Liquid air energy storage firm goes fundraising

Highview's pre-commercial demonstration plant is due to enter operation this summer. Image credit: Highview Power Storage.

Highview’s pre-commercial demonstration plant is due to enter operation this summer. Image credit: Highview Power Storage.

 

By Jason Deign

Highview Power Storage has launched a growth capital fundraising round amid commissioning for its first pre-commercial liquid air energy storage plant.

The 20-strong UK company is looking for an unspecified amount of cash but will most likely not be talking to venture capital (VC) investors, head of business development Matthew Barnett told Energy Storage Report.

“Rather than going down the VC route, we’re sticking with high-net-worth angel investors and strategic investors,” he said.

The latter group might include businesses that could add value to Highview’s offering, such as an engineering capability, a route to market or complementary technology, said Barnett.

“If a VC came up with GBP£15m then that’s a different story, but there’s a time and a place for a VC to be involved,” he continued. “Maybe we’re entering that now, maybe we’re not.

Sticking with the same kind of investors

“Certainly the strategy is to stick with the [kinds of investors] we’ve had for the last few years.”

Highview has so far only received angel funding and is already in revenue, he said, thanks to fees from licensing and consultancy work.

The fundraising follows Highview’s handing over of a 350kW, 2.5MWh grid-connected pilot plant to the University of Birmingham’s Centre for Cryogenic Energy Storage, and commissioning of a 5MW, 15MWh pre-commercial plant.

The pilot project was operated for four years before being donated to the University.

The pre-commercial plant, in Pilsworth, Greater Manchester, UK, is designed to be a precursor to a full commercial design that could be anything up to 200MW in size, according to Alicia Moghtader, senior communications executive.

The first commercial plant

Currently it is unclear whether the first commercial plant will be built by Highview or by a third party under licence.

GE Oil & Gas, the General Electric subsidiary, has been evaluating Highview’s technology for the last two years as a possible addition to gas-fired peaker plants, Barnett said.

“You’ve got a big shopping list of parts that you put together in a specific way to get the right configuration for this technology,” he said.

While GE Oil & Gas is predominantly looking at liquid air energy storage for the US market, Highview is also pursuing opportunities across Europe and in Japan.

A commercial-scale liquid air energy storage (LAES) plant is expected to take 18 to 24 months to build. “I would like to see over the next 12 months a project convert at a usable, commercial scale,” said Barnett.

Multiple projects in the next three years

Highview hopes to have multiple projects under construction in the next three years, he said. “A lot of eyes are on this pre-commercial plant being built,” he commented.

The Pilsworth pre-commercial demonstrator got a £8m grant from the UK Government Department of Energy and Climate Change (DECC) in 2014.

It is being built on a landfill gas site run by Viridor and is expected to go live within the next two weeks or so.

Highview’s technology is based on using spare energy to liquefy air or nitrogen, which can later be expanded to drive turbines. A big benefit of the technology is that it can essentially be assembled using off-the-shelf industrial equipment.

Also, unlike other large-scale energy storage technologies, such as pumped hydro or compressed air energy storage, Highview’s plants are not limited to specific geographic locations.

Increasing the round-trip efficiency

“LAES has the ability to integrate industrial low-grade waste heat and waste cold to increase the round-trip efficiency of the system by co-locating with industrial plants and LNG terminals,” said Highview in a recent press release.

“If integrated with renewables, LAES can help maintain green credentials, as it gives off no harmful emissions, uses no scarce materials and requires no complex recycling.”

Compared to other energy storage technologies, Barnett said: “The compelling piece is it might not be as efficient but it lasts a long time and you can deep discharge it.

“When you start deep discharging batteries it becomes a problem. Similarly with compressed air.”

Despite this, he said: “We don’t see it as a natural competitor to compressed air. It shares certain components. It’s more of a partner to that, for the projects where you don’t have geology to cope with it.”

Kreisel aims to put Tesla through its paces

Kreisel today launches a residential battery with improvements developed for the automotive sector. Pic: Kreisel.

Kreisel today launches a residential battery with improvements developed for the automotive sector. Pic: Kreisel.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

By Jason Deign

Kreisel Electric has become the latest battery vendor to take on the Tesla Powerwall with the launch of a residential energy storage product today.

