June 15th, 2019 by Kyle Field
Rivian hosted a roundtable discussion for 800 of its reservation holders to talk a little bit about how the company is progressing in the move to production. They also took the opportunity to talk about an exciting microgrid project they’re working on with the Honnold Foundation in Puerto Rico.
First off, Rivian designed its battery systems with second life use in mind.
Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe (RJ): “We can leverage our battery systems to support grid applications, to support energy storage applications. But very importantly, our platform, our technology can fit, and work in products well beyond our own.”
RJ: “If we were to show the product 2-3 years ago, it would have been similar, but it wouldn’t have been finished. It wouldn’t have had all those questions answered. We wanted to answer as many of those questions internally first.”
World-famous free-solo climber Alex Honnold, founder of the Honnold Foundation (Honnold): “I’ve been wanting to electrify my transportation for probably 5 or 6 years. I was fantasizing about electric vans and imaging, but it just wasn’t quite there.”
Honnold: “[When I saw Rivian’s vehicles, I thought,] this is exactly what I need to go out.“
Honnold: “[When driving out to many of my climbing sites around Las Vegas,] you do a lot of highway commuting, then there’s a lot of extreme driving to get to the cliff.”
Honnold: “Obviously, there’s the alignment in values and what we hope to do in the world, but at some point, you just want to drive a truck real fast.”
RJ: “It seamlessly transitions into a storage application. The fact that it’s seamless is really important because it lowers the barrier for the batteries to find the second life, to get into a storage application.”
RJ: “The vehicles are designed so, essentially, the batteries come out of the vehicle and we flip a digital switch and the batteries can then go from storing electrons that are propelling a vehicle to storing electrons that could be powering a house or a business. The pack itself is designed to stack very easily into an enclosure, essentially a shipping container. In smaller applications, you can actually take the top off the pack and inside the pack are what we call modules. These are sized to perfectly fit into a rack, so you can dissect modules as well and use modules as more discretized or smaller energy storage applications.”
“The vehicles are designed so essentially, the batteries come out of the vehicle and we flip a digital switch and the batteries can then go from storing electrons that are propelling a vehicle to storing electrons that could be powering a house or a business.” — Rivian CEO RJ Scaringe
Sustainability is a foundational belief at Rivian. This penetrates the design of the vehicles, the design and intentionality that goes into the design of Rivian’s factory outside of Chicago, and the company’s philanthropic efforts.
RJ: “When I started Rivian, the goal was to create products that were exciting and built with passion and deliver real performance, but at the same time, are deeply sustainable.”
RJ: “The decisions we make as a company absolutely are made from the vantage point of, ‘How do we have the most impact?’”
RJ: “The deal we did with Ford was part of that. How can we provide help provide a platform that will speed up their electrification efforts in a certain segment? That was motivated by the desire to get more sustainable electric vehicles on the road more quickly.”
Honnold: “Having these powerful experiences in nature, you wind up caring a little bit more about preserving, protecting and hoping that the next generation can have similar experiences.”
Visiting an extremely remote climbing location in Chad, Honnold was taken aback by just how remote and disconnected some farmers were from the grid, from the infrastructure much of the world takes for granted.
Honnold: “This is an incredibly different existence than I’ve had growing up in Sacramento.”
Honnold: “I just feel a certain obligation to do something.”
Honnold: “At a certain point, personal actions only go so far.”
It was the disconnect between his ability to make a larger impact simply by living a more sustainable life himself and the much larger need for the world to rapidly transition to lower-carbon, more-sustainable ways of life that triggered him to start the Honnold Foundation.
Rivian plans to use much of the land that it purchased with its manufacturing facility to support local agriculture programs and to grow food for its workers.
RJ: “We’ve got about 1,000 people at the company split between 3 primary development locations. In Detroit, we do a lot of the mechanical design and larger systems that have interactions with the big suppliers in the midwest. On the West Coast, we have an office in Silicon Valley that does all of our connectivity, our cloud architecture, all of our self driving. In Southern California, just outside L.A., we do all of our propulsion systems, our chassis systems. But the three of those work streams come together in our production facility, which is just south of Chicago.”
