CAN JAY WEATHER IT ALL? How the SA Premier is becoming the Energizer bunny of renewables.

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They say a week is a long time in politics but, phew, its been a busy 18 months at Mission Control at South Australia’s ALP Headquarters. At the bridge, Captain Kirk, aka SA Premier Jay Weatherill and Spock, Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis are boldly going where no state government has gone before, hyper-driving the state into a brave new renewable energy tomorrow.

3 hearty cheers to the both of them.

We have watched with sometimes delight, sometimes trepidation, sometimes disbelief as the Premier Who Could emerged from the train wreck of the now infamous 2016 blackouts re-energised, more determined and just plain aggressive. It all started when he shirtfronted Frydenberg at a press conference convened for some kind of LNP self-congratulatory love in. This was the single most exciting piece of political television I’d seen in years, simply because of its spontaneity and essentially established the battle lines between the Feds and SA – good stuff.

The mischief makers who claimed SA’s push toward renewable power was the cause for the 2016 blackout were eventually shouted down as SAPN (South Australia Power Network) set about picking up all those transmission towers that fell over in the wind – a real blackout maker if ever there was one. A bit like a school boy who is being rubbished because he hasn’t the latest and greatest sports equipment, JW decided to adopt the old adage and let “actions speak louder than words”. The kid with the crap cricket bat now has the nations best batting average and is still not out on his way to the countries first century – 100% renewable power generation and supply. (The ACT fiefdom doesn’t count).

Then the next thing you know, our man Jay has become a de-facto member of the Billionaire Boys Club, striking deals with not only with Elon Musk but also Sanjeev Gupta, the nice guy British steel baron who has graciously decided to contribute to South Australia’s energy baseload by building a combined 1 gigawatt renewable energy supply system for not only his steel factory but yep, the state as well.

Everyone knows now about the Tesla ‘Big Battery’, 100mW of storage, filled by wind power, up near Jamestown. What people may not know is the presence of this thing has actually changed the dynamics of the NEM, the Grid, for the better. The Battery can stabilise the grid with exported power when one of those 50 year old coal fired clunkers blows a gasket. It can do this quickly and simply. When FCAS power is needed (don’t ask – complicated), the Battery has been bidding power into the market at reasonable prices, essentially breaking the back of the gas and coal cartels’ stranglehold on energy prices – another win for the punter. In fact, based around evidence of the Battery’s involvement in this area so far, the FCAS cost savings to the state is enough to pay for the Battery’s cost in the first year of operation. No one predicted this. Happy days. The ‘Tesla Big Battery’ in South Australia is the largest battery of its kind in the world and a template for future models around the world. An experiment between a politician and an energy entrepreneur has resulted in a Thing That Will Work Anywhere. The last energy conference I attended in Las Vegas in November 2017 was ground breaking because everyone I met knew about South Australia. Don’t Yanks usually confuse Australia with Austria? Not any more, thanks to Captain Kirk.

Don’t forget the go ahead for the ‘Lava Lamp’ – a 150mW solar thermal power plant in Pt. Augusta, designed to provide the SA Governments power requirements but, typically for a Weatherill project, extra juice for the punters. 120mW for the pollies, 30mW for the greenest population in Australia.

Then there is the truly tantalising prospect of this state government again leading the way in the ‘pumped hydro’ space. This old, proven, out of fashion technology is the renewable energy answer and the Weatherill administration has approved at least 2 projects. No doubt there will be more in the pipe, if you’ll pardon the pun.

Add to these a cluster of wind, solar, storage projects either under way or about to go green and you have the most dynamic, concentrated and downright exciting uptake of renewable projects anywhere in the world. Go you good thing.

However, his latest announcement, the creation of a “250 megawatt Virtual Power Plant” sounds a lot like  ”and for my next trick…”. This one is a little more complicated but the reasoning is sound. There is a lot of stuff that is not figured out yet to make this work. It could – it’s just not figured out yet. I’m a bit concerned our man JayWeath has been seduced by Musk after the success of the Tesla ‘Big Battery’. You see, the model is 50,000 homes fitted with solar and storage (ie Tesla batteries). Don’t know yet how all of this paid for but…whatever. These 50,000 roofs will, if needed, via their stored battery power, provide essential grid service if required, giving AEMO access to 250mW of back up electricity, further stabilising the grid if there is an ‘event’. All good in theory, great for Tesla – 50,000 x $12,000 per battery = $600M. Our Renewable Captain, Jay Weatherill might want to look at other storage companies, other techs, just a thought. Just because Musk helped you out that time with his battery doesn’t mean he…cares about you.

But honestly, for those of us who’ve worked in the renewable energy space for a while now, it’s encouraging at least ONE political leader is prepared to become a ‘disruptor’, just like us. There is at least one who has the foresight and the integrity to see the bigger picture, one who is prepared to risk his own political career for what we elected him for in the first place – to represent and facilitate through political process WHAT THE PEOPLE WANT. At least one who is going for it. (Daniel Andrews in Victoria is starting to get his act together – but he’s got to get re-elected himself).

2018 in South Australia is an election year. Jay Weatherwill has, in my opinion, given the people of South Australia much to be proud of.  Climate change is real, uptake of renewable energy is real, voters looking for true leadership in this space is real, JayDub is delivering in this space and thank you someone is. He has set a precedent for the other states to follow. Let’s see if he gets voted in again…


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