Battery key to island’s hybrid system

SMA's Sint Eustatius hybrid solar, battery and diesel plant.

SMA has commissioned a hybrid solar, battery and diesel plant to reduce fossil fuel consumption on the Caribbean island of Sint Eustatius.


By Jason Deign

Inverter maker SMA Solar Technology yesterday confirmed commissioning of a hybrid battery, PV and diesel system covering the electricity needs of a small Caribbean island.

The system will allow the 21km2, 3,500-population island of Sint Eustatius, in the Caribbean Netherlands, to cut its fossil-fuel consumption by 30%, equivalent to 800,000 litres of diesel and 2,200 tons of CO2 a year.

The hybrid system includes a 1.9MW solar plant, which can cover more than 23% of the island’s 13.5GWh annual electricity demand, plus 1MW of battery storage.

Diesel genset integration is through SMA’s Fuel Save Controller 2.0 software. SMA also supplied a Sunny Central Storage 1000 battery inverter and a Medium Voltage Power Station 1000.

This “enables a measured solar fraction of up to 88% during sunshine hours and supports the grid with stability functions such as frequency regulation, ramp-rate control for PV and optimisation of diesel genset operation,” SMA said.

Local meteorological conditions

Storage an important part of the project because of local meteorological conditions, said Volker Wachenfeld, executive vice president of SMA’s off-grid and storage business unit.

“Rapid movement of clouds in this region, in particular, leads to extreme fluctuations in solar power generation which constrains the integration of large-scale photovoltaics into diesel-based grids,” he said.

“That’s why using large-scale storage systems is meaningful for this application as they minimise the impact of fluctuating energy sources on diesel generators.”

The project also includes a service contract and a customised PV hybrid monitoring system engineered and commissioned by SMA Sunbelt Energy, an SMA subsidiary.

Until March Sint Estatius, which is known by locals as ‘Statia’, was entirely dependent on diesel generation. The Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs funded the island’s move towards renewables.

Fossil fuel reduction

“We were looking for fossil fuel reduction and at the same time for a solution with both very low maintenance and also stand-alone operation,” said Fred Cuvalay, CEO of the Statia Utility Company, in press materials.

“SMA provided a hybrid system solution exactly tailored to our needs, which is extremely user-friendly.”

The project is said to be the first of its kind in the Caribbean region and “will likely serve as an example of what’s possible to neighbouring islands,” according to SMA.

Sint Estatius’ status as a burgeoning Caribbean renewable energy leader is somewhat ironic considering the island’s largest private employer is Statia Terminals, an oil terminal firm belonging to US pipeline operator NuStar Energy.

However, SMA is not the only company that thinks the Statia hybrid energy model could have applications elsewhere.

Off-grid hybrid plant

Earlier this month the Spanish wind turbine maker Gamesa unveiled a prototype 2MW off-grid hybrid plant design incorporating solar, wind, diesel and battery power.

“Rural areas, islands and other remote corners of the planet stand to benefit from these off-grid solutions which can generate cheaper and cleaner power,” said Gamesa chairman Ignacio Martín in a press statement.

The company, which in 2007 installed a wind-diesel hybrid in the Galapagos Islands, expects to sell up to 1.2GW of off-grid systems “in the coming years,” said David Mesonero, director of business development.

Gamesa told Greentech Media it was “actively marketing the solution, and is analysing dozens of projects in off-grid areas, mostly in Asia-Pacific, Africa and Latin America.”

Interest in hybrid systems combining renewables with storage and diesel has been alive for well over a decade.

Solar, diesel and battery hybrids

In 2006, for example, a study found that solar, diesel and battery hybrids were a viable alternative to grid extensions in Cameroon, Central Africa.

“Results show that there is a possibility to increase the access rate to electricity in the far north province without recourse to grid extension[,] more thermal plants or more independent diesel plants supplying remote areas,” it said.

More recently, the MIT Technology Review cited military equipment provider Earl Energy as saying that hybrid power systems using batteries and diesel “should cut by 50 to 70% the amount of fuel needed to generate electricity.”

