Australia is about to find out whether a tweet storm can result in real change.
Tesla founder Elon Musk made some big promises about renewable energy battery storage in the state of South Australia on Twitter Friday that the company could build 100 megawatts of capacity in 100 days or its money back, to be precise and now the government is giving him the chance to prove it.
On Tuesday, the South Australian government announced it would fund a grid-connected battery project to provide the state with 100 megawatts of storage as part a wide-ranging energy plan. The government will also create a $150 million fund to support renewable energy projects.
At a press conference, the state’s premier, Jay Weatherill, said that while a range of providers have spoken to the government about battery projects, Musk would be “directly invited” to participate in the tender process.
A Tesla spokesperson said the company would work with stakeholders over the coming days on “how best to deliver on this exciting opportunity.”
“Tesla are excited by the enthusiasm shown by stakeholders in the Australian energy market to the commitment by Tesla to deploy large scale storage facilities in South Australia to increase network reliability and affordability for consumers whilst accelerating the transition to a sustainable energy future,” he said.
The Musk saga began at a press event for its home battery product the Powerwall 2 on Thursday, where vice president for energy products at Tesla, Lyndon Rive, boasted the company could build battery storage capacity in 100 days that would prevent a major power outage similar to the state-wide one experienced in Sept. 2016.
“We had a similar challenge in southern California,” he said. “We got 80MW up in 90 days. That’s unheard of. You just don’t get power plants running up and down that fast.”
The idea was seized upon by the cofounder of Australian software giant Atlassian, Mike Cannon-Brookes, who quickly tweeted at Musk asking if he was serious about the bet of 100 megawatts in 100 days. He was, apparently.
A flurry of tweets followed, resulting in discussions between Musk, Weatherill and Australia’s prime minister, Malcolm Turnbull.
“Mr Musk made a dramatic intervention the other day which was welcome,” Weatherill commented Tuesday. “He certainly put us on the international road map in relation to clean energy technologies.”
For Clean Energy Council CEO Kane Thornton, the “high-profile Twitter chat between billionaire tech entrepreneurs” proved such ideas can move quickly.
“Energy storage is obviously going to be a huge part of Australias energy future, and the SA government’s funding for new large-scale battery technology will help accelerate its adoption,” he said in a statement.
Local companies may also want to get in on the action. South Australian-based Zen Energy, for example, won a $1 million tender in July 2016 to install lithium-ion batteries around the state’s capital of Adelaide as part of a battery storage demonstration.
Zen Energy chairman Ross Garnaut told the Guardian Monday his company was already working on a battery project in South Australia to supply baseload renewable power.
“Zen Energy has funded it all so far, and there has been a lot of technical work and economic modelling done to see what is required in the market,” he said.
The attraction of a big name like Tesla may prove persuasive, however, despite Garnaut’s comment that “we have a world where nothing is real until an American billionaire tweets about it.”
“We also need to put in the balance the reputational [sic] effect of attracting an international player of the size of Elon Musk to South Australia,” Weatherill said. “These are all things we are going to balance in the choices that we make. Remember we have a $150 million fund. For us to attract a range of players into South Australia is very exciting.”
Zen Energy has been contacted for comment.