Billionaire Elon Musk has focused his star power on South Australia, promising to build the world’s largest lithium ion battery in the Mid North, simultaneously coming to the aid of the state’s troubled energy system.
HOME to just over 1400 people, Jamestown is perhaps best known as the birth place of bush fashion pioneer R.M Williams and enterprising mayor-turned premier Sir John Cockburn.
But the Mid-North town will soon be home to the world’s largest lithium ion battery as the State Government turns to the star power of idiosyncratic billionaire Elon Musk to shore up the state’s troubled energy system.
The Tesla founder will join forces with French renewable energy company Neoen to create a 100MW and 129MWh battery farm — a football-field-sized enterprise.
The farm will be more than three times the size of the largest existing ion battery facility in California.
Musk doubled down in a social media post in March, vowing to fix South Australia’s power problems in just 100 days, insisting the SA Government would not pay a cent if the project went over schedule.
The tech billionaire’s ambitious plan to stave off future blackouts come just days after UK billionaire Sanjeev Gupta saved thousands of jobs in Whyalla by buying the rural city’s ailing steelworks. The battery systems will be paired with 99 wind turbines at Neoen’s Hornsdale Wind Farm, outside Jamestown — 70 per cent of its generation will be reserved for government use and the remainder will be fed into the energy market. Musk said the “massive installation” would create a huge number of local jobs during construction but the self-sustaining battery farm would yield few ongoing jobs.
The billionaire said there was “some risk” to the plan — a crucial plank of a $550 million SA Government energy plan, prompted by a series of crippling blackouts and soaring energy prices across the state. “This is not a minor foray into the frontier,” Musk said. “We’re confident in our modelling techniques and in the design of the system, but whenever you make something three-times bigger than anything that’s come before, there’s always some risk.”
SA has been leading the nation in renewable energy — now we are leading the world in battery storage
All parties have signed off on the plan, but the 100-day countdown will not begin until the project receives the final tick of approval from the Australian Energy Market Operator. SA Premier Jay Weatherill has continually promised the battery would be in place by this coming summer, and he continued to stick by that time frame last month.
He hailed the “historic agreement”, which he said would completely transform the way renewable energy is stored and stabilise South Australia’s electricity grid.
“SA has been leading the nation in renewable energy — now we are leading the world in battery storage,” he said. “It opens up new possibilities for renewable energy in this state, in this nation and around the world to be dispatchable.”
Federal Energy Minister Josh Frydenberg said the Premier was “all sizzle but no sausage” — saying the welcome investment was “small compared to the scale of the problem the (SA) Government created”. “The new battery is 129MWh compared to the 1000MWh of storage at the Cultana pumped hydro project in the Upper Spencer Gulf the Government is supporting through ARENA, and the 350,000MWh of additional storage we will get from Snowy Hydro 2.0,” Frydenberg said The Government has refused to reveal how much taxpayer money will be pumped into the battery project, but an insider told New Adelaide it would be less than $50 million.
Whatever that sum may be, it seems Jamestown will soon be home to a whole new kind of farming.
who is elon musk?
He is dating Johnny Depp’s ex Amber Heard and hangs out at Malibu beach parties with Leonardo DiCaprio and Orlando Bloom — so it comes as no surprise that Elon Musk is celebrated like a superstar.
The billionaire, 46, has made electric cars cool again and grabs attention with his efforts to send humans to other planets.
He is the co-founder, chief executive and chairman of Tesla Motors and launches satellites through his company SpaceX.
It has been a meteoric rise for Musk. Forbes magazine estimates his net worth to be a whooping $15.6 billion.
His product launches are not dissimilar to the efforts of Apple and the likes — dark stages, impressive slide shows and a large smartphone-holding audience recording every word that comes out of the Tesla genius.
But even Musk’s rise to fame has experienced turbulence. A SpaceX rocket caught fire during fuelling in September 2016 and a Tesla vehicle that was on autopilot crashed, killing the driver, in May 2016.
The South African-born Musk migrated to Canada when he was 17 and then the US as a transfer student to the University of Pennsylvania. He has five children and is based in Los Angeles. He made his first fortune as a co-founder of PayPal.