Earl Energy was commercialising hybrid solar, battery and diesel systems for “over USD$100,000,” said to be comparable to the top-end price for a similarly sized genset.

And that was in 2011. Given recent strides in energy storage performance and cost reduction, it is likely the case for hybrid systems is much better now than it has been in the past.

P2P energy player lobbies for storage

Battery storage in P2P energy networks could help businesses such as the Eden Project save money. (Pic: Jürgen Matern)

Battery storage in P2P energy networks could help businesses such as the Eden Project save money. (Pic: Jürgen Matern)

By Jason Deign

Peer-to-peer (P2P) power supplier Open Utility is planning to pressure the UK electricity market regulator towards introducing grid-balancing measures that could include energy storage.

The company, which runs an energy marketplace called Piclo, hopes to convince the Office of Gas and Electricity Markets (Ofgem) that P2P networks are good for consumers and distributed generation asset owners.

“There are significant benefits in better balancing renewables and demand on a local electricity network,” said James Johnston, Open Utility’s CEO and co-founder. “Energy storage will be key in enabling this balancing.”

Currently, he said, UK regulations do little to encourage the use of energy storage in P2P networks. Piclo, which allows businesses to buy renewable power directly from source, does not currently include storage, for example.

However, Johnston said: “If regulations allow for it, incentivising local balancing using P2P energy matching could unlock significant financial rewards for local consumers and generators.”

Developing a change proposal

As a result, he said: “We are currently developing a change proposal for Ofgem to address this.”

The company is working with Reckon, an economics consultancy, on the detail of the proposal.

Energy Storage Report believes it will focus on allowing consumers to cut distribution network operator charges by sourcing distributed energy resources (DERs) from nearby generation sources on a half-hourly basis.

“For innovative models such as Piclo to be at their most effective, regular access to granular, half-hourly data is a core requirement,” says Open Utility in a report on a recent trial with 37 renewable energy generators and businesses.

In the trial, Good Energy, a renewable energy firm, dealt with customer contracts and billing, and the Eden Project, a sustainable visitor attraction in Cornwall, was one of the highest-profile customers.

Adding batteries to distributed energy assets

While storage is not expressly mentioned in the report, it is clear that adding batteries to distributed energy assets would enable these to operate more flexibly in meeting local demand.

“We use actual smart meter data to match consumption with local generation on a half-hourly basis,” Johnston commented.

“This means it’s a dynamic system and consumers will get a varied energy mix, depending on how windy, sunny or wet it is.”

Even without storage, according to Open Utility, the use of a platform such as Piclo to cut Distribution Use of System charges could reduce the Eden Project’s electricity bill by 39% a year.

“Simple rules could also be introduced to ensure Eden Project share some of this reward with the local generators,” says Open Utility.

Leading the charge for P2P energy in the UK

The company is leading the charge for P2P energy exchanges in the UK in the wake of the concept’s success in Germany, through the efforts of companies such as Caterva, LichtBlick and Sonnen, and Netherlands, through Vandebron.

It is unclear at this point whether poor support for residential storage could hamper the development of P2P networks in the UK.

In Germany, storage is routinely used for such platforms, for example forming a cornerstone of Sonnen’s sonnenCommunity.

In the UK, meanwhile, other P2P hopefuls are looking to include storage in their portfolios, regardless of the regulatory environment.

Cambridge-based Origami Energy, for instance, has raised GBP£13.7m in Series A funding “to connect, control and actively manage a large network of existing energy generating/energy using/energy storing assets.”

Storage has great appeal for the company “in being able to plug it in to a wider network of different energy assets for optimisation,” said a company insider.

P2P energy networks given a boost

More widely, P2P energy networks could be given a boost across Europe with the completion next year of a project called P2P-SmartTest.

The project “will employ P2P approaches to ensure the integration of demand-side flexibility and the optimum operation of DER and other resources within the network,” says the P2P-SmartTest website.

Even Open Utility is planning to incorporate storage into its offering before long.

“We very much see peer-to-peer and energy storage as symbiotic technologies and intend to integrate storage into Piclo in the future,” said Nima Taba-tabai, head of sales and partnerships at the company.

