The 100MW Tesla Powerpack, built by industry pioneers Tesla, has now been activated – allowing it to store energy produced by a nearby windfarm and stabilize South Australia’s electrical grid.
In September 2016, a massive storm caused an unprecedented state-wide blackout in South Australia, with 1.7 million people spending the night without power and questions raised about the stability of the region’s renewable energy supply.
The event led to the coupling of the Hornsdale Wind Farm with the world’s largest lithium ion battery. The set-up can power 30,000 homes for an hour (approximately the number of properties that lost power during the blackout) and otherwise support the region’s electricity supply.
The historic deal was formed between electric car makers Tesla and French energy company Neoen, with the help of government backing. Tesla boss Elon Musk famously promised that his company would get the Tesla Powerpacks system installed and working within 100 days – or he would do it for free.
Building the world’s largest lithium ion battery
Musk went on to quote $250 per kilowatt hour for 100 megawatt hour systems, saying that Tesla was moving to fixed and open pricing across the board. The project moved surprisingly quickly in the storm’s aftermath, with the South Australian government proving its reputation as a serious advocate of renewable energy.
Tesla completed the project in around 60 days from the contract being signed, though the company reportedly got a head start on construction.
For all their environmental benefits, wind and solar energy are less predictable sources of power than fossil fuel or nuclear alternatives. The coupling of renewable technology with batteries is seen as a key way to prevent the kinds of widespread blackouts that South Australia experienced.
You can see the current composition of each Australian state’s energy production here, including live supply and demand.
Tesla Powerpack: Unlocking the potential of renewables
“Tesla Powerpack will charge using renewable energy from the Hornsdale Wind Farm and then deliver electricity during peak hours to help maintain the reliable operation of South Australia’s electrical infrastructure,” announced Tesla. “The Tesla Powerpack system will further transform the state’s movement towards renewable energy and see an advancement of a resilient and modern grid.”
Musk claims that the 100MW battery is three times as powerful as the next largest in the world. As Australia grows more reliant on renewables, the project should help to pacify the political opponents that the aggressive move to wind and solar energy, and the resultant blackouts, cultivated.
“While others are just talking, we are delivering our energy plan, making South Australia more self-sufficient, and providing back up power and more affordable energy for South Australians,” said State Premier Jay Weatherill, who flicked the switch to activate the Tesla Powerpacks.
Rechargeable lithium batteries have been used since the 1970s, but recent large-scale deployments in electric vehicles and the energy sector has seen demand escalate, threatening a shortfall of available materials with which to make them by 2020.
Tesla’s Powerwall residential battery is being installed across homes in Australia, too. The same technology used to stabilize the South Australian grid is allowing homeowners to collect energy during the day, via photovoltaic panels, and supply it at night, even if the grid goes down.