Elon Musk Is Reportedly Plugging a Giant Battery Into Texas

Illustration for article titled Elon Musk Is Reportedly Plugging a Giant Battery Into Texas
Photo: Justin Sullivan (Getty Images)

If the Texas power crisis taught us anything, it’s that the state has some serious infrastructure issues that not even the state’s regulators are prepared to fix. Thankfully, everyone’s favorite high-profile Twitter troll, Elon Musk, might have a plan: a giant battery ready to plug more than 16,000 homes’ worth of power into the state’s electric grid.

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Bloomberg first reported the news on Monday that a little-known Tesla subsidiary named Gambit Energy Storage LLC had begun work on a major energy storage facility based out of Angleton, Texas, a small suburb sitting just south of Houston. An Ercot official stated that the battery has a “proposed commercial operation date” starting June 1.

The battery in question is reportedly built to hold about 100 megawatts of power. To offer some perspective here, the Solar Energy Industries Association estimates that a single megawatt would be enough to power about 164 homes across the country—meaning that the Gambit project could hypothetically power about 16,400 homes. That might not be enough to cover the close to 3 million households that lost power during last month’s cold snap, but it’s still a significant number of houses with a significant number of people who wouldn’t be left with icicles dripping from their ceilings or stuck facing life-threatening temperatures without water the next time a bitter cold spell hits the state.

Before Tesla took it over, the Gambit project was initially run by a non-Tesla entity, Plus Power LLC. Some of the initial pitch documents that Plus Power filed with the state say that the battery center would charge with electricity offered from a connection to a nearby 138kV substation, and discharge electricity onto the grid through that same connection. Per that pitch, the battery would charge from this grid when energy prices are low—i.e., during peak wind and solar production—and then discharge when there’s an energy shortage.

When charged, the battery could help boot up the local electric system by “providing energy to ‘jump start’ electric generators,” the pitch deck explains. Not only that, but it would be emission-free, and well out of view from nearby houses thanks to a smattering of oak trees and other “substantial natural vegetation.”

We have reached out to Tesla for comment and will update when we hear back.

While it’s unclear when the Gambit project changed hands, we do know that Tesla’s been trying to get into the mega-battery game for a while. In 2017, the electric automaker rolled out a 100MW battery farm in Southern Australia that was then heralded as “the world’s largest lithium-ion battery,” which was powered thanks to electricity generated by a neighboring wind farm. Meanwhile, we’ve seen Tesla’s earnings off of battery and solar deployments reach record highs over the last year.

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It’s also worth mentioning that Musk has a pretty personal stake in the Texas grid, since he moved himself to Austin at the end of 2020 and is quickly starting to open new Tesla factories across the state. At the height of Texas’s power outages last month, he rightfully called out Ercot, the Electric Reliability Council of Texas, for “not earning that R.” Let’s just hope the Gambit project is a bit more reliable than some of the Tesla batteries we’ve seen in the past.

I cover the business of data for Gizmodo. Send your worst tips to swodinsky@gizmodo.com.

DISCUSSION

im-thatoneguy3
im.thatoneguy

Big lithium batteries aren’t really to keep people’s lights on and heaters running. What they do provide is the ability to keep generators online. If demand suddenly spikes that puts physical strain on generators which are trying to run at a constant frequency. If grid frequency can’t be maintained it can literally tear a generator apart. That was the doomsday scenario Texas was seconds\minutes away from. As the frequency dropped generators would have to shut down to protect themselves from self destructing. Those shut-down generators cause the frequency to drop even further which causes even more generators to shut down. And so on and so forth.

Big batteries are less about providing 20,000 homes power for an hour. They are about injecting just enough power to keep all of the existing generators online and give time for new generators to come online.

In home terms, they’re like the UPS you plug your computer into. It only lasts 2o minutes. It’s not there to run your gaming rig through a power outage, it’s just there to keep your gaming rig from getting hard-reset and you losing data.

The Horndale Battery in Australia has done a good job of this already.   It’s never been relied on to keep the lights on. It’s just provided stabilization power to keep prices down generators online that might have otherwise needed to shut down.