The South Australia state government is to provide a $10 million loan to help UK billionaire Sanjeev Gupta trump fellow US billionaire Elon Musk and build an even bigger battery at Port Augusta.
Gupta’s SIMEC ZEN Energy is intending to build a 120MW/140MWh – as revealed in RenewEconomy earlier this week when we wrote of Gupta’s plans to build more than 1GW of solar in South Australia alone to help slash the cost of electricity for the newly acquired Whyalla steelworks.
The SIMEC ZEN battery plan has been in the pipeline for some time – and was originally flagged before Musk landed the contract to build the world’s biggest lithium ion battery, the 100MW/129MWh installation at the Hornsdale Power Reserve that opened in December.
The $10 million loan is one of the last acts of the South Australia government before Saturday’s state poll, where it is locked in a close battle with the SA Liberals, and with Nick Xenophon’s SA Best possibly playing the role of king-maker.
The loan comes from the government’s $150 million Renewable Technology Fund, and follows a string of investments such as the world’s biggest virtual power plant, the world’s biggest wind and solar powered hydrogen electrolyser, and numerous battery, pumped hydro and micro-grid projects.
These form key planks in Premier Jay Weatherill’s target of taking South Australia to 75 per cent renewables by 2025 – from 50 per cent now – and backing that up with a 25 per cent “renewable storage” target.
Weatherill says the new big battery would would help underpin the long-term viability of the Whyalla steelworks. Gupta has suggested his massive rollout of solar and storage will slash costs by around 40 per cent, and underpin the growth of that facility and other big energy users.
The decision to increase the size of the battery storage installation from 100MW to 120MW comes as Gupta ups his plans for the rollout of solar around Whyalla.
As RenewEconomy revealed earlier this week, the first 80MW solar farm is to get investment approval within the next few months, with a further 200MW solar farm to follow.
Ross Garnaut, the chairman of ZEN Energy before its merger with Gupta’s SIMEC Energy, told RenewEconomy that the bigger-than-planned solar farm would require a more powerful battery.
He said the battery would be in place by the time the two solar projects were complete in 2019.
“It just so happens ours will be bigger and use more advanced technology,” Garnaut said. It would play several roles, including load shifting, storage, providing firm capacity for the solar farm, back up retail contracts, and play a role in the FCAS markets.
“ZEN was working on a 100MW battery before Elon Musk had even heard of SA … (then) he did a lot of tweeting to overtake our project.”
Giles Parkinson is a journalist of 30 years experience, a former Business Editor and Deputy Editor of the Financial Review, a columnist for The Bulletin magazine and The Australian, and the former editor of Climate Spectator.