Navigant Research Blog

Tesla and Storage Industry Take Up Another Challenge to Strengthen the Grid

Alex Eller — August 3, 2017

In September 2016, the massive blackout that hit South Australia cut electrical service to roughly half of the state’s 1.7 million residents for anywhere from 4 to 48 hours, putting grid reliability and renewable energy in the spotlight. Following that event, Tesla CEO Elon Musk claimed that large-scale energy storage could have prevented the disaster, promising that his company could build 100 MW of energy storage in just 100 days or it would be free. While this was seen by many as an attempt to get energy storage in the conversation about grid upgrades, it has now been announced that Tesla won a competitive solicitation to build a 100 MW storage facility.

Tesla’s new project will be located at the Hornsdale Wind Farm currently being built by French firm Neoen. The project will have a 100 MW power output with 129 MWh of storage capacity using Tesla’s lithium ion Powerpacks. The system will be used to smooth the output of the wind farm, shift energy to align with grid demand, and provide reserve capacity for the grid that could theoretically prevent future blackouts as both a source of system inertia and system restart services (in other words, a blackstart).

Major Challenges

Tesla faces some major challenges to build this project in such a short period. If successfully operational within 100 days, it would be one of the few 100 MWh-scale storage systems in the world commissioned in less than 4 months. These records were recently set last year when several large storage projects were built in response to California’s Aliso Canyon natural gas leak to provide emergency reserve capacity.

The key challenges noted by companies that developed the Aliso Canyon response projects involved supply chain and logistics and the overall orchestration/coordination of the project. However, Tesla may have advantages in logistics, as it is a vertically integrated provider of battery systems, which will reduce the time required to order both batteries and balance of system components. Given its recent expansion of manufacturing capacity, it is possible that the company already has many of the modular Powerpack systems built and ready to ship to support this project.

Once the batteries and all necessary components have arrived onsite, the coordination of such a large and complex engineering project is no small feat. Few projects of this scale and type have been built. As with many large storage projects, the experience is a first for local contractors providing engineering and construction work, which can delay the process.

Major Impact

If the project is successfully developed on time, it will represent another milestone, proving the maturity of the energy storage industry. The relatively short timeframe needed to build new large-scale storage projects gives the technology a major advantage over alternatives such as thermal power plants and transmission and distribution infrastructure. A shorter development period allows for shorter planning cycles for utilities, allowing them to quickly respond to changing grid conditions.

This project represents the first major competitive win for Tesla’s large-scale storage business in the Australian market. However, Tesla is not alone in developing massive storage plants in Australia. The Lyon Group recently announced its third solar plus storage project in the country, bringing its total pipeline of projects in development to 640 MWh. However, many stakeholders still question the economic viability of these storage projects, and regulatory rules are still evolving in Australia and other markets around the world. Despite the concerns, these projects are evidence that energy storage is starting to play a major role in the global electricity industry, with large-scale projects able to solve grid issues faster than conventional systems.

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