Nevertheless, Johnston said: “I think energy storage will remain at the fringes of P2P energy networks in the UK over next 12 months.”

This could change, though, if Ofgem makes a move. “If there is some movement to properly account for local balancing, this could provide significant new revenue streams for energy storage,” Johnston noted.

Oil giants pile into energy storage

This five-year chart of Brent crude prices shows the pain oil companies have been experiencing since mid-2014... and why they might be looking to diversify into energy storage.

This five-year chart of Brent crude prices shows the pain oil companies have been experiencing since mid-2014… and why they might be looking to diversify into energy storage (chart: CNBC).

By Jason Deign

The last week has seen two Big Oil firms move into energy storage as continuing low prices for crude force petroleum sector players to diversify.

On Monday the French oil giant Total announced a friendly takeover of Saft Groupe, which specialises in batteries for the transport, industry and defence sectors.

The €950m purchase represents a 38.3% premium on Saft’s share price on the close of business the Friday before the announcement. It is also 41.9% above Saft’s weighted average share price over the previous six months, Total said.

“The acquisition of Saft is part of Total’s ambition to accelerate its development in the fields of renewable energy and electricity, initiated in 2011 with the acquisition of SunPower,” said Patrick Pouyanné, Total’s chairman and CEO.

“It will notably allow us to complement our portfolio with electricity storage solutions, a key component of the future growth of renewable energy.”

Tie-up with FuelCell Energy

Last Thursday, meanwhile, the US supermajor ExxonMobil unveiled a tie-up with Nasdaq listed FuelCell Energy, to “pursue novel technology in power plant carbon dioxide capture through a new application of carbonate fuel cells.”

ExxonMobil said two years of lab tests had demonstrated that using carbonate fuel cells along with natural gas-fired power generation could capture carbon dioxide more efficiently than existing scrubber technology.

“The potential breakthrough comes from an increase in electrical output using the fuel cells, which generate power, compared to a nearly equivalent decrease in electricity using conventional technology,” said the company.

“The resulting net benefit has the potential to substantially reduce costs associated with carbon capture for natural gas-fired power generation, compared to the expected costs associated with conventional technology.”

The moves by ExxonMobil and Total come three months after Norway’s state-owned oil and gas giant, Statoil, trumpeted a $200m, four-to-seven-year investment in energy storage, renewables, efficiency and smart grids.

Attractive and ambitious companies

The funding, to be administered through a new spinoff called Statoil Energy Ventures, will be directed at “attractive and ambitious companies” that could “contribute to shaping the future of energy,” the oil company said

“The transition to a low carbon society creates business opportunities and Statoil aims to drive profitable growth within this space,” said Irene Rummelhoff, Statoil’s executive vice president for New Energy Solutions, in a press note.

Profitable growth is very much a target for oil companies right now.

For the last year and a half crude prices have languished at around $50 a barrel, around half of the amount oil firms were getting at the beginning of 2014, as a result of moves by Saudi Arabia to flood the market.

So far, most petroleum companies have been treading water while awaiting a price upswing and a return to former profits.

Sacrificing oil profits

Recent reports have indicated that Saudi Arabia’s policy of sacrificing oil profits for gains in market share could continue for some time, however.

Against this backdrop, oil supermajors appear to be waking up to the need to diversify quickly in order to preserve profitability.

On the surface, other types of energy production would seem a good fit for oil companies’ expertise and business models.

However, by the end of 2014 most oil companies, bar Total, had divested almost all of their renewable energy operations, despite companies such as BP, Chevron and Royal Dutch Shell having built up early leaderships in solar.

The motives for this retreat are said to range from cash pressures to lack of understanding of renewables.

Core business under threat

With Big Oil’s core business increasingly under threat, though, it is hard to see how the supermajors can fight their way back into a renewable industry now sewn up by companies the size of SolarCity (in solar) or Siemens (wind).

The one remaining niche is energy storage. For oil companies on the lookout for a quick diversification opportunity, energy storage has the advantage of still being dominated by cash-hungry startups with massive growth potential.