RJ: “We have 508 acres at the plant, a very small percent of which actually has the plant occupying it. Most of it is just grass. We’re going to be turning a lot of that into an area to grow food. We’re going to run that in partnership with some of the local universities through their agriculture programs to grow food locally on our site, partnering with local universities and then that food is going to be served in our facility with students that are learning from top chefs who we bring in to run the food services in our facility. We’re going to provide incredible food to our plant team, regardless of what part of the plant you work in. So there’s true equity, we treat every employee as part of this mission to bring this facility back up.”
To vet the capabilities of Rivian’s second-life battery packs in a real life application, they partnered with the Honnold Foundation and the Camino Foundation on a world-first project. Together, they are designing and building Puerto Rico’s first cooperatively-managed solar energy microgrid. The new microgrid will power the community of Adjuntas, Puerto Rico. The solar-plus-storage installation will rely heavily on 8 Rivian battery packs as the storage for the system.
Honnold: “It’s a collaboration with the Camino Foundation, with Rivian, with the Foundation to provide second-life batteries to help power a cooperative solar microgrid.”
RJ: “We look out over time and this is a very big opportunity. We’re talking about hundreds of thousands of vehicles, thousands and thousands of megawatt-hours of energy storage that needs to be applied. This is a beautiful project because it allows us to demonstrate what we’re thinking about for a community that really needs it and in partnership with that community to fully build out the potential of energy storage combined with solar. In many ways, this will serve to create echoes for others to see this.”
Honnold Foundation Executive Director Dory Trimble (Trimble): “At the Honnold Foundation, we really want to make sure that solar really is the right solution. With Casa Pueblo, the work we’re doing there, solar is the right solution for Puerto Rico.”
Trimble: “The cool thing that we can do is to shine this light on projects that wouldn’t have visibility otherwise.”
Trimble: “The core of our work is supporting solar energy access and everything else is just in service of that.”
Honnold: “That’s why a project like this is so important to us because it really does show real potential. If you can have such a big impact on a community with just 8 car batteries, it’s a tremendous opportunity.”
Honnold: “Electric cars are the future, so there are only going to be more and more batteries.”
RJ: “We see the ability to have enormous impact over time with the batteries from all of your vehicles at their end of lives.”
RJ: “We have very big batteries in our cars, so one battery can do a lot in terms of its impact to a community.”
Stationary energy storage applications have been embedded in the fabric of Rivian’s products, designs, and company strategy from the beginning.
RJ: “There are some very large deployments. We haven’t announced yet, but we have a number of other relationships and partnerships that we’re establishing to really put this idea, this ability to use energy storage from our vehicles, through a megaphone to really help drive adoption of more sustainable ways to access sustainable energy.”
Honnold: “Domestically, one of the things I love about electric cars and why I have solar on my home is that I personally don’t support wars in the Middle East, let’s say. But I can charge my car at home and I can just completely opt out of the entire oil industry. I mean, obviously, it’s embedded in my groceries and it’s embedded into other aspects of my life, but to a certain point as a consumer, I can just opt out of certain things that I don’t support. My local utility is pretty regressive. I don’t really support it, but thankfully, I produce my own energy. That’s kind of the beauty of electric cars and the transition to renewables is that it allows individuals to opt out of a lot of the things they personally don’t support.”
Trimble: “When we think about giving and impact on the world, there’s also an opt-in, and for me, the opt-in is supporting work that has a positive impact.”
Trimble: “I don’t really care if you give us money. I just think that people should be giving their money to things they care about.”
RJ: “There are a lot of exciting things coming.”
RJ: “There are other products we’re developing. There are other things we’re doing with some of our technology. We’re excited to start to show the world more of that, but I also want everybody to know here, very pragmatically, we’re working very hard and very long to make sure that we get your cars ready.”
RJ: “We’re on track. Lots of activity at the plant with our teams, with the supply chain. Things are gearing up really nicely. As you’ve seen in how we approach these complex systems, we’re being very thoughtful and organized about how we execute.”
RJ: “As we get closer to production, we’re going to start asking you to tell us exactly what you want in terms of configuring your vehicle. So later this year, you’ll get a note to ask you to configure color and feature set.”
Dive into the hour-long talk below if you want more of the juicy pictures of what’s really going on at Rivian today and what’s coming down the pike in the future.