Secretive Battery Project Launched in Texas


When it comes to automakers jumping into electrification, nobody does it like Tesla. Its complete reliance on the success of battery-electric vehicles has encouraged it to make the kind of big moves that cause trepidation in traditional manufacturers. While other companies were debating how many EVs they should target years down the road, Tesla was building the proprietary charging network that actually helped those vehicles make sense to consumers.

Now, it’s using a new subsidiary to place another piece of the puzzle directly into Texas’ energy grid. Gambit Energy Storage is reportedly building a 100-megawatt energy hub in Angleton, following widespread outages in the greater Houston area. While it’s known that Tesla has started shifting operations to The Lonestar State after CEO Elon Musk announced he had enough of California at the start of 2020, the Gambit project is not something the automaker has decided to advertise — even though it seems to play favorably into its long-term strategy.

We only know about it because someone at Bloomberg noticed that fillings with the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission listed Gambit as a Tesla subsidiary. Construction has reportedly been underway for some time, with workers covering equipment nightly while the entire site is being kept under wraps.

From Bloomberg:

The battery-storage system being built by Tesla’s Gambit subsidiary is registered with Ercot. Warren Lasher, senior director of system planning at Ercot, said the project has a proposed commercial operation date of June 1. The site is adjacent to a Texas-New Mexico Power substation.

While Tesla is known for its sleek, battery-powered electric vehicles, it’s always been more than a car company: its official mission is to “accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy.” Utility-scale batteries are needed to store the electricity produced by wind and solar, but they can also become lucrative opportunities. By storing excess electricity when prices and demand are low, battery owners can sell it back to the grid when prices are high.

This also may be a way to mitigate issues that could otherwise hinder the widespread adoption of EVs — or perhaps test the concept on a modest scale. Some engineers have suggested that few energy grids (if any) could facilitate the kind of draw necessary to accommodate a large portion of the population plugging in electric cars each evening. One popular solution to the conundrum involves installing gigantic energy storage stations wherever they’ll fit and ensuring as many people as possible have the ability to store a substantial amount of energy at home, too. That way, the blow of peak-draw hours could be softened by whatever juice had been stored up during parts of the day where the grid was undertaxed.

While critics of the plan often fret over the potential environmental damages associated with non-stop battery production and frequently suggest that we may not be able to meet demand under even the best of circumstances, their alternatives frequently leave something to be desired. Most encourage mixed energy solutions with an increased reliance on nuclear power since it’s more easily scaled up and technically cleaner than most other forms of energy production. But harnessing the atom remains unpopular with a subset of the population who recall the landscape-altering disasters in Fukushima and Chernobyl.

Besides, the decision already appears to have been made. The Biden administration has vowed to make the national adoption of EVs a key issue and its environmental policy prioritizes renewables, which would need something like mass battery storage to handle the kind of energy we’re likely to need in the coming years. Texas has been an oil and natural gas state for as long as anyone can remember. But it’s gradually transitioning toward wind and solar. Even Germany — which has actually seen its emissions increase since prioritizing renewable solutions, resulting in mass protests — has remained committed to green energy.

Meanwhile, outfits like Plus Power (which is working with Tesla in Angleton) are building battery hubs intended to complement energy grids around the country. Tesla Energy already has something akin to what it’s working on in Texas built and operational in South Australia, too.

Despite the name Gambit sounding like the parent company lacks full faith in the project, Elon Musk has already said he expects the energy management side of Tesla to eventually eclipse its automotive operations. One could argue that the company getting into home energy solutions (e.g. Powerwall, solar roof) and building its own charging network were the opening moves in that stratagem. These gargantuan battery hubs appear to be the next phase and we’re curious to see how they’re received by the public. Though we cannot say that we’re heartened by the clandestine manner in which this is being handled or the weird way in which many new energy firms seem to be secretly related:

The Gambit project was originally developed by San Francisco-based Plus Power, a privately held renewables company that has battery operations in several states. Scott Albert, the former city manager of Angleton, said it was obvious that Plus Power was working with Tesla. A project summary available on the city’s website features images of Tesla’s utility-scale battery products, and some of Plus Power’s principal staffers previously worked at Tesla. (Plus Power confirmed its sale of the project to an undisclosed party and declined further comment.)

The Gambit project is not hard to find in Angleton, a small town of roughly 3,000 people in the middle of the Brazoria National Wildlife Refuge. But people on the construction site appear to have instructions to avoid drawing attention or answering questions from passersby. A photographer who attempted to observe from the front gate was told by a worker that it was a “secretive project.” White sheets obscured what appeared to be Tesla’s modular Megapacks.

[Image: Jag_cz/Shutterstock]

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