In addition, the battery industry is closely allied to transportation, which could be seen as a neat crossover play for petrol firms.

Last but not least, Tesla has shown how the electric vehicle-energy storage combination could fire up shareholders, which might be a handy trick for supermajors to have up their sleeves as the oil price slump continues.

In any event, it seems likely that the energy storage tie-ups seen so far will not be the last to come from the oil and gas industry.


Encell’s hardy battery targets emerging markets

By Jason Deign

Encell graphic: cycle life is determined by oxide solubility.

Encell claims to have a battery chemistry that can beat lithium-ion and lead-acid. Image: Encell.

Battery start-up Encell Technology is taking aim on emerging markets with a residential-scale product that bucks the current trend for sleek, eye-catching design.

The company’s Fused Iron batteries are visually unimpressive but able to perform better and withstand a much wider range of operating conditions than lithium-ion (Li-ion) rivals, said Encell chairman and founder Robert Guyton.

“There are fundamental trade-offs in lithium-ion when it comes to cost, cycle life and safety,” he said. “It’s a zero-sum game.”

Evaluating the trade-offs led Encell to select a nickel-iron battery chemistry instead.

Nickel-iron batteries have low specific energy and poor charge retention but are popular in mining because of their long operating life, of up to 20 years with regular cycling, and their ability to withstand harsh environmental conditions.

“It’s never been on fire”

“Nickel-iron does have huge cycle life,” Guyton explained. “It’s been around since Edison invented it 100 years ago and it’s never been on fire.

“For grid-edge storage, any time you can get better energy density it’s a plus, but cycle life is more important. And then rugged [design means] I don’t have to be really sensitive with temperature, because that just adds to the cost.”

Guyton said Encell had overcome the chemistry’s poor discharge characteristics using fused iron electrodes.

On its website, Encell asserts its products can undergo 15,000 cycles with an 80% depth of discharge (DoD) and “no capacity fade for the first 75% of total cycle life.”

The company’s performance claims have been confirmed by Sandia National Laboratories in the US, Guyton said. “We have cells that have been cycling twice a day for over five years and are over 4,000 100% DoD,” he said.

Market-leading LCOE

This is said to result in a market leading levelised cost of energy (LCOE).

“The Encell Fused Iron Battery is estimated to cost up to one-tenth the price per kilowatt hour on a LCOE basis in comparison to a lead-acid battery with similar name plate capacity,” claims the company.

“The LCOE advantage is even more pronounced versus Li-ion batteries.”

Guyton clarified that Encell’s current energy storage products were priced at around USD$500 per kWh of installed capacity, of which about half was the cost of the battery itself.

“If we had the ability to be produced at volume it would be below $100 per kWh,” he said. “We believe we have the lowest cost of ownership because we don’t need it to be kept at 25ªC. We don’t need cell management.”

Production facility in Florida

Encell makes the batteries itself in a 2.1MWh-a-month production facility in Alachua, Florida, formerly owned by Energizer Power Systems and purchased for “cents on the dollar,” according to Guyton.

The batteries are also available in the US through Iron Edison and via online retailer altE. Guyton said Encell was planning to increase production capacity at Alachua to 1.5GWh a year.

So far the company has completed around 100 installations, mostly comprising 10kWh systems, and around half a dozen larger projects for customers such as Lockheed Martin, Google and a New York hospital.

For the latter, the chemistry had to be approved for in-building installations in downtown Manhattan, which is currently off-limits for Li-ion because of New York City Fire Department regulations.

However, the real market for the Encell storage product is less likely to be Manhattan than any number of emerging markets.

Where you want to abuse the battery

“We think it lends itself to rural electrification in places like Africa and India,” Guyton confirmed. “Any place where it’s super hot, remote, where you want to abuse the battery.”

Guyton said Encell has worked on “a couple” of MWh-scale wind farm-connected storage projects in Latin America and a 100kWh solar-plus-PV project for First Solar and Husk Power Systems in India.

There is also an up to 5MWh project underway at an industrial park in Nicaragua, where the owners want to tie existing wind and solar assets to energy storage in order to extend production by four hours a day.

