Tesla’s design. The rack is a very neat structure, with stacks of batteries interwoven with cooling strips, all encased in a plastic and metal structure. Every one of them comes with its own integrated computer which ensures the batteries do what they’re supposed to while being extra-duper-safe. Each Model S carries around 16 such racks, for a total of about 7000 individual lithium batteries.

In the end, Dan had to hack away at the batteries with a hatchet so we could actually see what’s inside. Not very surprisingly, it’s battery acid.

And because we care (also because lawsuits are expensive) please don’t try this at home. Dan and Lincoln aren’t professionals, but they had a whole bunch of them on standby to make sure nothing went haywire.

Tesla competitor sells solar roofs for half the cost and installation time

Forward Labs' solar roof looks like a metal roof. Credit: Forward Labs.

Forward Labs’ solar roof looks like a metal roof. Credit: Forward Labs.

Earlier this month, Tesla started taking the first $1,000 deposits for its much-heralded solar roofs — sleek and fashionable roof tiles that double as solar panels. The marketing was so good that Tesla is already sold out on solar roof tiles until well into 2018, according to Electrek. But Tesla isn’t the only company in this business. A newcomer called Forward Labs promises to deliver much of the same energy output at Tesla at almost half the cost and installation time.

[button url=”https://lp.understandsolar.com/ro/core/?lead_source=zmescience&tracking_code=tesla_alternative” postid=”” style=”btn-success” size=”btn-lg” target=”_blank” fullwidth=”true”]Find out how much a solar roof can save you in your area[/button]

While Tesla’s roof will set you back about $22/square foot ($220/square meter), a Forward Labs roof comes in at less than $12 per square foot ($120 / square meter) for the sections that include PV ($3.25 per watt) and $8.50 per square foot of the non-PV areas. These were designed by a team led by Zach Taylor, who comes from a constructions background particularly on the composition and installation of roofing systems. According to Taylor, his company designed solar roofs to be as inexpensive as possible by using standard construction materials which are easy to install and replace.

Forward-Labs-solar-roof-layers-889x663

Credit: Forward.

Whereas Tesla’s solar roof is made from individual shingles, Forward Labs’ metal roof is made up of one large, layered piece which itself consists of five layers:

  • The top layer made of tempered glass which protects the whole system from the elements — snow, hail, etc.

  • Optical chromatic cloaking gives the roof its visible color while absorbing very little “usable” light.

  • Monocrystalline solar cells — cheap and readily available.

  • Rollformed galvanized metal panels which serve as the base of the roof.

  • The racking system which like Tesla’s roof is concealed.

Right now, 8 colors are available but given the chromatic layer, any color is technically possible. Installation takes only a couple of days or half as much as Tesla, according to Taylor.

Aesthetically, it doesn’t look like much — it resembles a typical metal roof. But that can be a good thing if you’re looking to pass a Home Owner’s Association’s muster. It’s also worth knowing the entire roof benefits from the 30 percent federal Investment Tax Credit.

forward-labs

Credit: Forward Labs.

“Although the entire roof doesn’t produce power, it’s treated as part of the system, just as mounting is part of a standard solar array and included as part of the 30 percent credit. Tesla has led on this interpretation, and we’re planning on being under the same final definition,” Taylor, the company’s CEO, told GreenTechMedia. 

“But we’re more focused on what consumers want, and we’re finding that consumers are very interested in solar roofing, whether or not the construction industry is open to that,” he said. “We’re looking at a 7- to 8-year return on investment and faster installation time — 2 to 3 days rather than 5 to 7 days — and, in my opinion, and a better looking roof.”

“I’m trying not to make too many comparisons directly to Tesla,” Taylor added. “But I can say that we do have the most cost-effective roof in the market with the highest rate of return on investment — and that’s what homeowners have been seeking.”

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comparisson_chart

Those are some very bold claims. It remains to be seen if Taylor and colleagues are worth the hype — after all, Tesla is also very bombastic with pre-product claims but nearly always delivers, and plenty more.

The firm has started taking preorders for its solar roofing system for installation in the San Francisco Bay Area. Taylor says the first preorders will be installed this year even though he told customers it’s on for “2018”. “We’d like to underpromise and overdeliver,” he said.

Credit: Tesla.

Tesla will double the stations in its Supercharger network by the end of the year

As Tesla prepares to roll out the Model 3, a mid-priced electric sedan which signals the company’s transition from high-end electric cars to mass-market adoption, one big priority is upgrading the charging infrastructure. To cover massive upcoming demand, Tesla is planning on significantly expanding its charging stations, including the high-speeding docking stations known as the SuperCharger. The number of SuperChargers around the world is set to double by the end of the year, according to a recent press release.

Credit: Tesla.

Credit: Tesla.

Tesla started 2017 with 5,000 Superchargers around the world and 9,000 Destination chargers, the latter being various charging stations at hotels, resorts, and restaurants installed by Tesla itself. By the end of the year, the number of Superchargers should rise to 10,000, a thousand of which will be installed in California alone. Another 6,000 Destination chargers will also be added globally.

