Video: More on Tesla’s World-Beating Battery Bet

December 5, 2017

I’ve posted on Tesla’s big win for Elon Musk, who bet a 100 MW battery pack for a South Australia wind farm could be completed in 100 days. Here’s more.

Vox:

The battery bank — composed of Tesla PowerPacks — is attached to the 325 MW Hornsdale wind farm, in construction near Jamestown, South Australia. The farm is owned by French renewable energy company Neoen, which contracted with Tesla for storage to create the “Hornsdale Power Reserve.”

It will be the world’s largest lithium-ion battery farm, but not for long. It won’t even be South Australia’s largest for long. The Lyon Group recently began construction on a project northeast of Adelaide that will involve 3.4 million solar panels (with a capacity of 330 MW) alongside 1.1 million batteries, or 100MW/400MWh worth — the world’s biggest solar-and-storage installation.

Two cautionary notes

Tesla’s achievement here is impressive. While the company’s electric auto business may be endlessly in question, it is consistently outperforming expectations on the battery side. Batteries at this scale, at this cost, at this speed, were not conceivable 10 years ago, even five years ago.

That said, two notes to temper our enthusiasm.

First, the other part of South Australia’s energy plan is to incentivize local natural gas production and build its own 250 MW gas-fired power plant, to cut down on imports of coal power from neighboring Victoria. (South Australia shuttered its last coal-fired power plant in May of 2016.)

Of course, natural gas is an improvement on coal power, and a good complement to renewables, but that power plant is also a big, long-term source of greenhouse gas emissions. Completely decarbonizing the power sector is key to any serious plan to constrain global warming.

In a sense, South Australia is running a real-time competition for which can more quickly and reliably compensate for the loss of coal: renewables and storage, or natural gas. It’s not enough for Tesla to have a successful one-off project — eventually, renewables+storage must outperform natural gas so decisively that investment shifts. That’s the real bar to clear.

Second, it is true that massive storms have destabilizing effects on wind farms — they drive wind turbines up and down so quickly that many of them shut down for safety. The fluctuations and loss of power threaten the larger grid’s reliability. So adding substantial storage to wind farms (and to the transmission grid more broadly) is part of the reliability and resilience story.

But the other part is the distribution (local) grid, not the sources that feed it.

It is the loss of power lines that drives most blackouts — more reliable power plants can’t entirely compensate for that. Greater resilience requires a more resilient grid, which requires a more modular architecture, with microgrids that can island off and keep important loads running, and more sophisticated data, sensing, and automation to help isolate faults before they cascade.

So if Musk really wants to ensure South Australia’s energy security, he should next turn his attention to local grid resilience — to microgrids that can tie together and aggregate the state’s bountiful distributed-energy resources. That is the natural next step for a company focused on long-term sustainability.

Hey Elon: Bet you can’t build a robust, self-sufficient Tesla Microgrid in South Australia in 100 days!

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7 Responses to “Video: More on Tesla’s World-Beating Battery Bet”


  1. Yes to the above. Also gas is not that clean as lots of contaminants must be removed, specifically CO2, in volumes that can ( I expect ) make it worse than coal. On this specific case, there are real questions of long term supply, and insufficient processing and delivery capacity at this time. Not not a trivial problem.
    To deviate from the party line, stop stuffing around and and build a nice non polluting nuclear plant. Perfect to fill gaps in generation need, especially with a nice battery.

  2. J4Zonian Says:

    “Of course, natural gas is an improvement on coal power”

    Sorry, I’m not buying it. Study after study has shown that when you include methane, the GHG emissions of gas are at least as bad as coal in the real world. And changing that by plugging leaks everywhere, etc. would make gas so expensive it would no longer have a price advantage over wind and solar or probably even coal. In a year it won’t even be competitive with W&S, and in maybe another 2 or with a carbon tax even old gas won’t be able to compete with new W&S plus storage. That means any gas infrastructure built over the last decade AND whatever is built from now on will be stranded, the money, materials, etc. almost entirely wasted, a bridge to nowhere. When we reach the end of it we won’t just have to turn around, we’ll have to dismantle the bridge piece by piece in order to build the road to come back—and both building and dismantling create emissions. For now, however, gas’ low price and backing by powerful interests means it replaces renewables as well as coal.

    Yes, coal is worse in terms of some pollutants–and yes, they’re horrific. The main source of toxic mercury in the world (and in the oceans and the fish who swim in them), lead, cadmium, arsenic, and on and on. Coal is nasty stuff and we should stop using it right f now.

    Fracking has a number of bad effects that we don’t know as well. One is pollution–irretrievably, as far as civilization is concerned–of groundwater supplies we utterly depend on for food, and are almost certain to need even more as drought worsens. Fracking increases earthquakes and also pollutes the air, though not as badly as coal.

    The direction we need to take is clear: clean safe renewable energy as fast as possible; reforestation and small-scale low-meat organic permaculture; replacements for other GHGs; political and economic equality as fast as possible; etc. But we’ve waited so long we’ve run out of good choices, the only ones left are bargains with Satan. Coal also emits sulfate aerosols, which despite their other harm, have an immediate net cooling effect, while the methane emitted by gas has a very powerful short term heating effect followed by extended warming by the CO2 it results in. Although the worst of methane’s effects are over soon, it’s the short term we have to worry about–the time in which we have to increase emissions by building renewable infrastructure, and in which numerous other factors make our time shorter than most people are saying, but in which we’re trying to avoid tipping points that could end civilization.

