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.
Holy s#%t https://t.co/I0Kiw3wZsd
— Mike Cannon-Brookes (@mcannonbrookes) March 9, 2017
This is where Musk made the initial commitment to the plan, and the “100 days or it’s free” promise.
Tesla will get the system installed and working 100 days from contract signature or it is free. That serious enough for you?
— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) March 10, 2017
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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.
Thanks @elonmusk for a great in depth discussion today about energy storage and it’s role in delivering affordable & reliable electricity
— Malcolm Turnbull (@TurnbullMalcolm) March 12, 2017
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.
In Jamestown today, will be home to world’s biggest battery. Whyalla Monday, a bright future secured. Lights out on investment? What rubbish
— Jay Weatherill (@JayWeatherill) July 9, 2017