Billionaires Elon Musk and Mike Cannon-Brookes begin plans for alternative energy

Elon Musk Mike Cannon-Brookes

The race for alternative energy has commenced in Australia with tech billionaire Mike Cannon-Brookes in talks with Elon Musk about a replacement power source for the soon-to-be defunct Liddell coal-fired power plant in New South Wales.

The Atlassian founder spoke to Tesla’s Elon Musk on the phone earlier this week to discuss the viability of large scale batteries to store electricity. However, Cannon-Brookes added that Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison and his government need to set the rules of engagement first before any investments are made.

“I was in contact [with Elon Musk] overnight, unsurprisingly. Tesla builds fantastic batteries,” he told the AFR.

“If there was an option to be involved in a project as expected, they would say, sure, let’s have a look at it. Right?”

The rush to be involved with such a revolutionary project came after Morrison threatened to build a gas-fired power plant if there was no interest from the private sector to help replace the 1,000 megawatts of dispatchable power generated by the Liddell plant that the state required before it shuts down in 2023.

Cannon-Brookes has shown interest in a solution to Morrison’s ultimatum but was still uncertain as to what his government considers a dispatchable source of power. He requested clearer deadlines and added that the market should determine the ideal replacement for the AGL-owned power plant.

“Let the rules be clear and let people play the game. It’s almost like the answer has been given [that a gas plant is needed] and there’s no question.”

For now it appears that Cannon-Brookes has his sights set on the latest battery technology. He explained that it was one of the fastest developing solutions today while also being commercially viable. He further reinforced his support by citing an example of how AGL had plans to transform the Liddell site into a giant electricity storage facility which would install 850 megawatts of large-scale batteries over four years.

“If you want a large-scale battery, there’s only a couple of companies that can do that.

“[But] if you say we’re building a gas plant no matter what, then guess what? They’re not going to be interested because they actually have nothing to bid for or against.”

While the talks are in its elementary stages, it’s not the first time that Elon Musk and Cannon-Brookes have teamed up. During a Twitter exchange in 2017 Cannon-Brookes challenged Musk to solve South Australia’s grid problems by building a battery in less than 100 days. Musk delivered with the help of French company Neoen who took a little over two years to recover the cost of construction.

Speaking of the current proposal, Cannon-Brookes said that if the government wants it done fast, they need just one condition met.

“Tell us there’s an April deadline. We’re great with deadlines. Tell us they have to be live by 2023 December. Great.

“These are the rules of the game. Let the market bid for that.

“My concern is having the rules there so that I could be open to it; without those rules there’s no no way that I could be open to it no matter what.”

Cannon-Brookes wasn’t entirely critical of the Morrison government’s handling of the situation. He added that their proposals such as new interconnectors to better integrate renewable energy into the grid was a move in the right direction.

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