Elon Musk wagers he can solve Aussie power problem

By Perry Williams

Their response? "You're on mate". Elon Musk pictured. Photo / AP
Their response? "You're on mate". Elon Musk pictured. Photo / AP

Billionaire Elon Musk just bet he can solve a looming energy crisis in Australia within 100 days by deploying Tesla Inc. technology to plug a supply gap that's caused power blackouts.

In a conversation on Twitter with Australian tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes, Musk backed up an earlier commitment Tesla made Thursday, reported by the Australian Financial Review, to deploy its batteries to provide as much as 300 megawatt hours of energy to prevent blackouts in the state of South Australia.

"Tesla will get the system installed and working 100 days from contract signature or it is free," Musk wrote on Twitter. Cannon-Brookes responded to Musk - "you're on mate" - and asked for a quote at "mates rates."

In a later post on Twitter, Musk said Tesla could supply batteries at a price of $250 (NZ$361) per kilowatt hour. He said in a separate comment that he spoke with Jay Weatherill, premier of South Australia, and was "very impressed" that the government was committed to a "smart, quick solution."

South Australia suffered a state-wide blackout in September after severe storms caused a transmission failure. Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull blamed the power cut on the state's rapid take-up of renewable power. Solar and wind account for about 40 per cent of its power generation, the highest of any mainland state.

Renewable energy - championed globally as a tool to combat global warming - is a contentious issue in Australia, the world's biggest coal exporter. Since winning power in 2013 under then-leader Tony Abbott, the coalition government has dismantled a levy on carbon emissions and cut targets for how much energy it aims to draw from wind and solar generation by 2020.

"Musk and Tesla have called the political bluff in proposing one of the world's largest battery storage projects while the Australian government is obsessing over a more expensive 'clean coal' solution or contentious natural gas reservation policy," said Hugh Bromley, an analyst for Bloomberg New Energy Finance in New York.

South Australia's Weatherill has denied the blackout was connected to the state's reliance on renewable energy, describing it as a weather event. Weatherill, in a Twitter post Friday, said he's "looking forward" to discussing the Tesla proposal.

Greens senator for the state Sarah Hanson-Young called Musk's proposal the "game changer" South Australia needs. "It's a wager we should double down on," she said in a statement.

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