Tesla founder predicts imminent end of the fossil fuel era

US EV and battery maker Tesla has suggested that the inflection point grid-scale battery storage is not 20 years away – as some politicians and industry groups would argue – but within sight at just 100 days away.

That, at least, was the time it would take to Tesla build a 100MW battery storage facility in South Australia, once planning approval and a contract had been signed, according to comments made last Thursday by the company’s head of energy products, Lyndon Rive.

On Friday, when challenged by Mike Cannon-Brookes, the billionaire co-founder of Australian software company Atlasssian, if this was just an idle boast, Tesla CEO Elon Musk responded – via Twitter – that he would build it for free if it couldn’t be completed within 100 days.

He even offered a “discount price” of $US250/kWh, effectively halving the price of battery storage – for the second time in 12 months.

Depending on how that 100MW is configured, either with two hours of storage or four, that equates to a price of $US50 million for a 200MWh facility or $US100 million for a 400MWh facility. In other words, it is cheaper than gas and can be built in a fraction of the time.

Musk’s Twitter exchange with Cannon-Brookes triggered such a response on social media that he soon had both South Australia premier Jay Weatherill and prime minister Malcolm Turnbull on the phone, and had changed the debate about Australia’s energy future – something that thousands of submissions and endless reports had failed to do.

With any luck, this should be the wake up call needed to shake Australia’s politicians, regulators and media commentators from their delusion that fossil fuels are the only answer to Australia’s so-called energy crisis.

And the Finkel review will play a critically important role by introducing some sanity about technology costs – let’s aim for solar and wind at well below $100/MWh and battery storage at less $250/kWh – and smashing through the regulatory protections.

And when he is finished, in June, perhaps then Finkel can Tweet the conclusions. That way, he can guarantee that the politicians will read it.

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Giles Parkinson