coco laura and the tesla powered chocolate factory

wind and solar are contributing a significant share of south australia’s electric power supply

tuesday, october 20th, (10/20/2020) began with medium to low expectations. we are going to be driving three hours out of adelaide into the south australia countryside (and three hours back) to see a big battery that stores power from a nearby wind farm. (i’m trembling in anticipation.)

well ok, it’s a REALLY BIG battery. (yawn)

but six hours of driving? for a 90 minute tour of a battery? this had better be good, pernille.

there is an interesting angle to the story, however. this was the world’s first large scale battery storage facility, and until a few months ago the world’s largest. it’s the brainchild of the inventor elon musk, a massive 150 megawatt lithium-ion tesla “power pack” that’s storing energy produced largely from a nearby 315 megawatt wind farm. according to PV magazine, it’s saved the south australia government tens of millions of dollars in grid stabilization costs and generated $50 million (AUD) more in revenue.

we had to wear protective glasses and cool day-glo tesla vests during our tour of the plant

denmark is part of the story, too. vestas, the danish firm that pioneered the wind turbine industry, has 40% of australia’s windmill market.

the story gets better, though. elon musk built the power pack complex on a bet in 2017 after a freak storm left much of south australia without electricity for several days. during an online debate about the country’s energy security (or lack thereof), musk bet an australian billionaire $50 million that he could have a 100MW tesla battery plant up and running within 100 days or the facility would be free. he won.

the plant’s operations manager, liam pacini, gave us the cook’s tour, even opening up the cabinets to show us the insides, though for proprietary reasons we couldn’t take pictures.

pacini foresees the day when australia can turn off all its coal-fired energy plants and produce 100% of its electricity from renewable sources.

south australia is committed to the 100% goal by 2030, and has already achieved its 2020 goal of 50% renewables. complete independence from fossil fuels is an audacious dream, but if anyone can pull it off, south australia can, with the help of elon musk and tesla’s assemblage of engineering geniuses. as of today, if another emergency were to hit like the one in 2017, the tesla power pack could provide 45,000 homes with electricity for 24 hours.

each cabinet houses thousands of AAA size lithium batteries in a temp-controlled environment

with a souvenir tesla vest in tow, we head back toward adelaide. we had driven out in the morning through picturesque wine country, so we decide to drive back along the coast road to see more of the countryside. looking at the route on our GPS we notice a little town named laura just a few kilometers down the road.

much to our delight, the town has been completely “laurified”

as many readers of this blog may know, we named our daughter laura after our dear friend laura kakko, a finnish diplomat who we came to know and love during our india days. kakko laura, as we affectionately called her, left us too soon, but not before blessing our holiday house in denmark with moomin collectibles inspired by the moomin children’s books written by the swedish-speaking finnish illustrator tove jansson.

so kakko laura was surely alongside us as we parked in front of a sign reading “coco laura”, and walked in to a wonderland of chocolates and other assorted confections created by the master chocolatier david medlow.

the maestro himself just happened to be in, and was busily creating a batch of his incomparable “peckton’s berry fruits”, (he let us sample). his secret ingredient: none other than real danish pectin. he swears it’s the best money can buy, and he had a big bag of it under his table to prove it.

the main part of the business, however, is chocolates, beautifully gift-wrapped for delivery anywhere in the world. the shelves in the shop are a bit bare, because in this time of COVID, australians are confined to their home country. as a result, they’re spending holidays exploring back roads leading to places like laura. coco laura is having trouble keeping up with customer demand. business in the time of COVID has never been better.

one thing for sure. we’re going to become regular cocolaura customers. it’s easy to order online at and cocolaura chocolates will make a perfect arrival gift when we’re invited for dinner!

by the time we leave the little town of laura, the sun is descending rapidly toward the western horizon. we “proceed to the route” along the coast road, realizing that a course correction is needed. pernille, after all, is on duty. it’s a work day. she had hoped to be back at the hotel by 6:30p.m. to use the wifi system for a scheduled zoom meeting with ministry colleagues in copenhagen. but there’s not enough time to make it.

this, however, is the age of cell phone hot spots. checking our GPS, we realize we can make it by 6:25 to the st. kilda beach bird sanctuary we had visited two days earlier.

so as the sun begins to sink over the water, at precisely 6:28 p.m., pernille sits herself down on a seaside bench, binoculars in hand, and dials into the meeting on her iPad.

only one noisy seagull threatens to give her away, demanding food. but he is quickly shooed off.

for a full hour, pernille sits listening in to her colleagues back home while the setting sun plays peek-a-boo through the clouds and a melange of birds frolic in the tidewater.

but then, at the stroke of 7:30, the session is over. (these are danes, after all). the work day is done, and pernille turns to ask, “what’s for dinner?”

as it happens, there’s a beachfront restaurant just across the road, and they’re having a “schnitzel special” on this evening’s menu. as we enter the restaurant and look around, we realize immediately that most of the patrons are clearly not first timers at schnitzel night. the beer fridge is well stocked, too. you might say they offer a melange of brews.

we pass on the schnitzel and order lighter fare washed down with zero alcohol beers. (we’re driving). the food, as it turns out, is quite tasty, if not exactly low cal.

that night, back at the hotel, tucked comfortably in our bed, we assess the days’ proceedings and tick the box “exceeds expectations”. an understatement.


  1. Scott says:

    What a cool trip!


  2. Roy Hughes says:

    We have a cruise planned for 2022 to visit Australia and New Zealand. Your blog is great for destination ideas. Scandinavia is next on the itinerary. I hope we can meet up somewhere.



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