An agreement between Tesla, French sustainable energy producer Neoen, and the South Australian government has paved the way for Tesla to make good on founder and CEO Elon Musk’s March 2017 promise. Musk claimed Tesla could build a battery system powerful enough to prevent blackouts in the South Australia state within 100 days of an agreement being signed. The 100-day promise will be included in the official contract (1), and Musk has vowed that the project will be free if if the promise is not kept (3).
South Australia has been plagued by blackouts in recent years. Extreme heatwaves sporadically leave energy providers unable to cope with the demand of cooling tens of thousands of homes. In February of 2017, SA Power Networks was forced to cut power from over 40,000 homes for a roughly half-hour period when temperatures exceeded 104°F (40°C) in Adelaide and 114°F (45°C) in rural areas of the state. SA Power Networks explained that the power “load-shedding” was the result of a “lack of available generation supply in South Australia.” That lack of generation supply while temperatures reach dangerous highs is the problem Musk is intent on fixing (2).
Tesla’s battery will work in tandem with Neoen’s Hornsdale wind farm to provide power. The 100MW Tesla battery is 70MW larger than its nearest competitor, according to Musk. Output from the Neoen wind farm will be used to charge the lithium-ion battery—so the battery will only be charged when there is wind. The potential flaw in the system is that if a blackout were to hit when the battery is low on charge and there is little wind, the system could be unable to provide enough power. Neoen’s COO said such a situation is unlikely, and the battery can dispatch electricity “whether there is wind or there is no wind.” The battery will make South Australia the standard bearer for global energy storage (1).
Tesla’s 2170-model lithium-ion cells produced at Tesla’s Gigafactory will be the cornerstone of the project. While the battery will be the largest in the world, thinking of it as an enormous cylinder jutting up from the ground is far from accurate. The battery will instead be made up of a large field of interconnected Tesla Powerpacks. Each Powerpack contains 16 battery pods, which in turn contain the 2170 cells unveiled in late 2016 (3).
Musk’s promise is a bold one, but it is not his first foray into large-scale grid technology. Tesla turned on its 80 MWh Jurupa Valley, California energy storage station in January 2017. The installation uses 400 Tesla Powerpacks. Tesla also has smaller installations in locations such as the Kruger National Park in South Africa and Glen Innes, New Zealand (4). If Musk reaches his 100-day goal, the South Australia battery will be online by December 2017.