The True Power of South Australia’s Tesla Battery Lies in What it Represents, Not What it Will Deliver

Last Friday, Tesla CEO Elon Musk announced that his company would undertake the building of the world’s largest lithium ion battery in South Australia.

The project, which sees Tesla collaborating with French company Neoen to make use of their existing wind farm in Adelaide’s north, is set to strengthen the backbone of the state’s renewable energy supply. With the ability to sustain 100 megawatts of power and store 129 megawatt hours, Tesla’s battery could supply up to 30,000 South Australian homes with electricity.

The figures are certainly important, but the true power of the project lies in what it represents.

When a ‘once every 50 years’ storm struck South Australia in September of 2016, Senator Nick Xenophon and Energy Minster Josh Frydenberg suggested the resultant mass blackout was due, at least in part, to the state’s reliance on renewables.

“Now there are questions with renewable energy particularly the fact that it’s intermittent — it’s not supplied all the time — but also the frequency of which it is supplied and the stability that it brings to the system,” Frydenberg told the ABC in a statement that critics felt was an underhanded attempt to raise doubt about the effectiveness of renewables.

Tesla’s battery has the potential to put those questions to rest. Not just in South Australia, but across the world.

Musk can also set the example for other innovators and entrepreneurs looking to make a difference where governments are failing.

Though detractors are calling his promise to have the system installed and operating within 100 days after grid connection approval – a promise he made publicly on Twitter in March – a PR stunt designed to help restore the company’s market value (Tesla shares have dropped 20% in the last two weeks) as if good PR was a bad thing, he’s wresting the future from the hands of impotent politicians in order to improve it.

For while South Australian Premiere Jay Weatherill has given the project the stamp of approval, Tesla’s offer to help should ultimately not be perceived as a move to work with the state government, but a fight against a federal government that wants to keep Australian coal burning at home and overseas.

“What we’ve got to do is…not think that ‘coal-fired power’ is an evil word, not if we want to keep the lights on,” acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce told ABC on Sunday.

Joyce went on to dismiss the capability of the system.

“You know, a grain of sugar is an advantage to a teaspoon, but it doesn’t make a hell of a lot of difference.”

His comments came the day after he told The Weekend Australian that the government should be funding new “clean” coal power stations to provide energy stability across the country. Of note, it was the same day that Murray Energy CEO and member of the American Coalition of Clean Coal, Robert Murray, told E&E News that there was no such thing as clean coal.

A single grain of sugar might not make much difference on a teaspoon, but add one after another, and the change can only go ignored for so long.

Tesla’s battery will do what the government will not, and at an incredible rate. It is expected to be complete by December.

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