Power of the people

Renewable Energy

Words Luke Griffiths

Man with the Plan

Elon Musk is a South African-born Canadian- American business magnate, investor, engineer and inventor. Now based in Los Angeles, the billionaire founded SpaceX, electric car maker Tesla and SolarCity.


Nearly 400 white industrial boxes on concrete pads are packed into an area slightly smaller than a soccer pitch. The boxes look like standard electrical equipment. But there is nothing standard about them.

Built by Tesla, the 80 megawatt hours battery farm in Mira Loma — about an hour east of Los Angeles, California — is one of the biggest in the world. It stores energy for spikes in demand, including on hot summer nights when the masses crank up their air conditioners. Now, on a larger scale, the South Australian Government wants to build a grid-connected battery storage farm in the state — where exactly will depend on who wins the tender — in time for summer.PowerofthePeople_1

Funded from a $150 million State Government renewable energy fund — announced in mid-March as part of its $550 million energy plan — the private sector will ultimately own, operate and maintain the battery. It’s a move that has seen some of the world’s leading innovators turn their eyes towards South Australia.

At the top of that list is multi-billionaire Tesla and SpaceX aero space founder, entrepreneur Elon Musk — the brains behind the facility in California.

Musk’s claim, via Twitter no less, that Tesla could build the batteries for a 100 megawatt hours SA facility in less than 100 days for $33 million — “or it’s free” — came just days before the Government’s policy launch. “A dramatic intervention,” as described by Premier Jay Weatherill. “He certainly put us on the international map for renewable storage technology.”

Similarly, Musk put Mira Loma on the map after energy company Southern California Edison commissioned Tesla to build its largest commercial battery project. The facility, which has been operating since December, came about after US authorities sought back-up options to meet peak energy demand following a large gas leak that cut off supply to existing power sources.

“This project is exactly in linPowerofthePeople_2e with our mission to accelerate sustainable technology and sustainable energy broadly for the world,” Tesla chief technology officer JB Straubel said earlier this year. “Storage is a piece that’s been missing on the grid since the grid was invented, so thanks to these technologies, we’re right at the turning point of being able to deliver storage and use renewables — solar, wind, and others — that can power people’s needs for longer parts of the day.”

As in California, South Australia’s battery farm will store renewable energy that can be drawn from instantly at times of peak demand. The State Government believes the battery will improve system security and put downward pressure on energy prices.

A two week expression of interest phase closed in late March. It attracted close to 100 proposals from as far afield as the US, UK, France, Hong Kong and Switzerland.

Short-listed companies will participate in a request for proposal process. “We are looking to have a battery in place by December 2017, so the intention is to keep this procurement process moving as quickly as possible,” says SA Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis.

Some of the proposals have come from Australian energy companies that have teamed up with an overseas manufacturer, “local-global partnerships” as described by ZEN Energy chairman Professor Ross Garnaut.

Representatives from South Australian-based ZEN and US sister company Greensmith — which is responsible for installing around 40 per cent of America’s battery capacity — recently met with the Premier to outline their plan. “Greensmith is the recognised global leader in grid-scale battery storage while ZEN Energy has pioneered the deployment of energy storage technology in SA,” Prof Garnaut says.

Another company to have declared its hand is Perth-based Carnegie Clean Energy. Managing director Michael Ottaviano says its battery cells will be designed in Adelaide but made in South Korea.

Mr Weatherill, when announcing the renewable fund, said the State Government wants as much local content as possible. “Anything we can leverage through local content is important,” he said. “But we also need to put into balance the reputational effect of attracting an international player of the size of Elon Musk to South Australia.”


KNOWN CONTENDERS

TESLA
“I’ll fix SA’s power problems in 100 days”
TESLA BOSS ELON MUSK

The proposal Mr Musk was first to say in a tweet he could supply 100 megawatt hours of battery storage for the state at US$250 per kilowatt hour. Software billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes offered to raise the funds and clear the political hurdles.
The company One of the biggest battery farms Telsa has built is a 20 megawatt system in Mira Loma, California, which can discharge 80 megawatt hours of electricity to power 15,000 homes over four hours.

LYON GROUP
(with US power company AES Corp)
“Firing the gun and signing the contract is probably the easy bit”
LYON GROUP PARTNER DAVID GREEN

The proposal Mr Green says his company is better placed than Tesla to quickly deliver a battery solution for South Australia’s energy problem. Lyon is past the planning process, having already announced several projects in South Australia, including a 330 megawatt solar farm with 100 megawatt battery storage at Morgan in the Riverland to be completed by the end of the year. The $1 billion project is 100 per cent equity financed, creating 270 jobs. The company insists the project would go ahead regardless of the tender outcome.
The company Based in Sydney, the developer and investor has solar and solar battery projects in Australia, Japan, Philippines, Thailand and India. Its development experiences include solar, wind and thermal generation projects.

ZEN ENERGY
(with US-based Greensmith)
“The Zen battery project will be ready to assist in stabilising the South Australian grid over the next summer”
ZEN CHAIRMAN ROSS GARNAUT

The proposal Garnaut’s Adelaide-based company has already been developing plans for a $100 million solar plant with 100 megawatts of battery storage, based in the Upper Spencer Gulf. Garnaut says the battery can be installed in less than three months, would “solve most” of the state’s energy woes, benefit the entire national grid and create hundreds of jobs.
The company Zen is SA’s energy titan. Professor Garnaut is the economist behind the 2008 Garnaut Climate Change Review, commissioned by the Commonwealth, state and territory governments to study the impacts of climate change on the Australian economy.

CARNEGIE CLEAN ENERGY
(with Samsung and Lendlease)
“Nobody in Australia has built anything close to that” CARNEGIE CLEAN ENERGY CHIEF EXECUTIVE MICHAEL OTTAVIANO

The proposal Carnegie proposes to build a 100 megawatt battery storage and major research and development centre in Adelaide. Dr Ottaviano says the state’s battery plan would create jobs and an energy storage industry. The company The West Australia company says it is, through its 100 per cent subsidiary Energy Made Clean, the largest provider of utility scale battery storage solutions in Australia. The company is also behind the $19.5 million Albany Wave Energy Project, the first commercial-scale wave farm in Australia. The new WA Government has confirmed a pre- election commitment to help fund the project.