How Elon Musk got involved in South Australian SMEs’ power woes: A timeline

Elon Musk

Elon Musk is a man famously too busy even to hold business meetings, but this year he’s found a moment to get involved in one of the key issues concerning business owners in South Australia: Power.

On Friday the billionaire Tesla founder was in Adelaide reiterating his promise to build the world’s biggest battery to solve the state’s power supply woes, promising to do it in 100 days or it’s free.

It’s not the only plan in the works: Renewable energy and infrastructure firm Lyon is also reportedly looking to start construction on a 100-megawatt battery later this year.

But how did we get to the point where an international, Mars-loving entrepreneur swooped in promising to solve a big problem so quickly? Here’s a timeline.

September 2016: Knockout storms drive home underlying concerns

Fierce storms in the last third of 2016 revealed intense frustrations from the South Australian business community about the state’s fragile energy situation, with businesses left without power for days after transmission lines were brought down in the Port Augusta region.

The situation, combined with concerns about rising costs and pressure on supply, put increased pressure on many SME owners in the region/

March 2017: Mike Cannon-Brookes’ Twitter shout-out

In the middle of March, Atlassian co-founder Mike Cannon-Brookes tweeted an article in which Tesla vice-president of energy products Lyndon Rive discussed solving South Australia’s mounting supply crisis by delivering 100-300 megawatt hours of battery power to the state.

“Holy s#%t,” Cannon-Brookes said, tweeting directly at Musk to see if the company was serious.

This is where Musk made the initial commitment to the plan, and the “100 days or it’s free” promise.

After months of government discussion over energy policy in the region, these tweets got the local startup community buzzing about the idea of just fixing big problems themselves.

“This little interplay could be the beginning of something epic for Australia and certainly South Australia,” Vinomofo co-founder Andre Eikmeier told StartupSmart at the time.

Malcolm Turnbull makes a call

The tweets prompted Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to hop on the phone with Musk, with the PM tweeting thanks for a discussion about affordable energy storage.

July 2017: News brews of a Musk visit

Last Friday the plans went from the sphere of social media to that of public policy, with the announcement Tesla had inked a deal Neoen and the South Australian government to build the world’s largest lithium ion battery.

Premier Jay Weatherill said “the world will be following our leadership in this space”, outlining plans to build a battery that can deliver one hundred megawatts of power by the start of December this year. If it’s not on time, the project will be free.

Musk, who is no stranger to the idea of pushing beyond what is understood as the boundaries of new technologies, spoke of the project in similar terms to his space travel project, SpaceX.

He described the project as “not a minor foray into the frontier” and “three times further than anyone has gone before”, reports ABC. 

Is everyone on board?

It’s been a whirlwind week for renewable energy projects in South Australia, but there remain a few detractors from Musk’s plan: Including Acting Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce, who has expressed the view the battery plan does not possess the required capacity to solve the state’s concerns.

“It’s a good idea but the capacity is not there,” Joyce said yesterday.

However, Premier Weatherill insists this is just the start of new energy investment opportunities.

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5 years ago

SA seems to be the smart state here (from a Victorian)

Rohan Baker
Rohan Baker
5 years ago


How much electricity does a battery generate? That’s right it generates ZERO power. It needs another energy source to charge it. that’s our problem, we no longer have enough reliable base load power.

We had that in Victoria. It was called Hazlewood. But 10 years of political interference and sovereign risk meant that they stopped properly maintaining it.

And now Victoriastan no longer has the base load capacity to meet it’s own requirements. And neither does SA. So how is building a battery going to improve that outcome.

And how much will this mega battery cost and it the lights go dim, how long will it last? No one including the articles author, has asked this question. For crying out loud, is this is an online business news outlet or a shill for the new Green Left Revival movement?

5 years ago

These people need to get the terminology right. Stating that a battery that can supply 100 MW is meaningless without clarifying the period over which this power can be sustained. Energy storage is measured in Watt Hours, Kilowatt Hours or MegaWatt Hours. If the battery proposed by Musk has a capacity of 100 Megawatt Hours, it can supply 100 MW for one hour, or 10 MW for 10 hours.
20,000 households each consuming an average of 2 Kilowatts would fully discharge the battery in 2.5 hours. And what will be the recharge time? This is hardly going to solve SA’s energy problems even though it will perform to specification and thus meet Elon’s claim. Mr Weatherill needs to do some due diligence to avoid having egg on his face.

Annette Scott
Annette Scott
5 years ago

Maybe he could do something about power here in NSW…. our electricity prices are about to go through the roof and for heating I’m seriously thinking about going back to a woodfire – too bad about air pollution, but keeping my family warm at a good price is what I’m thinking of. And so far as alternative energy sources go, what happened to using the ocean’s currents to harvest energy? Or putting solar panels on ALL buildings – surely that would harness enough energy to keep prices down?

James Brown
James Brown
5 years ago

Batteries are a secondary source of power, unlike coal, wind, hydro, solar. It requires energy to build a battery, therefore the question remains; where will the energy to build batteries come from?

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