Technology

Elon Musk dares himself to solve Australian blackouts

Senator Sarah Hanson-Young seems to be interested in the bet placed by Tesla Inc.’s founder and chief executive that the company can install a battery storage system of at least 100 megawatt-hours in as many days. The representative of Australian Greens for South Australia accepted via Twitter to talk when Mike Cannon-Brookes, cofounder of software maker Atlassian, suggested Elon Musk’s challenge.

Tesla has special motivation − the billionaire inventor and engineer promised the service and equipment would be free if the deadline is not met. He offered the contract in reaction to Brookes’ inquiry after SolarCity’s boss Lyndon Rive said the alternative utility can set up as much as 300 megawatt-hours in 100 days and fix the region’s problems with blackouts.

South Australia has been struggling to maintain balance in the grid since September and the issue raised questions about sustainability and energy strategy. Tesla rolled out its Powerwall 2 battery system last week in the continent. Australia is building renewable energy facilities such as photovoltaic (PV) plants and wind turbines, which increases the demand for capacity of storage to manage surplus from off-peak hours.

Cannon-Brookes: We don’t need more gas peaker plants or ridiculous ‘clean coal’.

Queensland Senator Malcolm Roberts from Pauline Hanson’s One Nation party weighed in on Twitter to call the bet fake news. “Musk has received $US4.9 billion in taxpayer subsidies, how much would he take from Australian taxpayers?” he asked.

Cannon-Brookes has initiated the correspondence with Tesla’s chief by saying the power glut needs to be solved by software and innovation. “We don’t need more gas peaker plants or ridiculous ‘clean coal’, he stressed. The informational technologies entrepreneur asked Musk for a price at “mates rates.” He replied with a quote of $250 per kilowatt-hour.

The endeavor of the electric car maker and green power innovator comes on top of related projects on the other side of the Pacific. On March 8 it launched a 13-megawatt solar power system supported by 272 units of Powerpack 2 at the Hawaiian island of Kauai. The batteries have the capacity of 52 megawatt-hours. The plan was rolled out in cooperation with the Kauai Island Utility Cooperative (KIUC). Power will cost 13.9 cents per kilowatt-hour for 20 years.

SolarCity’s parent also operates the photovoltaic giant’s project at the island of Ta’u in American Samoa. The place was made almost completely energy independent with panels of 1.4 megawatts paired with storage of six megawatt-hours, which covers three days of demand. Ta’u has almost 600 residents.

“Ta’u is not a postcard from the future, it’s a snapshot of what is possible right now. Renewable power is an economical, practical solution for a growing number of locations and energy needs, and islands that have traditionally relied on fossil fuels can easily transition to microgrids powered by solar and storage today,” Tesla’s division said in November when works were completed. The project was implemented in one year.

The issue of surplus power off peak has been tackled only partially, with reliance on expensive and environmentally challenging hydro-pump storage. Commercial, small-scale and efficient solutions such as batteries, which are also used in electric vehicles, unsettle conventional generation of electricity and shake up pricing models.

Tesla has also developed a microgrid project with Powerpacks a bit closer to Australia − in Fiji. “The largest off-grid solar PV mini-grid in the South Pacific” of a one-megawatt array and four megawatt-hours of storage won an award in New Zealand in December. The unit is located at Vunabaka Resort on Malolo, part of Mamanuca Group of islands.

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