Finally, the Australian government is considering the potential benefits of addressing the country’s energy crisis with solar batteries – thanks to a $33 million bet with billionaire tech entrepreneur Elon Musk.
In the past, Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbill said a “rush” to increase Australia’s generation of renewable energy would result in more expensive, less reliable power. Following a proposal from Tesla’s Elon Musk, Turnbill is changing his tune, even tweeting that he’s requested that Australia’s clean energy finance agencies begin focusing on storage.
This attitude change comes after discussion between Turnbill and Musk regarding Musk’s proposal from last week that a Tesla battery farm could fix South Australia’s energy problem. Musk even promised to complete the project within 100 days, or it would be free. The project would be hugely beneficial to South Australia, in particular, where residents were faced with intentional blackouts during a recent heatwave – because there was not sufficient stored power to meet consumer demand.
According to South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill, the plan is “certainly not” being ruled out, and he hopes to examine it further after enjoying an initial “positive discussion” with Musk. Support for Musk’s proposal was also offered from Opposition Leader Steven Marshall, and from Mike Cannon-Brookes, co-founder of the Atlassian software company.
In a statement on Twitter, Cannon-Brookes asked Musk how serious he was about the bet – even offering financial backing to help make the project a success, as long as Musk could guarantee 100MW in 100 days. Musk replied that Tesla will “get the system installed and working 100 days from contract signature or it is free. That serious enough for you?”
Total costs for a project in Australia have yet to be determined, but Tesla has already delivered results from a similar project in Southern California – a battery farm constructed with an array of 400 Powerpack 2 batteries. These lithium-ion batteries are designed to store electricity generated from rooftop solar panels, and have been touted as an industry game-changer.
“When you’ve got companies like Tesla and others who have a track record of delivering some interesting outcomes, you would be crazy to write it off,” said Tony Wood, the director of Grattan Institute’s energy program. “Now whether it then turns out to be a credible solution to a real problem I guess remains to be seen.”
Wood is right – so far, the project is just talk, but a statement released from the Prime Minister’s Office on March 13 indicated that there is the potential for solar battery storage in the future of Australia’s energy industry. It’s about time, too, as residents in South Australia are facing more potential outages in the case of extreme weather events.
“We know that we need a game-changer here in South Australia, and we know that battery technology offers that solution,” said South Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young. “I think it is a very, very exciting prospect. With the backing of some amazing people like Elon Musk and Mike Cannon-Brookes, I think we can make it happen.”