Tesla has been betting big on batteries for a while now, but the stakes got higher when South Australia made Tesla a new battery bet that it couldn’t pass up. Can Tesla build the world’s biggest lithium ion battery to combat the feast or famine windstorms and set a new precedent for renewable energy? Elon Musk says yes. He just needs 100 days to get the massive battery fully operational. If he pulls this off, he’ll have pushed energy security into a whole new realm.
“This system will be three times more powerful than any system on earth,” said Musk. “This is not a minor foray into the frontier. This is going three times further than anyone has gone before.”
To pull off a project of this scale, Tesla is partnering with Neoen, a French renewable energy provider, as well as the South Australian government. Neoen owns the Hornsdale wind farm that the battery will be hooked up to, where there are about 99 wind turbines. Hornsdale generates about 1,050,000 megawatt hours of renewable electricity to the national power grid each year, but it’s still spotty. Sometimes there’s no wind. Sometimes there’s too much wind, like in September of last year when the whole state lost power after a gnarly storm. To capture the energy, Tesla is going to design a 100MW/129MWh battery that can power 50,000 homes and keep the lights on even when the wind itself isn’t cooperating.
It’s a big splashy project that is in line with smaller-scale concepts Tesla already had in the works. On the other side of the world from South Australia, he’s been building something known as the Gigfactory in aptly-named Sparks, Nevada. It’s supposed to be the biggest battery factory in the world, and if he can ramp up the quality, size, and production scale of lithium ion batteries the way he hopes to, it could have big implications for not only massive solar and wind farms like Hornsdale, but for residential and business sized renewables, too. It would be a lot easier to convince, say, your local grocery warehouse to run its freezer section off a solar roof if they didn’t have to worry about a rainy week causing all their fish sticks and ice cream sandwiches to melt.
There’s just one catch to Tesla’s bet with Australia. Once the battery is hooked up to the Neoen grid, he has 100 days to make sure the thing works correctly. If it doesn’t, Tesla is going to have to eat the cost, which could be at least $13 million dollars. Regardless of the outcome, however, Musk’s ambition is pushing the envelope in a big way. Whether or not Tesla delivers, it’s a learning experience that will drive renewables forward. But here’s to hoping he doesn’t have to pay a losing bet and can spend the money on some other new discovery instead.