Technology

Tesla’s giant battery project in Australia

 By RP Siegel

South Australia with its ample wind and solar resources, combined with exceptionally high electricity prices has all the hallmarks of an ideal candidate for renewable power…

Politically, however, the region, which has historically been a major coal producer, has experienced backlash after deciding to shut down its coal stations and replace them with wind. What had been a long standoff was exacerbated last September, when the entire state lost its power. The outage took place during a major storm which took out 22 high voltage pylons, and caused a number of wind turbines to disconnect from the grid to prevent further equipment damage. But, contrary to what had been suggested by wind opponents, it was not the intermittency of wind power, per se, that led to the outage.
The episode led to an examination of the region’s electricity supply, which revealed deeply rooted problems that some considered a full-scale energy crisis. The nation seemed to teeter on the brink of moving forward into a fully renewable supply, or falling backwards to the familiar, if problematic reliance on coal. This ultimately resulted in a request for bids for solutions to stabilize the grid. Tesla CEO Elon Musk, a major supporter of renewables saw this as an opportunity to turn the tide. When the bidding was done, Tesla emerged as the winner with their proposed 100MW/129MWh giant battery to be paired with Neoen’s Hornsdale Wind Farm near Jamestown. Dozens of companies from across the globe had submitted bids.
According to Ian Lowe, a professor of science at Australia’s Griffith University, “cost-effective storage of electrical energy is the only problem holding us back from getting all of our power from wind and solar.”
Somewhat extraordinarily, Musk, when challenged on his ability to deliver, committed, by means of a Tweet, to deliver the project within 100 days with the stipulation that if it were late, it would be provided free of charge. Tesla delivered in 90 days. The battery was switched on December 1, 2017.

Tesla's facility at Hornsdale Wind Farm

The 100 MW project, the largest of its kind in the world, beats out the 80MW facility in Mira Loma, California. Both are based on Tesla’s utility-grade Powerpack battery. Each module contains 16 battery pods with an energy capacity of 210 kWh each. Tesla, it should be noted, has been producing lithium-ion batteries for their electric cars for over 10 years.
With this battery now in place, the state is now able, according to Premier Jay Weatherill, to reliably dispatch wind power 24 hours a day, seven days a week, to as many as 50,000 homes. The battery provides operators with far more control over the flow of electricity into the grid.
Already, the system has responded successfully to two major outages, reacting to an unexpected drop in just 0.14 seconds in one case, and less than four seconds in the other. This is far faster than the coal-fired backups could achieve.
Now that the system is operational, other benefits have become apparent. The system was designed with two levels of storage. One level has 70 MW of storage that can last roughly 10 minutes, while the other 30MW can last 3-4 hours. This flexibility allows it to provide frequency control and other ancillary services that have considerable value. This is a complex subject, but in short it means that besides filling in when outages occurred, or when the wind stops blowing, it can also respond very quickly to smooth out momentary dips throughout the grid, allowing it to continue to deliver power that meets the required quality specifications.

Tesla's 80MW facility in Mira Loma, California (Ernesto Sanchez, insideedison.com)

The battery installation could also represent a tipping point, as South Australia is now ready to turn more fully to reliance on renewables. In late summer, the Australian Renewable Energy Agency announced that it will provide $12 million towards another battery storage installation on the Yorke Peninsula, which will be used to create a 30 MW renewables-based mini-grid. The decision to build the mini-grid was the result of a lengthy study by the local grid operator. The mini-grid will include the capability to provide power even when the rest of the grid goes down.
These demonstrations of large scale battery storage represent another key milestone in the continuing advance of renewable power generation in Australia and around the world.

about the author
RP Siegel
Skilled writer. Technology, sustainability, engineering, energy, renewables, solar, wind, poverty, water, food. Studied both English Lit.and Engineering at university level. Inventor.