Tesla’s Master Plan Part 3 was published April 5 and I’m excited to share the main points with you. The link for you to read it is here, and it is 41 pages. I’ll simplify it for you and share my thoughts. I also hope you’ll be able to sit, back, relax, make yourself a little snack (how about an Apple Danish?) and enjoy this read!
Introduction: Today’s Dirty Energy Economy
Master Plan Part 3 starts out by raising awareness about our current energy economy. Many of us may not be fully aware of how inefficient and expensive it is to maintain our world’s current energy economy. We are living in a time where MOST energy is supplied by fossil fuels (81%). What causes alarm for me is how much of that energy is wasted! A shocking 64% is wasted. How is this possible? Three reasons:
- Extraction and refining oil uses energy
- When electricity is generated, there are transformation losses
- Internal combustion engine vehicles and natural gas furnaces have losses due to inefficient use
In the end, only 36% of the primary energy supply produces useful work or heat for our world’s economy. This is very wasteful, and Tesla has a fabulous approach to correcting this problem.
On March 1, at Investor’s Day, Elon Musk said,
“There is a clear path to a sustainable energy Earth.
It doesn’t require destroying natural habitats.
It doesn’t require us to be austere and stop using electricity and be in the cold or anything.
The story, and I think this holds together quite well – it will be actually published in a detailed white paper with all of our assumptions and calculations — is that there is a clear path to a fully sustainable earth with abundance.” – Elon Musk
Quick View of the Plan to Eliminate Fossil Fuels
Master Plan Part 3 is the whitepaper Elon Musk mentioned on March 1. It is Tesla’s brilliant plan to eliminate fossil fuel use in our world. I’ll summarize the 4 areas which are: Transportation, Power for Homes and Businesses, Power for Massive Industrial Processes, and Power needed to build a sustainable energy economy.
Transportation: Cars, Trucks, Planes, Boats, Ships
Transportation will be powered by batteries that store energy that comes mostly from solar.. If you are reading this you’re already familiar with how Tesla is accelerating passenger car production. We’ll see this happen faster with light-duty trucks and Class 8 semis, Tesla says,
“Electric vehicles are approximately 4x more efficient than internal combustion engine vehicles due to higher powertrain efficiency, regenerative braking capability, and optimized platform design.”
Batteries and Charging for Cargo Ships: Cargo ships and all other bulk carriers will need to be powered by batteries. If shipping were a country, it would be the world’s 8th-biggest emitter of CO2.
“Both continental & intercontinental ocean shipping can be electrified by optimizing design speed & routes to enable smaller batteries w/ more frequent charge stops on long routes” – Tesla Master Plan 3
Synthetic Fuel for Planes: Long-distance airplane flights can be powered by synthetic fuels. Tesla says, “Longer distance flights, estimated as 80% of air travel energy consumption can be powered by synthetic fuels generated from excess renewable electricity leveraging the Fischer-Tropsch process, which uses a mixture of carbon monoxide (CO) and hydrogen (H2) to synthesize a wide variety of liquid hydrocarbons, and has been demonstrated as a viable pathway for synthetic jet fuel synthesis.”
Power for Homes, Businesses and Industry
You may be familiar with heat pumps. Heat pumps are already in use in many homes, apartments and commercial buildings as well as in many industrial processes.
Instead of generating heat, like a gas furnace or boiler does, a heat pump uses electricity to move heat from one place to another. Because they’re not generating heat, heat pumps are highly efficient and use much less energy than a furnace or a boiler!
Heat pumps transfer heat using a system that’s similar to a refrigerator or an air conditioning unit. In the summer, they keep buildings cool by absorbing heat inside and releasing it outdoors. In the winter, the process is reversed and the heat pump is able to absorb heat from the outside and bring it indoors.
I just learned that gas furnace heating systems can be retrofitted with air source heat pumps. Tesla says, “Air source heat pumps are the most suitable technology for retrofitting gas furnaces in existing homes,” and “Gas furnaces create heat by burning natural gas. They have an annual fuel utilization efficiency of ~90%. Therefore, heat pumps use ~3x less energy than gas furnaces.”
Power for Massive Industrial Processes
In everyday life we don’t think about the energy it takes to produce many of the things we use daily. This area of Master Plan Part 3 addresses clean energy for industrial processes.
Tesla explains that “Industrial processes up to ~200C, such as food, paper, textile and wood industries can benefit from the efficiency gains offered by heat pumps.”
Some industrial processes require temperatures above 200C such as steel, chemical, fertilizer and cement production and this is where Tesla explains the power of electric resistance heating, electric arc furnaces and thermal storage.
Most of the steel production industry in the USA today uses electric arc furnaces. Master Plan 3 goes into great detail about thermal storage. I would summarize this by saying there are multiple ways to store thermal energy and Tesla shows them all and specifically details water, molten salt and air.
Tesla also links to a wonderful explanation of thermal energy storage using carbon blocks by Antora Energy and a paper by Sandia National Labs that explains, “sensible thermal storage includes storing heat in liquids such as molten salts and in solids such as concrete blocks, rocks, or sand-like particles.”
