Tesla's Big Battery Will Change Power and Politics

©. Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images/ Elon Musk unveiling new Power Pack

It puts paid to arguments for coal fired base load.

We have written previously about how Tesla will kill the duck in Australia in 100 days or it’s free. Now more detail has come out about what is being called the world’s largest battery, that Elon Musk is building. It will store energy generated at a big wind farm and deliver power during peak hours in South Australia. Tesla said it “will help solve power shortages and manage summertime peak load to improve the reliability of South Australia’s electrical infrastructure.”

Elon Musk told a press conference how his $50 million bet on the 129MWh battery will work:

You can essentially charge up the battery packs when you have excess power when the cost of production is very low ... and then discharge it when the cost of power production is high, and this effectively lowers the average cost to the end customer. It’s a fundamental efficiency improvement for the grid.

I have complained that electric cars really don’t change all that much, but the work that Musk is doing on batteries like this is going to be world-changing. Politicians do not want to recognize this; in the USA right now, Energy Secretary Rick Perry is “studying,” as David Roberts of Vox puts it, “whether baseload power plants (mostly coal and nuclear) are being unfairly pushed off the grid, thus threatening grid reliability, national security, and our precious bodily fluids.” It’s a blatant attempt to justify the need for big coal fired power plants, since in his memo Perry writes: “Baseload power is necessary to a well-functioning electric grid.”

big battery

© Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images

They have been having the same argument in Australia, where the big battery is going. According to Tim Hollo writing in the Guardian, politicians, energy executives and the media..

.... have been rabbiting on about the “energy trilemma.” It’s their contention that energy policy must deal with cost, reliability and emissions, and that it is impossible to achieve all three at the same time. Conveniently, they choose to put emissions at the bottom of this list and bury it under a pile of coal, which they claim is cheap and reliable. ...They have just chosen to throw truth onto the fire of climate change for political reasons.

Tesla’s big Australian battery puts paid to all that. It demonstrates how renewable energy can be stored in significant quantities; this battery will supply 30,000 homes. According to Hollo, this demonstrates that renewables can be considered as reliable as any other source of electricity, and that politicians selling coal plants are telling lies.

All the talk of building new coal-fired power stations... no longer sounds vaguely “truthy”. It sounds ridiculous. It sounds silly. It sounds like old men yelling at clouds.

When all the new gigafactories start churning out gigabatteries like this Australian one and are tied into all that solar and wind that is now cheaper than coal, this pretence that renewables are not reliable will be exposed for what it is.