The Austrian industrial firm is looking to improve on Tesla’s trailblazing battery pack with a system that uses the same 18650-size lithium-ion cells, with a few significant manufacturing improvements.

Critically, Kreisel uses a laser system to solder connections to each cell in the battery. This is in contrast to traditional manufacturing processes where welding is employed.

The heat generated from the welding process damages cells before they are even used, said Christian Schlögl, head of business development. “With our laser technology we don’t destroy the cell,” he told Energy Storage Report.

The laser manufacturing process helps make sure all of the 8,000 or so cells in each battery have the same capacity and voltage once connected, so there is no need to balance them afterwards.

Increase in battery capacity

Schlögl said this helps increase the battery capacity to up to 95%, while the Powerwall only has a warranted capacity of up to 85%, and then just for the first two years.

The Powerwall’s charge rate is also limited by the fact that power inputs in excess of 120kW could cause the thin wires connecting each cell to overheat, according to Schlögl.

Kreisel’s Mavero battery system cells, on the other hand, are connected by a flat plat made of an undisclosed substance that reduces internal resistance and allows charging and discharging at up to 300kW, without overheating.

This means the Mavero can be charged 2.5 times more quickly than a Powerwall, said Schlögl. When discharging, “we can suck out 15% more than Tesla, from the same cell, due to the [lower] inner resistance,” he said.

Another novel design feature of the product is liquid cooling, which maintains the cells at a steady 30ºC. The fact that the cells are immersed in the liquid allows for very precise temperature control.

Charge-discharge cycles degrading cells

Once more this is in contrast to the Powerwall, where heating caused by each charge-discharge cycle further degrades the cells, said Schlögl.

The liquid, a non-toxic, non-flammable coolant provided by 3M, reduces the fire hazard associated with lithium-ion chemistries.

It also helps increase the life span of the battery by between 10 and 15% compared to other systems, Schlögl said. The 4kW Mavero is initially being offered with a 10-year warranty and more than 5,000 cycles.

It will come in 10 and 14kWh variants and multiples thereof, and can be containerised for up to 2MWh of capacity.

The 10kWh battery has a usable capacity of 8kWh, weighs around 60kg, and will be priced at around €5,000 without VAT and installation, which could bring the total price up to €6,500.

Installed within a couple of hours

The 14kWh product, meanwhile, weighs about 90kg, has a usable capacity of 11kWh, and will cost around €500 more. Both are designed to be installed within a couple of hours and can work with any inverter, Schlögl commented.

Kriesel is planning to sell around 1,000 units this year, to what Schlögl described as ‘friendly customers’, before making the product more widely available in Germany and Austria from the beginning of 2017.

Schlögl said the patented manufacturing process, which is the result of a €4m research and development programme, has resulted in one of the best price-performance ratios of any battery on the market.

Kreisel expects to be able to produce batteries at a price point below €200 per kWh with full production of around 1,000 units per year.

Kreisel originally developed its technology for the electric vehicle market, managing to cram 55.7kWh of storage capacity, with liquid cooling, into a 24kWh Volkswagen battery casing while reducing total weight by 9kg.

Double the capacity with lower weight

“In the case of Volkswagen, we can more than double the capacity with lower weight, in the same space,” Schlögl commented.

The company also lists Audi, BMW, Fendt, Magna, McLaren, Mercedes-Benz, Polaris and Porsche among its automotive clients.

For now, Kreisel is still producing prototype batteries by hand. A new, privately funded €12m production facility is expected to start up in March next year, with a capacity of 1.2m kWh.

Schlögl claimed the production capacity for next year is already fully booked.

As well as the Mavero, Kreisel will be producing batteries for a number of electric vehicle applications, including an as-yet unnamed van based on a Mercedes-Benz Sprinter chassis.

Kreisel hopes to produce 2,000 of the €90,000 vans next year, with a 90kWh battery yielding a 300km range. Kreisel is also hoping to licence the manufacturing process to other original equipment manufacturers.

UK energy storage: why a Brexit may be good

Britons discussing the Brexit in a pub yesterday. Photo: www.animam.photography.

Britons discussing the Brexit in a pub yesterday. Photo: www.animam.photography.

By Jason Deign

UK renewable energy interests could face significant market disruption if Britons vote to leave the European Union (EU) in a referendum this month.

