Overambitious is an adjective that least describes Tesla CEO Elon Musk. The tech mogul recently announced plans to build the worlds’ largest lithium-ion battery that will dwarf the current largest AES battery with a mere capacity of 30 megawatts. Tesla’s battery will have a capacity that is three times over with a massive 100 megawatts.
The billionaire entrepreneur spoke about the technology to reporters in Adelaide on Friday, July 8 after winning the tender bid beating 91 other bidders to install the battery into the grid to store renewable energy from the Hornsdale wind farms in partnership with French renewable energy utility Neon.
South Australia’s ambition to adopt renewable energy and shift away from fossil fuel by 2030 came under heavy criticism in September of last year when a one-in-50 year storm brought down major power lines causing a statewide blackout that lasted several days. This also led to widespread load shedding that saw the electricity distributor make compensation payments of more than $20 million to about 75,000 customers.
The critics, mostly from the political class blamed the widespread blackouts to reliance on renewable energy without proper planning as opposed to coal-fired power that was slowly being phased out.
Need for change
The political spat that followed the load shedding prompted the federal government of South Australia to prepare a $550 million energy plan to avert such disruptions in future.
The government wanted expressions of interest from the private sector to build and operate a big battery which would store energy whenever the wind and solar farms were not generating power to solve the intermittent nature of sources of energy from wind and solar.
Tesla will set up an array of its high capacity Powerpacks and connect them to the wind farm. The array will be capable of an output of 100 megawatts (100MW) of power at a time and the huge battery will be able to 129-megawatt hours (129MWh) of energy.
It will be a modular network, with each Powerpack about the size of a large fridge at 2.1 meters tall, 1.3 meters long and 0.8 meters wide. The weight is about 1,200 kilograms each.
When fully charged, Tesla estimates that they will be able to power about 8,000 homes for one full day, or more than 20,000 houses for a few hours at grid failure. The batteries will support grid stability rather than just power homes on their own. It will be the first step towards a future in which renewable energy and storage work together.
What are the risks?
It’s no doubt that the project will put the reputation of Tesla and the federal government of South Australia at state. Elon Musk has promised to deliver the large working batteries within a 100 days failure of which his company will incur a cost of $50million. If this may prove to be a challenge, then his credibility will definitely be hanging on a thread.
The government’s credibility hinges on fixing the ongoing power woes that have perennially plagued the region. If the battery is not operating by the start of summer, SA might be vulnerable to blackouts in the lead-up to the general elections. This may be an Achilles heel for Jay Weatherill’s Labor party when they seek another term
Skeptics of the lithium-ion battery project
Even though the project is taunted to be the largest battery installation in the world, experts have expressed their skepticism over the viability of the project. There are questions on the ability of the batteries to put a downward pressure on the retail price of electricity.
Experts also queried how the project will address the big gap between supply and demand for electricity. Furthermore, the cost of the project was not disclosed.
Australia has relied on coal as a source of energy since the 1970’s. Coal would be fired up to produce steam which would, in turn, run steam engines to generate electricity. However, coal a heavy air pollutant.
The Paris climate accord where 196 countries signed an accord to shift away from fossil fuel energy to green energy to cut down on climate change emissions may force Australia to shut down its many coal plants by 2030. The Tesla batteries will give a huge boost to this ambition in future once they are integrated with the solar energy grid.
The future of green energy in South Australia, though with its fair share of challenges, has just received a head start in achieving sustainable, reliable and clean renewable energy which is a huge step forward for the Australian energy sector