Nuclear bomb hits Areva’s flow battery programme

The Areva energy storage programme, including the Areva Schneider Electric flow battery project, is in doubt following the company's profit warning and share price meltdown. Photo credit: FlowBox, KIC-InnoEnergy

The Areva energy storage programme, including the Areva Schneider Electric flow battery project, is in doubt following a profit warning and share price meltdown. Photo credit: FlowBox, KIC-InnoEnergy

The future of a major flow battery initiative appears in doubt after news emerged yesterday of financial troubles at Areva, the French energy giant.

The company, which in October signed an energy storage cooperation agreement with Schneider Electric, announced yesterday afternoon it was suspending its financial outlook for 2015 and 2016 because of problems with its nuclear reactor business.

Areva is currently in a legal wrangle with Teollisuuden Voima Oyj (TVO), a Finnish nuclear power company, over the construction of a new European Pressurized Reactor (EPR) at Olkiluoto in Western Finland.

The project has been subject to major cost and schedule over-runs, with both parties blaming the other for causing the problems. Yesterday Areva and its Olkiluoto consortium partner Siemens updated an ongoing claim against TVO, to €3.4bn.

Until the matter is resolved there can be little certainty over when Areva will be paid.

Meanwhile the company is also awaiting the renewal of nuclear operations in Japan, other new reactor projects, recycling export contracts and an uptick in “the still lacklustre market for installed base services,” according to yesterday’s press release.
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Don’t believe the public utilities: California rocks

Despite lack of interest from public utilities, the Southern California Edison (SCE) announcement of the winners of its 250MW procurement shows the California energy storage market is growing rapidly. Photo credit: AES Energy Storage

Despite lack of interest from public utilities, the Southern California Edison (SCE) announcement of the winners of its 250MW procurement shows the California energy storage market is growing rapidly. Photo credit: AES Energy Storage

The California energy storage market is coming to life in spite of lacklustre backing from the state’s publicly owned utilities. Last week, Southern California Edison (SCE) announced the winners of contracts for 250MW of energy storage, Greentechmedia said, even as California’s publicly owned utilities committed to a mere 27.6MW by 2016, according to the Energy Matters blog.

The blog claims the California public utilities’ targets, all submitted in response to the Assembly Bill 2514 on energy storage procurement, represent about 0.1% of their combined peak load.

The 27.6MW commitment pretty much all came from just two providers: Redding Public Utilities and the Los Angeles Department of Water and Power (LADWP).
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How to sell energy storage the OutBack way

How do you sell energy storage? We ask OutBack Power, a specialist in residential and commercial solar energy storage systems, what it has learnt.

How do you sell energy storage? We ask OutBack Power, a specialist in residential and commercial solar energy storage systems, what it has learnt. Photo credit: OutBack Power

Energy storage: great idea, but how do you sell it? That’s the question that practically everyone in the industry is asking, so it pays to listen to companies that are having a measure of success. One such business is OutBack Power of Arlington, Washington, USA. The company has already helped the community of Paso Robles in California to become energetically independent by combining solar PV with battery storage.

More generally, OutBack Power specialises in PV-and-battery combos for the residential and commercial markets. So it is in the business of selling energy storage every day.

To find out what the company has learned in the process, we put a bunch of questions to Brian Faley, OutBack’s director of technology. Here’s what he came back with.
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Checking up on the storage start-up scene

We review the energy storage investment opportunities offered by startups at KIC InnoEnergy Business Booster Barcelona – including Atawey, which has developed a hydrogen fuel cell system targeted at mobile base stations with McPhy Energy.

The energy storage investment opportunities offered at KIC InnoEnergy Business Booster Barcelona included Atawey’s hydrogen fuel cell system, developed with McPhy Energy. Photo credit: Atawey

What companies would you put your money in if you were a clean-tech angel investor looking to back an energy storage start-up? With plenty of young businesses out there crying for cash, it is not like you would be stuck for choice.

But, as Energy Storage Report found out last week at the KIC InnoEnergy Business Booster in Barcelona, selecting a winner is not that easy… because there are so many good ideas to choose from.

The Business Booster was a two-day event where start-ups from a range of energy-related fields set out to woo an audience including nine angel investors and three venture capital firms. Five electricity storage hopefuls took the stage during the event.

Enerstone, of France, opened the storage track with a pitch for an ingenious battery management system that extends lifetimes and cycle rates by adjusting the draw on each cell to lessen the impact of weaker cells.
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Why energy storage is (not) a dead-end industry

Energy storage industry experts respond to the damning report on energy return on investment from IFK Berlin. Photo credit: Airlight Energy, CSP thermal energy storage

Energy storage industry experts respond to the IFK Berlin report on energy return on investment (EROI) for renewable energy. Photo: Airlight Energy, CSP thermal energy storage

Is investment in energy storage worth the effort? Didn’t we find out last week that our industry is going nowhere because of the fundamental constraint of its energy return on investment (EROI)? Perhaps we had better take another look, just to be on the safe side.

First off: let’s not panic. While EROI studies point to a possibly critical problem in relying too heavily on energy storage for renewable power generation, the effects, if real, are presumably only likely to kick in at relatively high levels of penetration.

We are a long way off that yet. Meanwhile, there is the fact that the science around EROI, while apparently robust, is still relatively immature and clearly evolving, as indeed are the technologies and manufacturing processes being described.

This potentially implies uncertainty around current EROI assertions and predictions.

Certainly, most sector professionals consulted by Energy Storage Report had few qualms about dismissing the research: “BS” and “hokum” were among the terms used by knowledgeable industry insiders.

Some observers question the impartiality of parts of the research to date.
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Why energy storage is a dead-end industry

A report by IFK Berlin on the energy return on investment (EROI) of battery energy storage, when used to balance intermittent renewable energy on a grid scale, suggests it may not be viable.

An IFK Berlin report on the energy return on investment (EROI) of battery energy storage suggests it isn’t viable when used to balance intermittent renewable energy. Photo credit: Guto

Could energy storage send us back to the Stone Age? Galling as it may seem to those of us who view storage as the solution to the problem of renewable energy intermittency, and hence the key to a carbon-free future, there is a growing body of evidence that suggests this might indeed be the case.

The studies have nothing to do with energy storage’s main preoccupation at the moment, which is cost. Instead, they deal with a much more fundamental issue: how much energy it takes to be able to store the energy in the first place.

The concept of energy return on investment (EROI, also called energy returned on energy invested) is critical to energy storage because it provides a measure of whether a particular technology might be appropriate for use at scale.

In essence, if it takes more energy to create a given storage mechanism than the mechanism could ever deliver over the course of its life, then the net result of using the technology is that it will cannibalise power rather than return it to the system.
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