But while sectors such as wind energy fret over what a so-called ‘Brexit’ could mean for European-led subsidy programmes, whether or not a departure could harm the UK’s nascent energy storage market is less clear-cut.

In particular, the fact that storage is already being deployed in the UK without any form of government support means further growth in the market may not be dependent on political links with Europe.

Last month, for example, the UK’s National Grid launched the first battery system in Great Britain to provide sub-second frequency response services.

Hertfordshire, England-based Renewable Energy Systems won the bid to provide 2MW of storage capacity under a four-year contract.

Storage does not require support

No subsidies were involved, demonstrating that storage does not require government support to be viable in the UK.

Furthermore, the regulatory hurdles that UK grid-scale storage faces are not related to EU membership, but to the way the national regulator defines the assets.

“Storage is not an asset class yet, so government can’t support it,” said Alistair Marsden, commercial director at Welsh renewable energy services provider Dulas, which is corporately against leaving Europe.

“Because of that, the industry has gone ‘Well, sod it, we don’t need your support. We’re going to make this work.’”

Lack of government funding does not appear to have held back the growth of storage so far in the UK, Marsden noted. “Stuff which never had government support is cracking on at breakneck speed,” he said.

Current estimates for growth in UK

Current estimates for growth in UK energy storage range from 1GW by 2020, forecast by the Renewable Energy Association, to twice that much, by the Electricity Storage Network.

None of this appears related to EU regulation, targets or membership, though.

Another reason why energy storage interests may not have much to fear from a Brexit is that a departure from the European Union could delay progress on grid interconnections with other countries.

The UK has 4GW of interconnector capacity and is due to almost double that, to 7.3GW, by 2021, according to figures from the electricity regulator Ofgem.

Building interconnectors is a major plank of European Union energy policy but it is unclear how these complex, slow-moving infrastructure projects would fare if the UK cuts ties with neighbouring countries.

Leaving Europe’s Internal Energy Market

A report by Vivid Economics says things could hinge on whether a Brexit also prompts the UK to leave Europe’s Internal Energy Market (IEM). That need not be the case: Norway, for example, is outside the Union but inside the IEM.

However, if the UK does exit the IEM then Vivid says the consequences could include decreased market coupling, cuts in cross-border capacity and balancing market trading, and lower investment in new interconnectors.

This is bad for the UK’s electricity sector as it would likely hit the cost of energy, albeit that Brexit’s most pernicious effect, which Vivid says would be raising the cost of infrastructure investment, would happen regardless of IEM status.

Paradoxically, though, the same conditions that could harm Britain’s energy system might favour investment in storage.

Put simply, the more the UK remains as an energy island, the more it might need storage to keep the lights on.

Retiring coal-fired generating capacity

It should be remembered that the UK is already operating on a historically tight capacity margin after retiring more than 8GW of coal-fired generating capacity.

Until recently, these coal-fired power stations were not only providing base-load generation but also helping to balance the grid. Storage is already taking on this secondary role, as demonstrated by the National Grid tender.

And renewables appear ever more set to step into the energy generation breach, regardless of EU targets and incentives.

For example, the UK government has recently put the brakes on subsidising grid-scale solar, meaning the PV industry is already largely having to fend for itself in the energy mix.

In a Brexit, solar panels would no longer be subject to minimum import pricing, so UK PV projects would become even more competitive. More PV on the grid could increase opportunities for energy storage above current levels.

Brexit impact on investor sentiment

None of this is to say that storage companies should look forward to a split with Europe, however. Many renewable energy observers are wary of a Brexit because of the impact it could have on investor sentiment.

A recent editorial in industry newsletter A Word About Wind, for example, said: “At present, institutional investors feel confident about investing in wind because they know that countries are bound by EU targets.

“Removing these targets would hit their confidence and mean less money for wind, which can only impede the growth of the sector.

“And that is not to mention the threat that a collapsing EU would pose to a global financial system that remains shaky and skittish.”

A pullback in infrastructure investment could hit storage as badly as any other part of the energy system.

At least, though, it is probably fair to say that if the UK does decide to cut ties with Europe then storage project developers may not feel as much pain as their peers in other parts of the energy ecosystem.

