But Musk has long seen Tesla’s batteries as having applications beyond cars. Starting around 2007, he instructed his chief technology officer, JB Straubel, to begin researching the idea of using Tesla batteries attached to solar panels in people’s homes. "This has been something that has been in the back of our minds," says Straubel, who uses a hacked-together solar panel and battery system of his own in his Bay Area home.
No journalist had ever before visited what Tesla calls the Gigafactory, which opens next year but won’t be completed until 2020. (And not for lack of trying. In October, a photographer from a Reno paper was arrested after sneaking onto the property and allegedly assaulting security guards as they tried to eject him.) Musk had warned me that the scale of the place would be overwhelming. "It will blow your mind. You see it in person and then realize, Fuck, this is big."
Tesla employees say that in addition to making batteries cheaply, Musk has given them another directive: Make the factory beautiful. Tesla’s cars distinguish themselves by their performance, but Musk has always been attentive to the curve of a windshield or an intuitive door handle. Additionally, the Gigafactory must be attractive because Musk sees it as a product—something that has been carefully planned, where everything fits together with a certain harmony. He wants it to be beautiful, in part, because he plans to build more than one. "We’re going to need probably, like, 10 or 20 of these things," he says. He pauses, raises his broad shoulders toward his ears, and smiles. "Somebody’s got to."