Is it possible that the biggest challenge to the economics of wind and solar renewable energy is about to be overcome?

Missing from the equation, up until this point, have been dependable, last-lasting, environmentally acceptable mega-batteries.

Wind farms are great in theory – harnessing the wind, no carbon emissions, etc. etc.

But the costs go crazy when the wind doesn’t blow. Mother Nature doesn’t care about when mankind needs that power – like on the coldest and hottest days of the years.

But if there were mega-batteries alongside those wind farms, storing wind energy when it was plentiful, supplying it to the grid when the wind died down … now we’re talking.

It’s been a pipe dream, until now.

Maybe it’s just Elon Musk’s great big mouth, but his electric car/renewable energy/battery company Tesla may have done the economically impossible.

Tesla has just installed the world’s biggest lithium-ion battery (actually banks and banks of battery packs) in South Australia beside a mega-wind farm.

The context of the world’s first mega-battery is very political, just like Alberta and Ontario’s controversial green energy policies.

The Australian government went nuts over renewable energy, creating far too much reliance on wind power (40% of South Australia’s power generation) without sufficient back-up in case of exceptional no-wind periods.

You guessed right. Last September the wind stopped blowing. Australia had an electricity-supply crisis. Some 30,000 homes were blacked out for days.

Musk made a bet that Tesla could assemble the world’s biggest battery in Southern Australia within 100 days, within budget, to store 129 MwH (mega-watt hours) of wind-generated power: Coincidentally enough to supply the electricity needs of 30,000 homes. How about that!

One hundred and twenty-nine MwH hour storage capacity isn’t such a big deal – Alberta already has 10 times that amount of wind-power capacity in its current wind farms.

BUT, if mega-battery storage systems prove reliable without breaking the bank – and there’s dozens bigger than Tesla’s already announced – the cost of wind power may drop by being more reliable and ending the need for back-up generation (i.e. expensive natural gas turbines).

On the solar energy side (i.e. photovoltaic solar panels) in our northern climes, the future probably lies in home-based solar power systems with a cost-efficient home battery about the size of a new furnace.

In my Edmonton neighbourhood at least four or five roofs are now covered with solar panels. But they are must stay grid-connected to keep the refrigerator and the lights on when the sun ain’t shining, and, apparently, to sell unneeded power back into the grid.

I don’t understand the economics of investing $10,000 in a solar panel system, and still paying all the delivery and distribution charges that currently make up most of your monthly residential power bill … even if excess power can be sold back into the grid.

But with a big home-based battery to go with the solar panels up on the roof and provide power 24 hours a day, seven days a week, all ties to the city power grid could be cut … which means not paying all those distribution, transmission, balancing pool allocations, rate riders and local access fees.

Tesla, Mercedes Benz and other major companies say home-based battery packs to go with solar panels are around the corner. The vision? With an electric car in the garage, those solar panels up on the roof and a big battery in your basement could supply all your electrical, heating and transportation energy needs.

How much of this is pie-in-the-sky?

I don’t know. It would take much convincing to switch from paying $200 to $300 a month to our reliable natural gas and electricity suppliers to a brave new world of buying, installing and figuring out a solar-panel and battery-based energy system for your home.

And would you be willing to cut the cord, to go completely off-grid? Would you actually save money?

No matter what, these choices are coming at us. Anyone building a home today would be crazy not to at least look into solar panels and the new house batteries. I’m all for free-market competition, as long as government doesn’t load the dice by subsidizing one energy source over another – which of course our current New Democrat government is doing.