Tesla's Quest for Sustainable Energy

Dr. Pavlina McGrady
Sawyer Cleveland
August 28, 2023
Think Tesla is all about electric cars? Think again. The company's mission is to accelerate the transition to sustainable energy – and it's investing in far more than just EVs. Learn about their solar, energy storage, and manufacturing projects here.
Tesla Model S front exterior view

Tesla: More Than Electric Cars

Since its inception in 2003, Tesla has gained a reputation for revolutionizing the automobile industry – but its achievements stretch beyond cars, into the larger landscape of sustainable energy. While most associate the company with sleek electric automobiles, Tesla’s mission lies far beyond manufacturing and transportation.

The company’s multifaceted business interests aim to support the goal of “accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” With a focus on renewable energy generation, energy storage, and infrastructure development, it’s a champion of the shift to sustainable energy alternatives. Tesla leads by example with more than just its cars.

Understanding the need to move away from fossil fuels and their harmful environmental impacts, Tesla promotes the harnessing of clean and renewable energy sources. The company is actively designing and manufacturing a complete energy generation, energy storage, and transportation ecosystem with a focus on the affordability of its products.

Interior build of a Tesla car

Generating Renewable Energy

As a company, Tesla is dedicated to renewable energy generation. Solar energy, in particular is a focus area for Tesla, and the company has introduced innovative solar panels and solar roof tiles for residential and commercial use.

Tesla says its solar panels have generated more energy than its vehicles and factories consumed between 2012 and 2021, according to the company’s Tesla Impact Report. Tesla solar panels can be set up to serve many purposes, including reducing emissions, helping prevent power outages, and acting as a backup plan in case of grid failures. On top of this, the company claims they are cheaper to operate per MWh compared to many fossil fuel alternatives. By encouraging solar adoption, Tesla empowers individuals and businesses to generate their own energy with minimal impacts on the environment.

Tesla: Clean Energy Storage

In addition to its focus on generating clean energy, Tesla’s ecosystem extends to energy storage technologies. Recognizing that renewable energy sources such as solar and wind are not always steady, Tesla introduced its Powerwall and Powerpack products. These innovative battery storage systems are designed to store excess energy generated during periods of high production, and release it during times of high demand or lower production. The Powerwall and Powerpack not only allow for a more reliable energy supply, but they allow consumers to reduce their reliance on traditional energy grids.

While harnessing energy may not seem like a big deal when talking about sustainability, on a larger scale, renewable energy storage can have massive benefits. Tesla has undertaken the construction of large-scale energy storage installations, such as the Hornsdale Power Reserve in South Australia. This project, in collaboration with the South Australian government, resulted in the construction of the world's largest lithium-ion battery, capable of storing vast amounts of renewable energy and providing stability to the region's power grid. In its first two years of operation, the power grid is claimed to have saved South Australian consumers over $150 million. This project showcases Tesla’s ability to transform not only individual energy consumption – but also entire power infrastructures, allowing for a more reliable and sustainable energy alternative for communities around the world.

Tesla charging station

Investing in Infrastructure

Beyond renewable energy generation and storage, Tesla believes that infrastructure is another key component to the sustainable energy ecosystem.

One barrier preventing to electric vehicle adoption is the lack of infrastructure in place to accommodate charging. Tesla's response to this challenge was the creation of its Supercharger network – more than 45,000 charging stations placed strategically along major highways and travel routes. By creating its own network, Tesla allowed for easier use and incentivized the adoption of electric mobility on a larger scale (and provided its electric cars with a competitive advantage in the market).

In addition to the Supercharger network, Tesla is constantly improving its manufacturing locations to be as efficient and sustainable as possible. Each factory is built from the ground up using data on previous factories about how to be more efficient. In 2018, Tesla’s Shanghai factory was built to be more centrally-located, and require less transportation between departments. Due to this planning, the company was able to reduce the KWh of energy consumed per vehicle produced by 17%.

Tesla: Courting Controversy

While Tesla is certainly breaking ground with new innovations, and leading the pack in terms of sustainability, the company has faced its share of criticisms and challenges.

One significant concern revolves around labor practices within the company's manufacturing facilities. Over the past few years, there have been various reports of unsafe working conditions, long hours, and safety violations within factories, raising concerns about the welfare and treatment of Tesla employees.

Additionally, Tesla has encountered many production and shipping delays with their automobiles – which led to a demand problem that has worried some investors. To make matters worse, Tesla has a history of end-of-quarter rushes to reach delivery targets. Tesla is one of the most recalled automotive brands in the United States with recall problems ranging from front camera misalignment to front suspension fasteners and steering wheel issues. While Tesla is a leader in the field of sustainable energy and transportation, addressing these operational and ethical issues will be crucial for the company to maintain its reputation as a leader in the pursuit of a greener future.


Tesla: The Future

By 2030, Tesla aims to sell 20 million electric vehicles per year (compared to 1.3 million in 2022), and deploy 1,500 GWh of energy storage per year (compared to 4 GWh in 2021). This is a challenging task that will require the company to further develop and invest in its energy ecosystem.

To reach this goal, Tesla has laid out a five-step plan to shift to sustainable energy. The plan includes:

  • Renewably powering the existing grid switching to electric vehicles
  • Switching to heat pumps for heat generation
  • Focusing on high temperature heat delivery and hydrogen within industrial manufacturing
  • Sustainably powering boats and planes

Tesla believes these are all achievable goals that can be reached by 2050. To do so, Tesla claims that the world will need a 3x increase in solar and wind deployment (1 TW/yr compared to 0.36 TW/yr in 2022), a 29x increase in vehicle, stationary and thermal battery production (16 TWh/yr compared to 0.54 TWh/yr in 2022), and an 11x increase in electric vehicle production (85 million compared to 8 million in 2022). These changes would require an estimated $10 trillion investment.

Governments will certainly play a crucial role in shaping the path toward sustainability through new policies, regulations, and incentives. Individual actions also count – each person can think about conscious choices and how a more sustainable lifestyle can be adopted. Nevertheless, considering their reach and power, large businesses like Tesla are truly positioned to lead the way to a transformative societal change toward sustainability and even regeneration. The question that remains is where the needed investment at a global scale will come from.