The race for the world’s biggest battery

It is generally acknowledged that the main issue standing in the way of solar and wind power becoming the dominant modes of electricity generation is ‘intermittency’. In plain English, there is no power generated when the wind don’t blow and the sun don’t shine (with apologies to Glenn Frey and Don Henley).

When nature is cooperating, on the other hand, there is often more electricity than can be used. So some kind of storage is needed so that the lights can go on when the sun goes down.

Now the race is on to build the biggest battery in the world.

Elon Musk and Tesla currently #1

Last year Elon Musk of Tesla fame built a 100 MegaWatt battery in the province of South Australia. 

The story behind the battery is already legend: the government of SA had a blackout/brownout problem with their electricity which was worsened by some tornadoes. When they started looking into the idea of a huge battery as a solution Elon Musk offered – by tweet – to build it within 90 days or it would be free. He built it – got paid – and it is wildly successful.

A slight digression here. When the term ‘biggest battery’ is used, it doesn’t mean there is one huge battery with two wires coming out of it. What happens is that hundreds of batteries, each about the size of a shopping container, are wired together to create the total storage capacity of the system. Below is the Tesla SA battery complex.

Back to the race.

100MW Tesla Battery in South Australia

Next up: Korea

Then in December of 2017 the Hyundai company of South Korea announced that it would better Tesla by building a 150 MW battery for the smelters of Korea Zinc in the city of Ulsan. The claim was that the battery would be completed by February of 2018, but we can’t find anything yet announcing that it is up and running.

Hyundai DID announce a 50MW ESS (Energy Storage System) that started operations in November. Presumably in the effort to call it the world’s largest something, it was proclaimed to be the largest industrial ESS, because the Tesla one also serves residential users.

Now back to South Australia. Steel magnate Rajeev Gupta purchased troubled Australian metals company Whyalla in July of 2017 and last week announced that HE was going to build a 120MW battery as part of a solar installation connected to the rebuilding of the company’s fortunes.

It is a bit puzzling that many news outlets proclaimed this would be the world’s biggest battery, but at any rate, it is big. And bigger than Elon Musk’s, if not Hyundai’s.

50MW battery in Korea

Another big Australian battery gets the nod

This announcement came literally days before an election in South Australia, and when the Labour party – who have been opposed to the expansion of solar power in Australia – won the election, there was some uncertainty about the fate of the battery.

Then this morning, March 19, 2018, outgoing SA Premier Jay Weatherill, who was the recipient of Elon Musks’s tweet, confirmed that the battery would be going ahead. It looks pretty safe, because the incoming Liberals pledged before the election that they would commit AU$100 million towards supporting household deployment of batteries, and AUD$50 million of support for grid-scale batteries.

So as it stands now, the world’s biggest battery (100MW) is now operating in South Australia, a bigger one (120MW) is planned for another part of South Australia and an even bigger one (150MW) is being built in South Korea.

Who’s next?

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