Despite the big upgrade which will see 150% more Superchargers in North America, it’s unclear whether Tesla can satisfy most of its 200,000 clients, especially as the Model 3 is set for release this year. There are over 400,000 Model 3 pre-orders that need to be delivered by 2019. According to Ben Sullins of Teslanomics, right now there are 105 Teslas for every Supercharger station in California.

Tesla's Supercharger network. Grayed-out pins are upcoming. Credit: Tesla.

Tesla’s Supercharger network. Grayed-out pins are upcoming. Credit: Tesla.

A Supercharger outputs 120kW of power compared to only 35 to 50kW, the typical rating of DC Quick Chargers (CHAdeMO and SAE-CCS). A Tesla should be able to get charge 80% of the battery in 40 minutes and a full charge in 75 minutes. Because they’re not nearly as numerous as gas stations, the policy right now is to place them less than an 80% charge away from any adjacent station. If you check out the Supercharge map on Tesla’s website, you’ll see some places are more crowded than others. On the busiest routes, Tesla will make it possible for dozens of Superchargers to service vehicles simultaneously. Most Supercharger hotspots, even in California, are capped at 20 stalls. Moving to 50 or 100 individuals chargers sounds like a very big move.

“In addition, many sites will be built further off the highway to allow local Tesla drivers to charge quickly when needed, with the goal of making charging ubiquitous in urban centers,” Tesla announced.

All customers who bought a Tesla after Jan. 15 2017 can use a Supercharger for free up for up to about 1,000 miles worth of electricity every year. For most owners, that’s almost free charging all year-round on the road since the bulk of charging is done at home.

tesla panels

Tesla presents a new sleek line of exclusive solar panels built by Panasonic

 

tesla panels

Credit: Tesla

Tesla is expanding its power generation offering with a new series of solar panels designed by Panasonic exclusively for the American company. The new panels can be installed on virtually any roof and come with a nice streamlined design. The panels have “integrated front skirts and no visible mounting hardware,” making them more visually appealing. There is no official word on pricing but you can request a custom quote on Tesla’s website. 

Since Tesla merged with SolarCity, the biggest solar residential contractor in the United States, the company’s strategy has shifted dramatically. Traditionally known for making fast electric roadsters, Tesla is now a more robust company with big ambitions to dominate energy generation and storage (PowerWall series), not just sustainable transportation.

tesla solar panels

Credit: Tesla

Though Tesla, formally Tesla Motors, has a far more diverse product offering now, the company’s core marketing direction and values seem unchanged. When Elon Musk, Tesla’s CEO, took over the company he wanted to address the false belief that “an electric car had to be ugly and slow and boring like a golf cart.” We’re all familiar now with Tesla’s super sleek vehicles, like the P100D which has a 0-60mph time of only 2.5 seconds.

Likewise, Tesla seeks to make solar panels that aren’t only practical but aesthetically pleasing too. Not long after its merger with Solar City last year, Tesla showed off the ‘Tesla roof’ which are basically roof tiles capable of harvesting solar energy. These will be available sometime later this year.

“Would you like a roof that looks better than a normal roof, last twice as long, cost less and by the way generates electricity? Why would you get anything else?” Musk said at the time of the announcement.

The newly unveiled solar panel line is something different. These are normal solar panels, not solar tiles, but with some pretty nice perks. The first thing that people will notice is the sleek, streamline design which is engineered by Zep Solar, a startup acquired by SolarCity in 2013 and now part of Tesla’s Solar Systems. The technology uses a railless system which not only renders any mounting hardware invisible but also cuts mounting time in half.

Tesla dreams of an integrated, sustainable household where energy comes from Tesla solar panels during the day and Tesla's PowerWall during the night. A Tesla electric car sits nicely in the garage, charged by renewable energy. Credit: Tesla.

Tesla dreams of an integrated, sustainable household where energy comes from Tesla solar panels during the day and Tesla’s PowerWall during the night. A Tesla electric car sits nicely in the garage, charged by renewable energy. Credit: Tesla.

The panels are made by Panasonic at Tesla’s Gigafactory 2 in Buffalo exclusively for Tesla. Before the merger, SolarCity used to work with all sorts of suppliers for its residential solar. Tesla will continue to work with third-party solar panel suppliers but it’s foreseeable it will be gradually cutting down until it only sells its own branded products.

Production of the first modules, which have a 325-watt power rating, should start this summer. You can request a quote from Tesla if you want to learn how much it costs in your area. It’s also a good idea to estimate the solar energy that hits your rooftop with Google’s excellent tool. 

What Gigafactory-1 -- Tesla’s battery plant outside Reno -- looks like now. When completed it will cover 15 million square feet which will make it the building with the largest footprint in the world. Credit: Tesla.

Tesla just announced it will build 5 Gigafactories

What Gigafactory-1 -- Tesla’s battery plant outside Reno -- looks like now. When completed it will cover 15 million square feet which will make it the building with the largest footprint in the world. Credit: Tesla.

What Gigafactory-1 — Tesla’s battery plant outside Reno — looks like now. When completed it will cover 15 million square feet which will make it the building with the largest footprint in the world. Credit: Tesla.

