The boss of Tesla Inc. will descend on South Australia on Friday to unveil progress on a giant battery seen critical to averting crippling power shortages in the state. Musk has promised to have the battery packs in place at a huge wind farm by Dec. 1 — the start of the southern hemisphere summer — to help South Australia avoid a repeat of a state-wide blackout last year.
For the billionaire, who has a habit of hatching ambitious ideas ranging from an 800-mph solar-powered hyperloop to a space-based Internet, it’s not just reputation that’s on the line. He’s pledged to provide the battery installation in Australia’s outback for free if he can’t get it working within 100 days of a contract being signed.
“It is a juggle for Elon, no doubt,” said Geoff James, research principal for the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney. “I’m quietly confident this will be the project people look to for battery storage. Co-locating batteries and generation is quite quickly going to become the norm.”
The chief executive officer of Space Exploration Technologies Corp. is also expected during his trip to set out his pitch for an unmanned mission to Mars and to roll out a supercharger network to power electric cars.
Musk, 46, will speak Friday afternoon at the 68th International Astronautical Congress, a gathering of more than 4,000 space enthusiasts in the state capital of Adelaide. He’ll give an update on his plans to “Make Humans a Multiplanetary Species,” hinting on Twitter that he’ll discuss how to pay for the large rockets and spacecraft that’ll be needed to ferry human beings to the red planet.
Earlier this week, Musk posted a simulation on Instagram of how SpaceX’s “Interplanetary Spaceship” will work and said he’ll unveil a new version Friday afternoon.
Musk then travels 150 miles (241 kilometers) north to the Hornsdale Wind Farm for a Tesla Energy event. Under an agreement between French renewable energy company Neoen, Tesla and the South Australian government, the wind farm near Jamestown in the state’s north will expand to become the largest generator of renewable energy in the state and be paired with Tesla’s planned battery installation.
In March, Musk said on Twitter that the cost of the battery storage project would be $250 a kilowatt-hour at the pack level, but noted that shipping, taxes, tariffs and installation labor vary by country. The project may cost A$120 million ($94 million), according to a research note from Bloomberg New Energy Finance senior associate Ali Asghar.
“We caution that a first-of-a-kind project like this could end up costing more than an average project,” Asghar said.
For South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill, who uses a photo of himself with Musk as his Twitter profile, making sure Tesla delivers is critical to his hopes of keeping the lights on this summer. For Musk, a successful roll-out may build investor confidence and attract more orders from states and nations embarking on a switch to clean energy.
If it works “there’s 50 other geographies around the world that will want a giant battery,” said Mike Cannon-Brookes, the Australian tech billionaire who hatched the 100-days-or-it’s-free deal with Musk on social media.
The stakes could barely be higher for Musk given the sheer scale of the battery, Cannon-Brookes, the co-founder of Atlassian Corp., said in an interview last month.
“It will be three times bigger than any battery man has ever produced and created,” he said. “And it has to be installed by Dec. 1 or it’s free. It’s going to be a $100 million hole in his results if he doesn’t. There’s a lot of pressure on getting it done.”
Though Palo Alto, California-based Tesla is best known for making electric cars, the company sells its lithium-ion batteries to utilities eager for cost-effective ways to integrate renewable sources of power like solar and wind into their electric grids. Tesla also acquired solar panel installer SolarCity last November and markets a home battery called the Powerwall to consumers.