The company, which was founded in 2006 but has been operating so far under the radar that energy storage analysts consulted by Energy Storage Report said they had never heard of it, is expecting rapid growth going forward.

It has a potential sales pipeline of 191MWh this year, 647MWh in 2017 and 1.6GWh in 2018. “I would say maybe half of it is geared towards projects in emerging areas,” Guyton said.

Viking launches solar-and-cold-storage combo

By Jason Deign

Viking Cold Solutions, a US thermal energy storage start-up, is launching what is likely the world’s first solar-plus-cold-storage combination at Hannover Messe, Germany, this week.

Pic: Viking Cold is aiming to tie its phase-change material cold storage with solar.

Viking Cold is aiming to tie its phase-change material cold storage with solar. Photo: Viking Cold.

Energy Storage Report understands the offering is not so much an integrated product as a concept aimed at raising awareness of the efficiency of cold storage over batteries.

Using cold storage with grid power can improve the efficiency of energy use by up to 34%, Viking Cold claimed.

Combined with solar, it could cut ongoing energy costs much further while providing a quicker return on investment (ROI) than batteries, the company said.

“We aim for a three-year payback,” said James Bell, president and CEO. “Our return on investment is based on energy savings. The bigger the facility, the bigger the savings. It can be tens of thousands of dollars a year.”

Better return on larger projects

The ROI could be even better for cold storage installations that qualify for energy efficiency grants or subsidies, he noted. “And since we pair well with renewables it increases the ROI on these as well.”

The launch at the Hanover Fair, the world’s biggest industrial show, should serve as a European calling card for Viking following the company’s early success in the US.

“We’re already in talks with a number of [European] companies,” Bell said.

The company is launching its phase-change material (PCM)-based cold storage to European audiences after gaining a foothold in the US and Puerto Rico, where the company’s founder, Paul Robbins, has commercial interests.

In fact, much of the early growth of the company was due to Robbins’ links to the frozen goods logistics industry.

Focused on the shipping space

Robbins is president of Caribbean Shipping Services, a chilled commodities shipping firm that operates a 7,900m2 temperature-controlled warehouse in Jacksonville, Florida, USA.

“We were originally focused on the shipping space,” said Bell.

Today Viking Cold works with around 20 customers, including V. Suárez and Plaza Provision, two of Puerto Rico’s largest commercial groups, and three major grocery chains in the US.

“Our biggest expansion is in California, where we are working with utilities to install [cold storage] alongside renewables,” Bell said. “Our view is that Europe is also a great fit for our technology.”

The company’s PCM cold storage is essentially “highly engineered salt water,” said Bell.

Precise mixes of salt

Viking Cold uses precise mixes of salt to bring the melting point of ice down to as low as -30ºC, with the exact level determined by the application in question.

Using low-cost or renewable energy to bring the PCM down to freezing can then allow goods to be kept cold with ice for up to 12 hours.

Ultimately this may limit the technology’s ability to provide fully off-grid cooling in many European countries since in the UK, for example, there are only six months a year with more than 12 hours of daylight a day.

On the plus side, however, the PCM can cycle as often as needed and “lasts a minimum of 20 years,” Bell said.

Crowdfunding: a new route to cash?

UK crowdfunding campaign successes for Renovagen, Highview Power Storage and Powervault, as venture capital investment decreases for energy storage start-ups.

UK crowdfunding successes for Renovagen, Highview Power Storage and Powervault, as venture capital investment decreases for energy storage start-ups. Photo: Renovagen

By Jason Deign

A UK campaign this month underscored the value of crowdfunding as new figures showed energy storage venture capital financing on the wane.

Renovagen, an integrated solar-plus-storage technology developer, had raised GBP£1m from 807 investors when its crowdfunding campaign on Crowdcube came to an end last week.

The campaign saw the start-up getting 167% of its £600,000 target, with the largest single investment amounting to £100,000.

The money will be used to fund go-to-market costs for Renovagen’s Roll-Array portable solar power system, which consists of flexible, transportable solar farm units with integrated energy storage.

Renovagen claims the technology enables deployment of large solar power capacity more quickly than competing methods.
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