Aquion targets 50% cost reduction in 10 years

Aquion Energy batteries are being used to store solar energy for nighttime illumination on Thailand’s Sky Lane, a 23.5km bicycle track at Suvarnabhumi Bangkok International Airport.

Aquion Energy batteries are being used to store solar energy for nighttime illumination along Thailand’s Sky Lane, a 23.5km bicycle track at Suvarnabhumi Bangkok International Airport. Photo: Aquion.

By Jason Deign

Saltwater battery manufacturer Aquion Energy is aiming to cut the price of its batteries by up to 50% within a decade, a company executive confirmed.

Newly named chief commercial officer Tim Poor said it was “very reasonable” to expect a 25% to 50% cut in costs once current manufacturing facilities reached full scale, which would happen within “single-digit years.”

Aquion currently has manufacturing capacity for 200MWh of batteries a year, based on a single production line. But the company’s factory has space for four more lines, allowing for up to 1GWh of capacity to be produced a year.

Poor said the company was planning to double production in the fourth quarter of this year. Aquion has so far shipped 20MWh of storage to about 200 customers, with 50% of products going for export, he said.

Historically, though, Aquion has tended to attract attention for its fundraising escapades rather than its business growth.

Latest cash injection

News of the company’s latest cash injection, of USD$33m from unnamed investors, emerged in an April Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) filing.

According to GreentechMedia, this brought Aquion’s total fundraising to date to $190m and left it still looking for another $27m in this round.

“The company’s cost target is $250 per kWh, with the goal of getting to $160 per kWh when its manufacturing facility in Pennsylvania is at scale,” said the report.

Former Aquion investors include Bill Gates, Gentry Venture Partners, Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers, Foundation Capital, Bright Capital, Advanced Technology Ventures and Trinity Capital Investment, among others.

Poor, who was promoted from vice president of sales and business development last month, admitted to Energy Storage Report that media focus on Aquion’s fundraising antics was a bit of a distraction.

Under the radar

“We have been under the radar,” he said. “Our approach to marketing has not been to trumpet our own business. We have lots of deals, we just don’t press release them.”

At the same time, however, “there are regulatory reasons why we have to make an SEC filing when we get a cash infusion,” he said.

Nevertheless, Poor said Aquion’s business is in good shape, with the company currently shipping to Australia, Europe and Japan as well as North America.

One of the few Aquion deals promoted recently was for a hybrid ultra-capacitor and battery energy storage system installed at Duke Energy’s Rankin Substation in Gaston County, North Carolina, USA.

The 50kW/300kWh Aquion battery system is intended to complement the short-term response capabilities of Maxwell Technologies ultra-capacitors in order to smooth output from a nearby 1.2MW PV plant, Power reported.

Foil for ultra-capacitors

Win Inertia, a Spanish energy storage system integrator working on the project, said Aquion’s Aqueous Hybrid Ion batteries were a good foil for ultra-capacitors because the Aquion products provide long-duration storage.

“Aqueous batteries provide low-cost performance and very high energy density,” said the company in a presentation for the US Energy Storage Association.

The energy battery-ultra-capacitor combination would allow Duke to stack grid services such as peak shaving, solar smoothing and load following, and cut capital expenditure by up to 25% and operating costs by up to 35%, it said.

Long-duration storage is not Aquion’s only virtue, however.

The company says its batteries are highly modular, making it easy to use them for everything from residential up to utility-scale installations, and are the only in the world to have a cradle-to-cradle certification.

Commonly available materials

The use of a chemistry based on innocuous, commonly available materials bodes well for Aquion one day achieving the cost reductions it has in view. “There’s nothing in the battery that is expensive,” Poor noted.

Although he would not reveal pricing details, Poor said Aquion’s batteries were already “significantly better” than products from leading battery vendors such as Tesla and LG Chem, on a full lifecycle cost basis.

This competitive edge should widen as Aquion moves towards full-scale production, according to observers.

Lithiums, of whatever recipe, are eventually constrained by the cost of their materials and manufacturing and are thus doomed to niche applications like hand-held devices,” commented one industry insider.

Increased production should also spell relief for Aquion’s many investors.

While Aquion has not publicly announced details of its financial roadmap, said Poor: “If we’re full-scale [production] in a decade, we’ll be cash positive well before that.”

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.