Teslas Newest Promises Break the Laws of Batteries

Elon Musk knows how to attain promises. Even by his own standards, the promises built last week while introducing two new Tesla vehicles–the heavy-duty Semi Truck and the speedy Roadster–are monuments of envelope pushing. To deliver, according to close observers of battery technology, Tesla would have to far outstrip what is currently supposed possible.

Take the Tesla Semi: Musk vowed it would haul an unprecedented 80,000 pounds for 500 miles on a single charge, then recharge 400 miles of range in 30 minutes. That would require, based on Bloomberg estimates, a charging system that’s 10 times more powerful than one of the fastest battery-charging networks on the road today–Tesla’s own Superchargers.

The diminutive Tesla Roadster is promised to be the quickest production auto ever constructed. But that achievement would entail squeezing into its tiny frame a battery twice as powerful as the largest battery currently available in an electric car.

These asserts are so far beyond current industry standards for electric vehicles that they would require either advances in battery technology or a new understanding of how batteries are put to use, told Sam Jaffe, battery analyst for Cairn Energy Research in Boulder, Colorado. In some examples, experts suspect Tesla might be banking on technological improvements between now and the time when new vehicles are actually ready for delivery.

” I don’t think they’re lying ,” Jaffe said.” I just think they left something out of the public reveal that would have explained how these numbers work .”

Here are four of Tesla’s most provocative battery claims–and an attempt to puzzle out how they might be achieved.

Truck Range: Haul 80,000 Pounds for 500 Miles

Photographer: Tom Randall/ Bloomberg

When Musk took the stage in an airport hangar in Hawthorne, California, his first proclamation was the Tesla Semi’s scope: A fully-loaded truck would be able to travel at freeway velocities for 500 miles. The previous record-holder, unveiled by Daimler in October, is a truck that maxes out at 220 miles.

A heavy-duty, long-range truck is the toughest vehicle to electrify while still turning a profit, told Menahem Anderman, chairwoman of Total Battery Consulting Inc ., in Oregon House, California. Tesla may be doing it to demonstrate a point.” If you can make a semi truck with batteries ,” Anderman said,” then you can stimulate everything else with batteries .”

Tesla is making its trucks more efficient by reducing breezes drag to levels that are comparable to those of sports cars. But even if Tesla attains record-breaking efficiency for the truck, it would still require a battery capability somewhere from 600 kilowatt hours to 1,000 kilowatt hours to deliver on Musk’s claims, according to estimates from Bloomberg New Energy Finance. Split the difference, at 800 kWh, and it would entail a battery that weighs more than 10,000 pounds and costs more than $100,000 — even before you build the truck around it. Tesla has priced the truck with 500 -mile range at $180,000, less than the estimated prices of seven analysts surveyed by Bloomberg, and tells fuel savings will result in a two-year payback when compared to diesel.

One thing Tesla has going for it is the falling cost of batteries. Musk may be banking on battery improvements between now to the early 2020 s in order for its truck to stimulate fiscal sense. The first Tesla Semis won’t hit the road until late 2019; even then, production would probably start slowly. Most fleet operators will want to test the trucks before considering going all-in. By the time Tesla get large order, batteries should expense considerably less.

Tesla Megachargers: 400 Miles in 30 Minute

Musk’s claim that the truck will be able to accumulate 400 miles of charge in 30 minutes would allow the Semi to achieve the first true long-haul ranges in the industry. A driver might start the day with 500 miles of scope, top off the battery at lunch, and be able to complete driving the U.S. legal limit of 11 hours in a day with scope to spare. But doing so would require a charger unlike anything assured before.

” I don’t understand how that the project works ,” said Salim Morsy, electric vehicle analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance.” I really don’t .” Tesla is claiming charging velocities that are faster than anything available now, and its clients will pay well below average marketplace rates to access the network.

Tesla’s current generation of high-speed Superchargers have a power output of 120 kilowatts and can add about 180 miles to the battery in a Model S sedan in 30 minutes. But that’s for a passenger car , not a loaded truck. To satisfy Tesla’s claim of 400 miles in 30 minutes for a semi carrying 80,000 pounds would require its new Megachargers to achieve output of more than 1200 kW–or more than 10 days better than Tesla’s fastest chargers available today.

