When Elon Musk says he'll do something, he'll make good on his word -- no matter how outlandish the claim might seem. When Musk took on the challenge to help solve South Australia's energy crisis, he agreed to it and promised he could do it in less than 100 days. His failure meant his company would absorb the fees for the Tesla Powerwall system.
And so, ahead of schedule, the state of South Australia announced on Friday that it turned on the world's biggest battery.
"This is history in the making," said Premier of South Australia Jay Weatherill in a statement. "...South Australia is now leading the world in dispatchable renewable energy, delivered to homes and businesses 24/7."
It's approximately the size of an American football field (120 yards or 110 meters long). The battery can power 30,000 homes. Tesla won't say exactly how many Powerpacks go into the massive battery. However, it's in the hundreds based on previous statements and company reports.
The individual cells are small enough to be held in human hands, according to Mark Tholke, chief development officer of Advanced Microgrid Solutions. Tholke and his company install Tesla batteries into buildings, giving Tholke an intimate knowledge of how powerful the 2170 cells in Powerwalls can be.
Each cell is just 3 inches long (or slightly smaller) and 1 inch in diameter. The lithium-ion batteries themselves aren't revolutionary; it's largely in how Tesla stores the energy and cuts down on prodcution costs.
"The genius of the Tesla project is that they are able to string together a whole bunch of these cells,” said Daniel Abraham, a senior scientist at the Argonne National Laboratory, in an interview with Popular Science. Abraham has been working on lithium-ion batteries for over a decade and a half.
“It’s actually a sign of the maturity of the lithium-ion system that it is being considered for such large projects,” Abraham notes, as a decade ago the batteries were too pricey and projects like this were “not even on anyone’s horizon.”
And no, Musk did not get to name the massive battery. The South Australian government kept the name simple, and they're calling it the Hornsdale Energy Reserve. It's situated 9 miles from Jamestown, South Australia.
Australia is one of the sunniest areas in the entire world. It's also the globe's largest exporter of coal, a fact that Musk himself critiqued in an interview with 60 Minutes host Liz Hayes. However, in that same interview, Musk noted that those elements culminated in the best way for Tesla to showcase its Powerwall super-battery.
"Australia is perfect for solar power because it’s not too far north or too far south. You can have the entire country solar powered or some combination of wind, solar, geothermal and hydro. Australia could actually export power to Asia," he said.
The project totally fits Musk's style of work, noted author Ashlee Vance. Vance wrote a 2015 biography on Musk.
"This fits into his M.O. of doing these big, grandstanding things to get attention for the company and the technology that he's building," she told the New York Times. "Tesla's at this really critical stage where they're trying to be both a car company and an energy company at the same time."