Could Tesla help prevent a future energy debacle in Texas?
Our neighbors in Texas got hit hard by the recent unexpected Arctic blast—some folks I know are still trying to repair water damage from pipes that burst in the freeze. Public reactions divided along predictable lines—Governor Greg Abbot falsely blamed frozen wind turbines for the massive power outages, but by most accounts, weather-related breakdowns at natural gas pipelines and other fossil fuel infrastructure played a bigger role in the debacle.
Above: A look at Tesla's Megapack stationary battery storage (Source: Tesla)
One thing everyone should be able to agree on, however: the weather-related disaster was an embarrassing fiasco that shouldn’t have happened in a technologically advanced country (somehow, wind farms in places like Germany, Norway and Greenland are able to keep running through the winter). It’s safe to assume that there'll be some changes made (a few heads have already rolled), and that the next cold snap will find the Lone Star State better prepared.
One important infrastructure improvement will be a major expansion in battery storage, so it seems supremely serendipitous that Tesla, one of the leading purveyors of stationary batteries at all three levels—residential, commercial and utility-scale—is boosting its presence in Texas (see the Austin Terafactory, Starbase and the newest Texan, X AE A-XII Musk).
Stationary storage enables utilities to better balance supply and demand and to make the grid more resilient, whatever energy source is being used. And local, distributed storage gives individuals and businesses a backup plan for when the grid goes down. During the debacle, homeowners who had Tesla Powerwalls were able to keep the lights and the heat on while their neighbors’ houses were dark.
Now Bloomberg has reported (via Teslarati) that a Tesla subsidiary called Gambit Energy Storage is quietly working on a massive energy storage project in Angleton, near Houston. The new storage site, which is adjacent to a Texas-New Mexico Power substation, is expected to have a capacity of 100 megawatts—enough to power about 20,000 homes—and should go into operation this June.
The new storage site is registered with the Electric Reliability Council of Texas (ERCOT), the organization that manages the state’s interconnected electrical grid. According to Bloomberg, projects representing some 2,100 megawatts of battery storage are in the process of getting hooked up to the Texas grid. Hopefully this will enable ERCOT to reclaim the “R” that it forfeited in the recent collapse (Elon Musk wasn’t the only one to point out the irony).
In the past, Tesla has trumpeted some of its Brobdingnagian battery builds, like the one in South Australia, which was launched in 2017 after a colorful Twitter exchange among Musk and several Down Under power brokers. However, for whatever reason, the company appears to have kept the Texas project mostly under wraps. At the site, white sheets concealed what appeared to be Tesla Megapacks, and a worker told inquisitive journalists that it was a “secretive project.” Bloomberg had to do a little digging to confirm that Tesla is indeed behind the venture.
The Gambit project was originally developed by San Francisco-based renewable energy specialist Plus Power. Scott Albert, Angleton’s former City Manager, told Bloomberg that it’s “obvious” that Plus Power is working with Tesla.
It may be that, like any company that’s planning a major move, Tesla doesn’t want the world to know the extent of its Texas-size plans, for fear of driving up property prices. “Elon Musk has a lot of activity in Texas right now,” said Albert. “It wouldn’t surprise me if Musk is thinking about starting his own power company.”