Elon Musk says Tesla can fix South Australia’s blackouts in 100 days, or battery system is free

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 11 March, 2017, 3:51pm
UPDATED : Saturday, 11 March, 2017, 3:51pm

Tesla Chief Executive Elon Musk is betting that his company can get a battery system in South Australia installed and working within 100 days – and if it can’t, he says, the company will do it free.

Musk made the wager on Thursday night in a brief back-and-forth on Twitter with Australian software billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes.

Cannon-Brookes had tweeted a link to an Australian news report that cited Tesla executive Lyndon Rive as saying he would “commit” to installing the megawatt-hours of batteries needed to prevent the recent blackouts in South Australia. Heat waves across the region have caused energy demand to spike, which has put increased pressure on the infrastructure there.

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According to the report, Rive said the higher production capacity of Tesla’s Gigafactory battery production plant in Nevada could help address South Australia’s energy crisis within 100 days of being asked.

Tesla and its partner Panasonic began mass producing lithium-ion battery cells at the Gigafactory two months ago.

“How serious are you about this bet?” Cannon-Brookes tweeted on Thursday. “If I can make the $ happen (& politics), can you guarantee the 100 MW in 100 days?”

Musk responded, “Tesla will get the system installed and working 100 days from contract signature or it is free. That serious enough for you?”

Cannon-Brookes asked Musk to give him seven days to “try (to) sort out politics and funding,” and he suggested Musk send him a price quote – “mates rates”.

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Tesla, based in Palo Alto, California, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Musk’s Tesla Motors bought solar power firm SolarCity last year, creating a one-stop shop for clean-energy customers interested in electric vehicles and solar panels. The combined company is named Tesla. SolarCity was headed by Rive and his brother Peter Rive, who are Musk’s cousins.

Musk has often made grand announcements, but – especially on the autos side – product roll-outs haven’t always happened on schedule.

Tesla’s Model X SUV was expected to arrive in early to mid-2014, but it was actually delivered to customers in late 2015 after production difficulties with the “falcon-wing” doors, which open straight out and up from the vehicle.

Analysts also largely expect Tesla’s plans to begin deliveries of its mass-market Model 3 sedan by later this year to slip. Musk himself acknowledged the timeline was ambitious when he first unveiled a prototype of the car in Hawthorne last year, saying he did feel “fairly confident” it would be delivered in 2017 – a statement that drew chuckles from the audience.

On the power side, though, Tesla recently unveiled one of the world’s largest energy storage facilities. The facility at Southern California Edison’s Mira Loma substation has nearly 400 Tesla PowerPack lithium-ion battery units on a 1.5-acre, and it can store enough energy to power 2,500 homes for a day or 15,000 homes for four hours.

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The site uses the batteries to store electricity at night and during other off-peak hours so the electrons can be put back into the grid when power use increases.

At the project’s unveiling in January, California Public Utilities Commission President Michael Picker described its completion as “unprecedented fast action”.

Tesla and Edison signed a deal for the project in September and fired up the batteries three months later. The project was part of a state-mandated effort to make up for the troubled Aliso Canyon natural gas storage facility, whose operations — including supplying fuel for gas-fired power plants — were halted because of a massive methane gas leak that sickened nearby residents and drove them from their homes.