Joe Fath, money administrator for T. Rowe Price Group Inc ., Tesla’s seventh-largest stockholder, said that prior to the unveiling he supposed Tesla’s heavy-duty truck might be able to address about a quarter of the haul undertakings performed by the largest heavy-duty freight trucks, known as Class 8 semis. In Northern america alone, these big trucks account for about $30 billion in marketings each year, according to industry data tracked by Bloomberg.

The promises in Musk’s presentation persuaded Fath that Tesla will be able to compete in virtually two-thirds of the Class 8 market.” If they execute ,” he said,” they have a very big possibility .”

Guaranteed Charging Rates of 7 Penny per kWh

A new, 40 -stall Supercharger station and client sofa in Kettleman, California.

The sticker price of any electric truck, regardless of size, is going to be higher than its diesel equivalent because of the batteries, which alone can expense as much as some standard diesel trucks. The $180,000 Tesla Semi will compete with diesels that cost as little as $100,000. The trick is to offset those higher upfront expenses through lower upkeep and fuel savings.

Perhaps Tesla’s most head-scratching revelation is that it will guarantee truckers electricity rates of 7 cents per kilowatt hour. That could result in gasolines savings of more than $30,000 a year for some truckers, according to Bloomberg estimates. Partly, Musk said, this will be done by adding solar power and massive battery packs at the charging stations.

While the economics of such a plan vary by region, under any scenario that BNEF’s Morsy expects, Tesla will be heavily subsidizing those energy rates for customers. He estimated that Tesla will pay a minimum of 40 pennies per kilowatt hour, on average, for every 7 cents paid by a trucking company.

” There’s no way you can reconcile 7 cents a kilowatt hour with anything on the grid that sets a megawatt hour of energy into a battery ,” Morsy said.” That simply does not exist .”

That may sound like a disastrous financial plan, but it’s no different from what Tesla does for its current Supercharger network. Tesla offers free energy to most of its Model S and Model X customers while paying nearly$ 1 per kilowatt hour to produce it, Morsy said. That amounts to a subsidy of as much as $1,000 per auto in 2017.

Many electric utilities base their commercial rates on the peak sum of electricity that a client draw at a time, even if that peak occurs only for a brief period. Tesla’s Megacharger stations would incur extremely high charges by drawing so much power so quickly. The best opportunity for mitigating those charges are to build Megachargers at existing truck terminals that already draw a lot of power, Morsy told, and by adding massive battery packs that they are able spread demand over period.

From another perspective, these subsidies to support Megachargers could be a boon to Tesla’s balance sheet as it wades into an entirely new industry. It allows the company to maximize its upfront revenue by charging a lot for the trucks while spreading out the costs of building and operating the charging network over hour.

A Tiny Roadster With a 620 -Mile Range

Tesla’s new Roadster

Tesla claims that its new $200,000 Roadster is the quickest production auto ever attained, clocking zero to 60 in 1.9 seconds. Even crazier is the car’s unprecedented battery scope: some 620 miles on a single charge. That’s a longer range than any battery-powered vehicle on the road–almost twice as long as Tesla’s class-leading Model S and Model X.

To achieve such power and range, Musk said the tiny Roadster will need to pack a massive 200 -kilowatt-hour battery. That’s twice the size of any battery Tesla currently has on the road. Musk have already been said he won’t be attaining the packs bigger on the Model S and Model X because of space constraints. So how can he double the pack sizing in the smaller Roadster?

BNEF’s Morsy has a twofold answer. First, he expects Tesla will probably double-stack battery packs, one on top of the other, beneath the Roadster’s floor. That generates some engineering problems for the battery-management system, but those should not be insurmountable. Still, Morsy told, the batteries required would be too large to fit in such a small frame.

” I actually don’t think the car you saw last week had the full 200 kilowatt hours in it ,” Morsy said.” I don’t think it’s physically possible to do that right now .”

Again, Musk may be banking on the future. While Tesla began taking deposits on the Roadster immediately –$ 50,000 for the base model–the first vehicles won’t be delivered until 2020. Meanwhile, battery density has been improving at a rate of 7.5 percentage a year, meaning that by the time production starts, packs will be smaller and more powerful, even without a major breakthrough in battery chemistry.

” The trend in battery density is, I believe, central to any claim Tesla made about both the Roadster and the Semi ,” Morsy told.” That’s totally fair. The premises on a pack in 2020 shouldn’t be the same ones you use today .”

The Semi and Roadster unveilings created many questions about Tesla’s battery capabilities and plans for expanding the markets in which electric vehicles are competitive. Even Musk may need a few more years to figure out all the answers.

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