Exploring Clean Technology

Tesla has built the world's biggest battery in Australia

January 9, 2018

Tesla has installed the world's largest lithium ion battery in South Australia in late November. Tesla teamed up with French renewable energy firm Neoen and the local government to install the battery, which is approximately three times more powerful than its nearest competitor (the previous record-holder being at Mira Loma, California).

Tesla's largest battery in Australia Elon Musk, the well-known founder and CEO of Tesla, promised to deliver the battery within 100 days of signing a contract and it would be operational by early December - or it would be free! The ambitious timeline dated back to a bet made in March, when Musk was asked if Tesla was serious when it claimed it could quickly end blackouts in South Australia.

South Australia's population of 1.7 million people suffer regular power cuts and energy shortages. In late 2016, most of the state was without power after a storm damaged transmission lines. Another major blackout occurred in February 2017 during a heat wave which caused demand to surge.

The battery will store power generated by a wind farm, releasing it during times of increased demand. An array of Tesla Powerpack batteries has been installed alongside Neoen's 100MW and 129MWh Hornsdale windfarm about 200 kilometres (120 miles) north of the state capital Adelaide, in South Australia's Mid North region. The battery will operate at all times, providing stability services for renewable energy and will be available to provide emergency back-up power if a shortfall in energy is predicted. When complete, the wind farm is planned to have 105 turbines generating 315MW or 400GWh/year.

The government will have the right to tap the battery's full output to prevent load shedding and electrical blackouts if supply runs low. Load shedding happens when the power system operator directs power providers to switch off supply to some customers to protect the grid.

The battery will produce enough energy to power about 30,000 homes for a little over an hour. However, the giant Tesla battery alone isn't enough to solve the state's energy problems; the Tesla/Neoen initiative being one of several measures announced in the government’s $550 million energy plan. The plan also includes diesel-powered backup generators, which have been installed ahead of summer.

Tesla utilized Samsung SDI lithium-ion battery cells, importing the cells to the US for final assembly before sending them to the facility in South Australia. Tesla, of course, hopes the project will provide a model for future deployments around the world.

I understand, however, that the Tesla/Australia battery might not be the world's biggest for long. Korea-based Hyundai Electric & Energy Systems is apparently building one that is about 50% bigger than Tesla's. It is scheduled to charge up early next year.

Lithium-based batteries have certainly advanced… from the button-type that keep hearing aids and some wrist watches humming, to the now prolific growth of Li-ion batteries for electric vehicles, to the introduction of utility-sized 100+ MWh lithium-based energy storage units that contribute to stabilized and balanced power grids. The lithium content roughly ranges from 0.11 gm to 3 kg to 16 tonnes for the range of noted applications! Remarkable for a very light metal with an atomic number of just 3.

Until soon… Ian