Business World

Tuesday 21 May 2019

Musk's Tesla sets new battery record - but it's about to be broken

Drone footage of the Tesla 100 MW/129 MWh Powerpack system by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk in the rural town of Jamestown, 200km north of Adelaide
Drone footage of the Tesla 100 MW/129 MWh Powerpack system by billionaire entrepreneur Elon Musk in the rural town of Jamestown, 200km north of Adelaide

Perry Williams and Kanika Sood

Billionaire Elon Musk defied his doubters yesterday, beating a self imposed 100-day deadline to install the world's biggest battery in the Australian outback.

But he'll probably relinquish that crown by February.

South Korea's Hyundai Electric & Energy Systems is building a 150-megawatt lithium-ion unit, 50pc larger than Musk's, that the company says will go live in about three months in Ulsan near the southeast coast.

With battery prices tumbling by almost half since 2014, large-scale projects are popping up around the world.

Developers have announced lithium-ion battery projects with total capacity of 1,650 megawatts per hour in 2017, four times the amount for all of 2016, according to Bloomberg New Energy Finance.

"Musk has set a benchmark on how quickly you can install and commission a battery of this size," Ali Asghar, a BNEF senior associate, said in an interview.

Falling costs are "making them a compelling mainstream option for energy-storage applications in many areas around the world, and projects even bigger than Tesla's are now under construction".

Although Musk's Tesla, based in California, is best known for making electric cars, the company sells its lithium-ion batteries to utilities eager for cost-effective ways to integrate renewable sources of power like solar and wind into their electric grids.

Musk agreed to up the stakes for South Australia, the mainland state with the biggest exposure to clean energy, by providing 100 megawatts of power, roughly the size of an electricity shortfall the region suffered in a February blackout.

His nimbleness in delivering the entire project before the summer deadline has won him fans among local politicians. South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill, who features a photo of Tesla's giant battery on his Twitter profile, used Musk's star power to help sell his pitch for the state to be a world leader in renewable energy.

With the battery sending power to the national energy market yeterday, Musk beat a Twitter bet that he could deliver the storage system within 100 days - or he'd foot the bill. He also met a target set by the state government of installing the battery by the start of summer, December 1, Jay Weatherill said in a statement.

The battery-storage industry is becoming increasingly important in places like South Australia, which has less access to traditional fossil-fuel sources like coal and gas than the rest of the nation. Instead, the region gets 41pc of its electricity from renewable energy, one of the highest penetrations of wind and solar in the world.

Smoothing out the intermittent nature of those sources when the wind dies down and the sun stops shining has traditionally rested with natural gas "peaker" plants that can fire up to meet demand at night and early morning. Now with the cost of batteries falling, large projects can be deployed within three months to meet that need.

Big renewable-energy companies AES and AltaGas have already dabbled in the large-scale energy-storage market. Others such as NextEra Energy and E.ON will soon produce battery packs that are cost-competitive, said Sam Jaffe, a battery analyst at Cairn Energy Research Advisors in Boulder, Colorado. While Tesla's head start on the competition is a coup for Musk, rivals will be able to deploy batteries in similarly rapid time-frames, especially as the market becomes increasingly competitive, according to consultancy Wood Mackenzie.

Over time, the rapid deployment of battery projects will give way to greater competition over costs, according to Saul Kavonic, a Wood Mackenzie analyst based in Perth. (Bloomberg)

Irish Independent

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