August 1, 2021

Fire breaks out at Tesla Big Battery; toxic smoke warning issued

By Nick Toscano - July 30, 2021 —

Emergency services are warning of toxic smoke after a fire erupted at Victoria’s new Tesla Big Battery, the largest lithium-ion battery in the country.

One of the Tesla megapack batteries at the site in Moorabool, near Geelong, caught fire during testing shortly after 10am on Friday, according to French renewable energy giant Neoen.

“We can confirm that during initial testing today at approximately 10-10.15am a fire occurred within one of the Tesla Megapacks at the Victorian Big Battery,” Neoen Australia managing director Louis de Sambucy said. “No one was injured and the site has been evacuated.”

Neoen and Tesla are working with emergency services to manage the situation.

Emergency services issued a warning for toxic smoke in the nearby Batesford, Bell Post Hill, Lovely Banks and Moorabool areas. Residents were warned to move indoors, close windows, vents and fireplace flues and bring their pets inside.

Neoen said the site had been disconnected from the power grid and there wouldn’t be an impact on the state’s electricity supply.

The Australian Energy Market Operator said the site was safely isolated from the power grid.

“We can confirm the incident has not impacted electricity supply,” a spokesman said.

“We continue to work with the asset owner, Victorian electricity network businesses and relevant authorities in response to the incident.”

Paul McArdle, of energy market consultancy Global Roam, said the first sign of any operations at the big battery was at 6.15pm on Thursday, with 25 megawatts of charging.

“It only started operating under 24 hours ago,” he said. “It’s not been a great start.”

The Victorian Big Battery, with a capacity of 300 megawatts and 450 megawatt-hours, is three times bigger than the initial size of billionaire Elon Musk’s Tesla big battery built in South Australia in 2017.

It is scheduled to begin operating before this summer’s peak demand period.

In Australia and worldwide, battery technology is emerging as key to supporting the greater uptake of renewables by overcoming the problem of intermittency when it is not sunny or windy. Big batteries capture and store excess power created during times when conditions for renewable energy are most favourable, and then release it when it’s needed during peak-usage periods such as during heatwaves.

The Victorian Big Battery is one of several battery projects that have been announced in recent months. Origin Energy unveiled ambitious plans to build a 700-megawatt battery at its Eraring coal-fired power station in NSW, which would be the nation’s largest, while AGL is seeking to roll out 1000 megawatts of batteries across several sites.

The Victorian Big Battery will be owned and operated by Neoen. The company will pay for the construction of the battery and maintenance, while consumers will pay for use of the battery through their power bills.

The Andrews government says this cost will be offset by the reduction in power costs. But industry representatives for the nation’s largest energy and gas providers have criticised the project as a “bad idea”, which lacks independent scrutiny of costs and benefits or clarity on how it would participate in the energy market.

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