Musk's Aussie Battery Bet

Two years ago, Elon Musk was challenged (on Twitter) to build a battery storage facility in southern Australia. More than two years after winning the bet, the really good news is that Musk’s resulting Australian facility is a total success.

In 2016, South Australia experienced a near total blackout after an apocalyptic storm, which saw two tornadoes and about 80,000 lightning strikes. In the aftermath, a politician blamed renewable energy for the extent of the blackout. Australia decided it needed some sort of power storage system to keep a 'reserve' of renewable energy up its proverbial sleeve.

For those even passingly familiar with Musk and Tesla’s online presence, the rest won’t be surprising. The head of batteries at Tesla said he was sure the company could do better than the Australian plan, so an Australian billionaire asked if Musk was serious, and Musk jumped in to promise his team was.

The Twitter exchange went like this: "How serious are you about this bet? If I can make the $ happen (& politics), can you guarantee the 100MW in 100 days?" tweeted Aussie billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes. Musk, the other billionaire in the exchange, tweeted back: "Tesla will get the system installed and working 100 days from contract signature or it is free. That serious enough for you?"

The rest is history. Musk reached his goal 40 days early, and the Australian billionaire funded the project as promised. We can argue about whether or not private citizens should have to rely on a billionaire angel investor to get a steady supply of power or make the shift to renewable energy, but in this case, the bet benefited a shortchanged rural population beginning almost immediately.

What’s the secret? Well, there truly isn’t one. The Hornsdale Power Reserve is literally a facility full of Tesla PowerPacks (making it the largest lithium-ion battery in the world) that receives and stores energy from nearby wind and solar farms. By storing power up to its capacity of 100MW, this “battery” can absorb brief blips in the grid surrounding it, reducing outages for residents and easing the burden on businesses or facilities that lose money, product, and more during those outages. It could also reduce the amount of fossil fuel burned to power backup generators.

The dedicated battery farm can power 30,000 homes for up to an hour, which relieves the burden on the grid during hot summer days when failure is most likely. “Hornsdale and other grid-scale batteries offer a way to tackle the variability of wind and solar power, and South Australia is seen as a global testbed in the transition away from fossil fuels, with the state getting more than half its power from renewable sources last year,” Bloomberg reports.

This smoothing has saved South Australians a ton of money, already much more than the $50 million cost that Tesla passed on to its Australian investor. The battery facility reduced network costs by about A$116 million ($76 million) in 2019, Bloomberg explains, savings that were passed on to businesses and households in the state. The battery’s introduction also slashed the cost to regulate South Australia’s grid by 91 percent, bringing it in line with other regions in the nation."

It just goes to show that renewable energy is viable, as long as you build the infrastructure to support it!

to show that renewable energy is viable, as long as you build the infrastructure to support it!