Here’s Why Elon Musk Can’t Save Australia’s Energy Woes

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Chris White Tech Reporter
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Elon Musk promised to fix South Australia’s energy crisis in fewer than 100 days, but the anti-fracking lobby might be doing more to hurt the state than a lack of battery storage.

Musk told the state’s prime minister that he could solve the country’s wobbly electrical grid and prevent any future energy blackouts within three months. The tech entrepreneur also said he would simply need to install $25 million of battery storage around the state to back up its stressed-out infrastructure.

“Just spoke with Premier of South Australia (Jay Weatherill). Very impressed. Govt is clearly committed to a smart, quick solution,” Musk wrote on Twitter, referring to his conversation with Weatherill earlier this month.

Musk’s offer probably would not do enough to fix the underlying problems at the center of Australia’s electricity woes.

South Australia has plenty of coal and natural gas reserves, but, thanks to the country’s environmental movement, many of the state’s most reliable coal-powered plants have been shuttered, which is forcing solar and wind power to make up for the deficit.

The state’s growing dependence on renewable energy is resulting in blackouts.

South Australia’s growing reliance on solar and wind power in the state “has not only led to a series of technical challenges” but “also increased wholesale price volatility as the state rebalances its supply from dispatchable plant to intermittent generation,” Australia’s Energy Council noted last year.

Nearly 25 percent of homes in the state currently have solar panels installed, and the state gets 41 percent of its power from wind, solar and other green sources. Officials believe fluctuations in the supply of wind power have caused rolling brownouts and blackouts in South Australia.

Officials have also bent over backwards trying to please activist opposition to hydraulic fracturing, or fracking.

Victoria state has banned fracking as well as shale and coal-seam gas exploration, while states such as Northern Territory, New South Wales and Tasmania have instituted temporary bans on the method used to extract natural gas.

South Australia, which is one of only a handful of states where natural gas supplies can be developed, is now in the cross-hairs of an environmental lobby that opposes all forms of fossil fuel production.

Politicians across the country are choosing to ignore the impact such bans would have on energy supply and electricity prices, but the state might be on the verge of turning the corner.

Weatherill and South Australia Energy Minister Tom Koutsantonis proposed building a new $360 million gas-fired power plant on Tuesday to go along with using Australia’s largest battery to store renewable energy.

They’ve caught flak from some who believe the two officials are meddling in the market and getting too cozy with the environmentalist movement. South Australian Liberal leader Steven Marshall, for instance, criticized Weatherill for not taking responsibility for the mess.

“It’s Jay Weatherill and Tom Koutsantonis and this tired 15-year-old Labor administration which put the policies in place to drive affordable, reliable energy out of South Australia,” he said.

“We had a perfectly good coal-fired power station which put that affordable base load power into our grid in South Australia.”

Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull also took a few jabs at South Australia’s prime minister for forcing the state to transition from using traditional fossil fuels, such as coal and natural gas, to employing green energy projects.

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