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Elon Musk chats to Malcolm Turnbull about bringing Tesla’s energy innovations to Australia

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull has publicly thanked Tesla founder Elon Musk for an “in-depth discussion about energy storage.”

The chat came about due to a recent statement made by Lyndon Rive, co-founder and CEO of SolarCity. Last week, Rive said that he would commit to installing 100-300 megawatt batteries to help prevent the blackouts that South Australia has been suffering of late.

Mike Cannon-Brookes, co-founder of Aussie tech company Atlassian heard about Rive’s proposal and tweeted at Musk, who then upped the ante spectacularly. Musk says he could do it within 100 days or it would be free.

This led to an hour-long phone call between Turnbull and Musk on Sunday. Thankfully, it went a lot better than that call with Donald Trump.

A spokesperson for the Prime Minister’s Office told The Sydney Morning Herald that the discussion wasn’t strictly political, but just a general “picking of brains” over energy storage options for Australia.

Recently, Turnbull has blamed SA’s power woes on renewable energy, despite experts saying that it isn’t the case.

In addition, Turnbull has stated that the oxymoronic-sounding “clean coal” is the way to go. However, the science seems to disagree with him here too. Writing for ABC News, Stephen Long notes that ‘clean coal’ faces huge hurdles with even the most cutting-edge coal plants emitting high levels of carbon dioxide. In other words, it’s cleaner coal, not clean coal.

Meanwhile, Cannon-Brookes spent the weekend working on a proposal and had a meeting with Australia’s Chief Scientist Alan Finkel.

Cannon-Brookes told Fairfax Media in a statement:

It’s evident that there is popular support for an alternative approach to solving the nation’s electricity challenges. The idea of using storage to time shift renewable energy rather than further investing in fossil fuels is huge. This would be a world first technology, unreplicated anywhere else, and will put South Australia on the map. This stuff is space age. It’s mind blowing to think that approaching the problem with forward thinking techniques – using technology and innovation – could be a (relatively) speedy solution for South Australia, improving thousands of people’s lives.

And Cannon-Brookes’ hard work has not gone unnoticed:

Musk’s interested in SA’s grid has resulted in the start of a bidding war between local energy companies. The Australian Financial Review reports that Adelaide-based Zen Energy has declared it’s ready to start building a 100-megawatt hour battery farm in SA’s Spencer Gulf. Other local companies have thrown their hat in the ring too.

SA premier Jay Weatherill is scheduled to release his energy plan for the state this week. He has been a vocal opponent of clean coal and Turnbull’s blaming of the blackouts on renewables. Weatherill also spoke with Musk over the weekend in a conversation that reportedly lasted for about 20 minutes.

All of Australia stands to benefit greatly from the debate that has now begun regarding SA’s energy situation. As a nation renowned for its resourcefulness and ability to “dig in” we should be able to solve this. Or as Cannon-Brooke’s put it:

It’s inspiring to see when Aussies come together using our collective ingenuity and smarts, we can make sh*t happen.

About the author

Stefan is an Adelaide-based freelance writer. In his spare time, he plays tennis badly, collects vinyl and brushes up on his Mandarin. Follow Stefan on Twitter

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