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Tesla battery bank
Tesla’s battery bank is linked to an array of wind turbines in South Australia. (Jay Weatherill via Twitter)

South Australia’s state government turned on the switch for the world’s biggest lithium-ion battery today, marking a signal achievement for rapid deployment of renewable energy resources.

Technically speaking, the 100-megawatt battery bank built by Tesla isn’t the highest-capacity power storage system: Molten-salt batteries, for example, can store more energy for distribution over a longer time. Alphabet’s X team, the “moonshot factory” associated with Google, is currently seeking commercial partners for a megawatt-scale, molten-salt battery project called Malta.

Even in the lithium-ion category, there are bigger power storage systems in the works: A battery bank that’s being built for Southern California Edison can be expanded to store 300 megawatts of power.

But that battery isn’t due for completion until 2021 or so. What’s most notable about the Tesla facility connected to Neoen’s Hornsdale Wind Farm is that it was installed under the terms of a “100 Days or It’s Free” deal with Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Today’s switching-on ceremony took place just 63 days after the grid-connection agreement was signed in September, although Tesla got a head start on the project before the signing.

The project, which is thought to have cost tens of millions of dollars, demonstrated how quickly Tesla can put a grid-worthy power storage system into place. That could become a major selling point going forward. In a statement, Tesla said the record-setting rapid deployment “shows that a sustainable, effective energy solution is possible.”

The move meshes with Musk’s vision of widening Tesla’s focus from cars to energy infrastructure.

“He needs these battery packs to really become effective,” Bloomberg Businessweek’s Ashlee Vance, who wrote a book about Musk, told The New York Times. “He needs this to justify the entire reason of Tesla’s existence.”

South Australia’s government turned to Tesla and Neoen, a French renewable-energy company, after its residents suffered through a storm-caused power failure and blackout last year.

Today, South Australian Premier Jay Weatherill hailed the wind farm and battery system as “history in the making.”

“South Australia is now leading the world in dispatchable renewable energy, delivered to homes and businesses 24/7,” he said.

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