    Ultimately we have to realize we’re dealing with human psychology, including a monstrously mentally ill oligarchy. Even “normal” people will use any excuse they get, no matter how ridiculous, to delay changes to their comfortable lives–or even their uncomfortable lives. If people think gas is better than coal they’ll go for gas, and allow fossil fuel corporations and fuel-soaked politicians to continue to choose profits over survival. In that bizarre way, choosing gas will probably even allow coal and oil use to be extended. Only by rapidly taking over government through a peaceful revolution, instituting a massive and immediate climate mobilization that includes nationalizing and shutting down the fossil fuel industries as fast as possible can we reduce emissions fast enough to save what we love.

    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2014/02/19/3296831/natural-gas-climate-benefit/

    http://www.tomdispatch.com/post/175873/tomgram%3A_naomi_oreskes%2C_a_%22green%22_bridge_to_hell/#more

    https://thinkprogress.org/natural-gas-no-climate-benefit-b9118a087875/

    http://thinkprogress.org/climate/2016/02/17/3750240/methane-leaks-erase-climate-fracked-gas/
    https://climatecrocks.com/2014/08/26/is-us-carbon-emission-really-down-methane-leaks-cause-for-concern/

  3. juuggernaut Says:

    Not building nuclear plants is not “party line” but results from simple cost comparisons. Nuclear just can’t compete, not on price and not on speed of construction.

    • J4Zonian Says:

      …nor can reactors compete without overusing and overheating water, nor on a dozen other criteria, especially ability to ramp up and down as needed so no, not good at all in filling in gaps. In fact, terrible for fitting gaps, and the increasingly useless nuke and coal burners are being retired early because they can’t compete in price or ability to follow load.

      For that, renewables are needed–a diverse mix of hydro, micro-hydro, geothermal, pumped storage, distributed wind and solar, solar with battery storage, 24/7 solar thermal, clothesline paradox energies like passive and active solar water and space heating and cooling, solar cooking…even, yes, solar clothes drying. Also demand-shifting methods like using big water pumps at peak supply instead of small pumps constantly, using water heating and refrigeration/water AC as time-shifters, along with time-of-use pricing and other demand response methods. Annual Cycle Energy Systems (ACES), Danish-like district heating, and heat storage in subterranean rocks can be retrofitted and increasingly built in to buildings, as can efficiencies (same as transport and other uses).

      http://www.vox.com/2016/2/12/10970858/flattening-duck-curve-renewable-energy

      And here’s a more detailed version of this: https://disqus.com/home/discussion/grist/resistance_as_daily_existence_one_womans_story_as_a_climate_scientist_under_trump/#comment-3334147968


    • First, thank you Greenperson for re-posting my comment, I think. Just managed to dislike myself anyway. Nuclear cost is a killer today. Remember when renewable s would NEVER EVER be cost effective, just a few years ago. Ref J4, water, cooling and such problems, almost preclude nukes, in Oz for example, but can be resolved or not like everything else. Personally, have no thing for nukes in and of themselves, just world survival. The complex micro systems are very sexy in theory. After a more grey than usual winter my electricity bill dam near doubled for lack of PV output. Just an example. Try January 9am, east coast USA and the energy requirements across the country. Then add up solar output, wind power at the time of the dawn stillness and hope the hydro is full and try to manage. Then sock in continent wide crappy weather for a month and have fun. These difficulties also will be solved or not. As for the simple life, in a tree, sign me up.

      • J4Zonian Says:

        “The chief cause of problems is solutions.” Eric Sevareid

        Many problems can be resolved. Particular nuclear waste problems could be solved by moving to uranium-thorium or breeder reactors, supposedly, sort of. Uranium-thorium actually creates other waste problems that may be worse, and breeder reactors mean ever-growing piles of terrorist bait (including state terrorism, like the US’s DU anti-tank shells–the most warped and twisted recycling program ever devised.) And so on. The water problem is tough; there are basic contradictions and thermodynamic limitations that make solutions unlikely. For example, moving reactors into population centers means you could use the waste heat in a Danish-like district heating system. Of course, then there’s the annoying problem of killing millions upon millions of people when the inevitable accidents happen.

        So while some problems can be transformed into other problems, there are some irreducible limits for each industrial process in particular and all of them in general. Many of the problems with nukes are unsolvable, or only solvable by replacing them with other, equally bad or worse problems, and in either case, also end up costing more money (sometimes as externalized problems), making the cost disparity between nukes and clean safe renewable energy even bigger, because the processes and materials used by renewable sources are much cheaper and almost infinitely more benign.


  4. First, thank you Greenperson for re-posting my comment, I think. Just managed to dislike myself anyway. Nuclear cost is a killer today. Remember when renewable s would NEVER EVER be cost effective, just a few years ago. Ref J4, water, cooling and such problems, almost preclude nukes, in Oz for example, but can be resolved or not like everything else. Personally, have no thing for nukes in and of themselves, just world survival. The complex micro systems are very sexy in theory. After a more grey than usual winter my electricity bill dam near doubled for lack of PV output. Just an example. Try January 9am, east coast USA and the energy requirements across the country. Then add up solar output, wind power at the time of the dawn stillness and hope the hydro is full and try to manage. Then sock in continent wide crappy weather for a month and have fun. These difficulties also will be solved or not. As for the simple life, in a tree, sign me up.


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