Tesla is still two years away from completing Gigafactory-1 — a massive lithium-ion battery production facility outside Reno, Nevada, which will cover 15 million square feet — but that doesn’t seem to stop the company from investing even more in manufacturing. We knew there would be another battery production facility in Europe with construction starting as soon as Tesla would decide on a good location but a recent company announcement claims there will be at least five Gigafactories.

“Installation of Model 3 manufacturing equipment is underway in Fremont and at Gigafactory 1, where in January, we began production of battery cells for energy storage products, which have the same form-factor as the cells that will be used in the Model 3,” a letter to Tesla shareholders reads. “Later this year, we expect to finalize locations for Gigafactories 3, 4 and possibly 5.”

Gigafactory-2, up until recently a name attributed to the planned Europe plant, is now the SolarCity Gigafactory in Buffalo, New York. Rooftop solar production should start in the second half of 2017.

After Tesla Motors merged with SolarCity, it was clear the company aimed to dominate the consumer sustainable energy market. To achieve this goal, Tesla put its money on a sustainable trident: electric cars, solar energy (both rooftop and utility-scale), and energy storage. Elon Musk has been able to grow Tesla from near bankruptcy into a $30 billion company by making good use of economy of scale. Musk knows that if his products are to compete with mainstream liquid fuel-powered cars and utilities, then these have to be cheaper and better.

“We are excited about 2017, as we expect to see significant advances across our transport, energy generation and storage product lines,” Tesla wrote to its shareholders.

“You will not buy a better car for $35,000,” Elon Musk said after Tesla gave the green light for Model 3 pre-orders — more than half a million units have been ordered so far. Tesla’s first affordable electric vehicle should start production in July. By September, 5,000 vehicles will roll out of the south Fremont, California plant every week. At least twice as many vehicles will be produced per week in 2018.

At Gigafactory-1, Tesla wants to make as many batteries in a year as all lithium-ion manufacturers all over the world produce — and that’s only the beginning. Already, a small section of Gigafactory-1, which is about 14% complete, is churning out PowerPacks and PowerWalls that are 35% cheaper, as we reported earlier this week.

But over-expansion can also be dangerous. In its letter to shareholders, Tesla claims the company will invest “$2 billion and $2.5 billion in capital expenditures ahead of the start of Model 3 production.” Musk once said that the world would require 200 Gigafactories to sustain a 100% transition to electric cars and renewable energy. Hopefully, shareholders will let him build five, at least.

What Gigafactory-1, Tesla's battery plant outside Reno, looks like now. When completed it will cover 15 million square feet which will make it the building with the largest footprint in the world. Credit: Tesla.

Tesla now makes batteries that are 35% cheaper thanks to Gigafactory 1 — breakthrough cost of $125/kWh achieved

What Gigafactory-1, Tesla's battery plant outside Reno, looks like now. When completed it will cover 15 million square feet which will make it the building with the largest footprint in the world. Credit: Tesla.

What Gigafactory-1, Tesla’s battery plant outside Reno, looks like now. When completed it will cover 15 million square feet which will make it the building with the largest footprint in the world. Credit: Tesla.

Tesla Motors has more than half a million pre-orders for its Model 3, a long-range $35,000 vehicle that promises to make electric cars stylishly mainstream. In order to meet this demand, CEO Elon Musk insisted that Gigafactory — a soon-to-be 15 million square feet lithium-ion production facility — is completed two years ahead of schedule. When ready in 2018, the company will produce more battery cells at its plant in its opening year than all of the lithium-ion battery makers combined created in 2013. The reason for such a massive deployment is simple: bring down costs by levering economics of scale. Initially, Tesla said Gigafactory would bring down battery cost by 30%. Now, in the latest company announcement, Tesla says Gigafactory is producing lithium-ion batteries that are 35% cheaper.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0Us9AgX7iGA

Tesla never said how much it costs to make the batteries that get fitted inside its EVs but it did once state these cost ‘below $190/Kwh’. Fred Lambert from Electrek says a 35% cost reduction would imply Tesla is now making batteries for ‘less than $124’. This would make the 55 kWh battery pack soon to be deployed on the Model 3 around the $6,875 mark. That’s pretty expensive and clearly the most costly hardware inside a Tesla but way more accessible than before. We’re talking, after all, about moving from an $80,000 car (Model S) to a $35,000 one (Model 3).

This cost-reduction is extremely important. Lambert quotes industry experts who claim that at $100/kWh, an electric vehicle is competitive with gas-powered ones. In the case of off-grid energy storage, however, the same price tag per kilowatt-hour means stored wind and solar become competitive with energy made from fossil fuels.

“If you can get anywhere near this cost target then you change the world,” said Michael Aziz, the Gene and Tracy Sykes Professor of Materials and Energy Technologies at Harvard. “It becomes cost effective to put batteries in so many places.”

To get in the $100/kWh range, Tesla would need to yet again slash its costs by, say, 35% to be safe. That’s totally doable considering Gigafactory-1 is only 14% finished and construction of Gigafactory-2 in Europe could start as early as this year. Imagine what kind of progress could be achieved if other big names like BMW, Volkswagen or, why not, General Electric invested with just as much zeal and confidence as Tesla.