Tesla Master Plan 3 — Doing The Right Thing Will Cost Less Than Business As Usual Approach

On April 5, 2023, Tesla published Master Plan 3 — Sustainable Energy For All The Earth. It’s 41 pages long, which is exactly 40 pages more than Master Plan 1 and Master Plan 2. We won’t republish the whole thing here, as we know you will want to study it at your leisure. Suffice to say, it claims that decarbonizing the world will be expensive — $10 trillion or so — but continuing to make fossil fuels the basis of our daily existence will be even more expensive — about $14 trillion. Here’s the introduction:

“Today, we are publishing Master Plan Part 3, which outlines a proposed path to reach a sustainable global energy economy through end-use electrification and sustainable electricity generation and storage. This paper outlines the assumptions, sources and calculations behind that proposal. Input and conversation are welcome.” Below is the graphic Tesla created to explain it all.


Tesla Master Plan 3. Credit: Tesla

The Tesla Master Plan 3

Reduced to its most basic terms, the Tesla Master Plan 3 has a compendium of charts and graphs that demonstrate what is common knowledge to most people — it is cheaper in the long run to do things right in the first place. Taking the cheapest way out often costs more money over time. Tesla recommends 6 principle strategies to fix our carbon emissions problem, many of them focusing on efficiency. The business as usual model we have now is incredibly wasteful.

1. Repower the Existing Grid with Renewables

Globally, 65PWh/year of primary energy is supplied to the electricity sector, including 46PWh/year of fossil fuels. However, only 26PWh/year of electricity is produced, due to inefficiencies transforming fossil fuels into electricity. If the grid were instead renewably powered, only 26PWh/year of sustainable generation would be required.

2.  Switch to Electric Vehicles

Electric vehicles are approximately 4 times more efficient than internal combustion engine vehicles due to higher powertrain efficiency, regenerative braking capability, and optimized platform design. This ratio holds true across passenger vehicles, light duty trucks, and Class 8 semis.

3.  Switch to Heat Pumps in Residential, Business & Industry

Heat pumps move heat from source to sink via the compression/expansion of an intermediate refrigerant. With the appropriate selection of refrigerants, heat pump technology applies to space heating, water heating, and laundry driers in residential and commercial buildings, in addition to many industrial processes.

Air source heat pumps are the most suitable technology for retrofitting gas furnaces in existing homes, and can deliver 2.8 units of heat per unit of energy consumed based on a heating seasonal performance factor (HSPF) of 9.5 Btu/Wh, a typical efficiency rating for heat pumps today. Gas furnaces create heat by burning natural gas. They have an annual fuel utilization efficiency (AFUE) of ~90%. Therefore, heat pumps use ~3 times less energy than gas furnaces (2.8/0.9).

4. Electrify High Temperature Heat Delivery and Hydrogen Production, Electrify High Heat Industrial Processes

Industrial processes that require high temperatures (>200°C) account for the remaining 55% of fossil fuel use and require special consideration. This includes steel, chemical, fertilizer, and cement production, among others. These high-temperature industrial processes can be serviced directly by electric resistance heating, electric arc furnaces, or buffered through thermal storage to take advantage of low cost renewable energy when it is available in excess. Onsite thermal storage may be valuable to cost effectively accelerate industrial electrification (e.g., directly using the thermal storage media and radiative heating elements).

5. Sustainably Fuel Planes & Boats

Both continental and intercontinental ocean shipping can be electrified by optimizing design speed and routes to enable smaller batteries with more frequent charge stops on long routes. According to the IEA, ocean shipping consumes 3.2PWh/year globally. By applying an estimated 1.5× electrification efficiency advantage, a fully electrified global shipping fleet will consume 2.1PWh/year of electricity.

Short-distance flights can also be electrified through optimized aircraft design and flight trajectory at today’s battery energy densities. Longer distance flights, estimated as 80% of air travel energy consumption (85B gallons/year of jet fuel globally), can be powered by synthetic fuels generated from excess renewable electricity leveraging the Fischer-Tropsch process, which uses a mixture of carbon monoxide and hydrogen to synthesize a wide variety of liquid hydrocarbons and has been demonstrated as a viable pathway for synthetic jet fuel synthesis.