Green Hydrogen Production and Storage
Hydrogen is needed for powering steel and fertilizer production. But the catch is that hydrogen is produced from coal, oil and natural gas. Master Plan 3 has a solution for that. Tesla explains, “Green hydrogen can be produced via the electrolysis of water (high energy intensity, no carbon-containing products consumed/produced) or via methane pyrolysis (lower energy intensity, produces a solid carbon-black byproduct that could be converted into useful carbon-based products).”
Storage of Green Hydrogen will be important and I really like the Master Plan 3 solution to this:
“Underground gas storage facilities used today for natural gas storage can be retrofitted for hydrogen storage; the modeled U.S. hydrogen storage requires ~30% of existing U.S. underground gas storage facilities.” – Master Plan 3
Power Needed To Build The Sustainable Energy Economy
Achieving Master Plan 3 will require about 4 Petawatt-hour/year (PWh/year) of sustainable power to manufacture the batteries, solar panels, and wind turbines which are required. This shows us how comprehensive Master Plan 3 is and that it sets realistic and achievable expectations. I had to look up Petawatt, and it is a unit of power measurement system where 1 Petawatt = 1015 watts. Petawatt-hours are large enough to conveniently express the annual electricity generation for whole countries and the world energy consumption.
What a Fully Sustainable Energy Economy Looks Like
Master Plan 3 pages 13-17 are an in-depth model of a fully sustainable energy economy in the USA. There are 6 graphs/tables that detail things like energy demand, energy capacity, demand in various regions of the USA, solar energy curtailment and seasonal hydrogen storage needs. My favorite graphic in this section is Table 3, it shows wind and solar average historical capacity factor and fully electrified economy demand by region.
Regarding Investor’s Day, Elon Musk emphasized that it was a message for the people and life of Earth.
“Looking forward to Tesla Investor Day on March 1. By this, we mean the broadest definition of investor, as in the people & life of Earth. It will be a message of good hope & positivity for the future.” – Elon Musk
Electrification Demand In The USA And In The World
Master Plan Part 3 is for the entire world and to estimate the world’s needs for power generation and storage needs, Tesla simplified the process by scaling the USA resource mix 6 times.
Cathode Components Needed for Batteries for Vehicles, Ships, and Planes
This is a delightful part of Master Plan Part 3 because Tesla revealed some details about three products under development. These are the Compact car, Commercial/Passenger Van, and the Tesla Bus!
For batteries, Tesla says standard-range vehicles can utilize the lower energy density chemistries (LFP), whereas long-range vehicles require higher energy density chemistries (high nickel).
Master Plan 3 shows that long-range ships will need a higher density Nickel and Manganese-based cathode while short-range ships will require a lower energy density LFP cathode.
20% of the Airplane fleet flies short range and that portion can be electrified with 7MWh packs with High Nickle cathodes.
How much Investment is required?
Pages 26-29 of Master Plan 3 on investment needed for manufacturing facilities, mining and refining operations are fascinating to study. If you want details please see Tesla’s tables 12 and 13a,b and c.
The biggest takeaway from this section is that a sustainable energy economy is 60% the cost of continuing fossil fuel investments!
Amount of Land Area needed
At first, I thought Tesla’s Table 14 on page 30 was missing something! As you can see below, the total land needed to power our world with solar and wind is tiny! Tesla says, “The global solar panel fleet of 18.3TeraWatts will require roughly 71.4 million acres or 0.19% of the total 36.8 billion acres global land area.” For wind, “the global wind turbine fleet of 12.2TW will require an estimated 9.2 million acres or 0.02% of total land area.”
What Materials Are Required to Power and Connect the Grid?
The last section of Master Plan Part 3 contains about 10 tables/figures that list and detail the various materials and tonnage required for solar panels, wind turbines, batteries, transmission and generation as well as what is needed to build the approximately 60 million circuit miles that will need to be added or reconductored globally to achieve a fully sustainable, electrified global economy.
My favorite exhibit in this last section is Figure 18, which shows the global minerals reserve/resource base and how public perception often falsely thinks that the global reserve of minerals will be seriously depleted. In reality, global reserves will increase as the figure demonstrates.
Tesla explains, “Resources and Reserves have historically increased – that is, when a mineral is in demand, there is more incentive to look for it and more is discovered.”
My experience renting in California in my college days in the 1990’s was always with gas furnaces in old buildings and looking back I think they were never created to be a long-term heating solution. I think they were a fast “track home” solution (70-80 years ago) created to incorporate a limited resource (gas) that will run out. Some sources say natural gas will run out by about the year 2100 and others give it less time. New buildings in California and elsewhere are still being built with gas furnaces, in fact California subsidies that incentivized builders to install gas lines to new buildings were common and are being phased out this year (2023).
The reason I mention my trivial story is that we all have experience with energy. It is part of all our daily lives. I’ll leave you with this statement from Elon Musk about Master Plan 3:
Gail Alfar, author. Exclusive to What’s Up Tesla – April 8, 2023. All Rights Reserved. My goal as an author is to support Tesla and Elon Musk in both making life better on earth for humans and becoming a space-fairing civilization. I write this and all my articles myself without the use of AI/ChatGPT.