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Tesla’s secret batteries aim to rework the math for electric cars and the grid

“Tesla’s batteries are designed to do something completely new in energy storage—and potentially in this country.”

That’s Bruce Katz, president of Brookings Institution and author of The New Automakers: How Low-Carbon Cars Will Power a New Economy. Katz says there are two big ways in which Tesla’s gigafactory in Nevada aims to make electric cars in America, even without some of their advantages:

By taking advantage of Tesla’s unique manufacturing processes—so the cars are more efficient and use less material—and by boosting power quality and reliability.

Tesla’s first drivetrain, which includes batteries, packs and wiring, won’t be ready until next month, but by 2024 the factory is supposed to make more than 30 gigawatt-hours of storage a year, or enough to supply an average-sized US town with power for two weeks.

Tesla still has a ways to go to ameliorate our world’s climate woes. To be sure, this will be a boon to US households. Better quality power is needed now in some of the most endangered places in the world. So far, in fact, renewable energy has grown more reliable than older, cheaper fossil-fuel sources. But not so much everywhere: “High energy-intensity, particularly in India and China, is a serious drawback for renewables in the long run,” Kenichi Fukuyama of Global Risk Institute at Stanford University told me. “And even in the US, very large amounts of new wind and solar are concentrated in the most storm-prone regions.”

Like it or not, for the foreseeable future, fossil fuels will remain necessary, and Tesla is part of that future. It’s got a new fleet of electric vehicles on the way, and if the gigafactory is as good as Tesla’s promises, its batteries could be very disruptive indeed.

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