6. Manufacture the Sustainable Energy Economy

Additional electricity is required to build the generation and storage portfolio — solar panels, wind turbines, and batteries — required for the sustainable energy economy. This electricity demand was modeled as an incremental, inflexible, flat hourly demand in the industrial sector. These simplified assumptions for industrial demand result in a global demand of 150Mt/yr of green hydrogen, and sourcing this from electrolysis requires an estimated ~7.2PWh/year of sustainably generated electricity.

The electrical demand for hydrogen production is modeled as a flexible load with annual production constraints, with hydrogen storage potential modeled in the form of underground gas storage facilities (like natural gas is stored today) with maximum resource constraints. Underground gas storage facilities used today for natural gas storage can be retrofitted for hydrogen storage. The modeled US hydrogen storage requires ~30% of existing US underground gas storage facilities.

Global sustainable green hydrogen eliminates 6 PWh/year of fossil fuel energy use and 2 PWh/year of non-energy use. The fossil fuels are replaced by 7PWh/year of additional electrical demand.

But Wait, There’s More!

Phew! We are all the way up to page 12 of the Tesla Master Plan 3 document. There are still 30 pages to go. CleanTechnica readers will notice the similarities between this document and several similar plans put together by Project Drawdown, Stanford professor Mark Z. Jacobson, and Tony Seba. We reached out to Professor Jacobson, who told us in an email:

“I was asked by Tesla to review their plan. They had told me, ‘your latest paper that simulated 145 countries was required reading for all our team members.’ They do state in the acknowledgments, ‘We appreciate the many prior studies that have pushed the topic of a sustainable energy economy forward.’

“Their main contribution I believe is that they do some original detailed calculations in material intensity, manufacturing capacity, and manufacturing investment needed across all energy sectors. Their point about the current energy economy being wasteful because so much energy is lost as heat is a point we have been making and quantifying since 2009.

“Their overall plan is extremely consistent with ours. They would like to repower the existing grid with clean, renewable electricity, switch to electric vehicles, switch to heat pumps for buildings, electrify high-temperature heat, produce green hydrogen only (mostly for steel production), and electrify short-haul flights.

“One difference is they are proposing synthetic fuels for long haul flights, whereas we believe that continues to permit pollution and contrails and prefer green hydrogen fuel cells for long haul flights. We also include green hydrogen for ammonia production. Like with our plans, no hydrogen will be needed for fossil fuel refining.

“The land area required for solar worldwide that they estimate — 0.19% — is close to what we estimate — 0.17%. For their wind calculation, they are using only footprint, so they need only 0.02% of world land. We use footprint plus spacing, so get [we estimate] 0.36% of world land.”

The Takeaway

The Tesla Master Plan 3 is loaded with research and stunning graphics like this one showing how a heat pump works. You aren’t likely to find a better visual representation no matter how hard you look.

Tesla Master Plan 3

Credit: Tesla

While the boss is off tilting at windmills in his quixotic quest to be the sole arbiter of what information all 8 billion people on Earth can or cannot access, the Tesla team has been quietly working in the background to produce one of the best researched reports on what is needed to transition to a zero-emissions economy available. We encourage our readers to read the entire plan and share it with family and friends.

In essence, it says we have a choice of spending $14 trillion over the next 20 years to end up with a planet that is largely incapable of supporting human life or spending $10 trillion over the next 20 so those who come after us will have a planet that is able to provide a home for humans for millennia to come. The choice is ours to make but the window is closing rapidly. If we continue kicking the can down the road, things will end badly for homo sapiens.

It’s astonishing how many people are perfectly happy to do nothing, but when the final reckoning comes, no one will be able to say they weren’t warned of the dangers inherent in a “business as usual” approach to our existential crisis.

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