In what experts say will be a litmus test for the reliability of large-scale renewable energy Tesla Inc has won an Australian contract to install the world’s biggest grid-scale battery.
In order to build the gigantic lithium-ion battery that will serve as emergency back-up power for South Australia – a state racked by outages, dozens of competing proposals were trumped by Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk, known for his bold approach to cars, clean energy and space exploration.
In a commitment Musk made in a Tweet in March, Tesla must deliver the 100-MW battery within 100 days of the contract being signed or it will be free, under the agreement.
“There will be a lot of people that will look at this -‘Did they get it done within 100 days? Did it work?'” Musk told reporters in South Australia’s capital city of Adelaide.
“We are going to make sure it does.”
The battery will be built on a wind farm operated by France’s Neoen – parts of which are still under construction and will be designed to light up 30,000 homes if there is a blackout.
“$50 million or more” would be the cost to the company if tesla fails to deliver the project in time, Musk said.
Overtaking an 80 megawatt-hour facility in California, also built using Tesla batteries, it will be the largest lithium-ion battery storage project in the world.
Policy to shut down its coal-fired power stations and instead rely on wind, solar and gas has bene taken up by South Australia over the last three years. In turning to wind power, which supplies 40 percent of its energy, it has raced ahead of the rest of the country.
But since there is no way to store enough energy when the wind doesn’t blow, the state has been left prone to outages even as the move has been applauded by environmentalists. When the grid overloaded and collapsed in September, South Australia’s 1.7 million residents were left without power, some of them for up to two weeks.
The problem of inadequate storage is aimed to be solved by the battery.
“Cost-effective storage of electrical energy is the only problem holding us back from getting all of our power from wind and solar,” said Ian Lowe a professor of science at Australia’s Griffith University.
“This project is a significant innovation to demonstrate the feasibility of large-scale storage.”
Privately owned Lyon Group, working with U.S. power company AES Corp, were among the dozens of companies from 10 countries that expressed interest in the project.
If Musk can make good on his promise is now what the sector is waiting to see.
“Tesla has been telling the world that it can and will finish the project within three months, said a source at a Korean competitor to Tesla, declining to be identified due to the sensitivity of the matter.
“It seems that confidence helped Tesla win, but typically this kind of project takes six months so we have to wait and see whether or not Tesla can do it,” the source said.
(Adapted from Reuters)