Finland sees growing role for energy storage

The largest battery system so far in the Nordics will be helping to stabilise the electricity supply in Helsinki, Finland.  Pic: Pixabay.

The largest battery system so far in the Nordics will be helping to stabilise the electricity supply in Helsinki, Finland. Pic: Pixabay.

By Jason Deign

Finland’s nascent grid-scale battery market is set to expand rapidly in the coming years, according to Landis+Gyr’s Northern Europe CEO Ari Tolonen.

He told Energy Storage Report his company was pursuing four other energy storage projects in Finland after completing the largest battery plant in the Nordic countries earlier this year.

Up to 4MW of battery storage could be installed across the country “very soon,” he said. “I believe we will see three or four cases a year. I expect to see this kind of system everywhere.”

In August, Landis+Gyr commissioned a 1.2MW, 600kWh battery system for Helen Electricity, a distribution system operator covering the Helsinki area of Finland.

The €2m Helen storage facility was built alongside Finland’s largest solar plant, a 340kW array in Suvilahti, and will also serve an 850kW PV project being built at nearby Kivikko.   

Made in Italy by Toshiba

The battery system is being used for frequency response and other ancillary services, and contains 560 SCiB lithium titanium oxide modules made in Italy by the Japanese technology giant Toshiba, which owns 60% of Landis+Gyr.

Tolonen said the battery technology was compact, capable of 12,000 cycles and “operates in low temperatures, which is important in Finland.”

He did not provide details of upcoming projects, although it is understood Finland is likely to need increasing levels of storage to deal with renewable energy build-outs.

Finland has a strong industrial base, which is leading to increasing demand for energy, said Tolonen. “It’s double the amount of energy consumed per person in Denmark, and we have roughly the same population,” he said

At the same time, Finland is planning to become the first country in the world to completely phase out coal, by 2030. 

Electricity from non-carbon sources

That should not be a problem, in theory, since the country already gets much of its electricity from non-carbon sources. In 2015, Finland’s nuclear fleet, which comprises four reactors, supplied around 27% of total electricity demand.

A further 25% came from combined heat and power plants, and 20% each came from hydro and energy imports, the latter mostly via the Nord Pool Nordic electricity market.

In 2005, Finland placed a big bet on nuclear to take care of its future energy needs. The power company Teollisuuden Voima (TVO) ordered a 1.6GW reactor from Areva and Siemens, with operation slated to commence in 2009.

The deal has since turned into one of the biggest commercial botches in nuclear energy history, with sole remaining contractor Areva locked in arbitration with TVO and commissioning not likely until 2018 at the earliest.

With Areva planning to sell its nuclear engineering arm to EDF, and problems emerging with similar reactor models elsewhere, Finnish policymakers are likely shifting their gaze to alternative energy sources for Finland’s future needs. 

Wind offers the best hope

Currently wind, which receives government support, offers the best hope to increase carbon-free generation capacity cost effectively.

According to the Global Wind Energy Council, in 2015 Finland added 380MW of wind capacity to its system, bringing its total to just over a gigawatt, or around 3% of total electricity needs.

But by May 2014, 11GW of wind projects had already been announced in Finland, along with 2.2GW of offshore plants.

Solar power currently makes an almost negligible contribution to the energy system, but its use is also expected to grow, particularly at community level.

This increasing level of intermittent generation is expected to increase Finnish interest in energy storage for tasks such as frequency regulation and load shifting. 

An entirely new energy system

In 2014, Finland launched an initiative called Neo-Carbon Energy to create “an entirely new energy system based on solar and wind alongside other renewables such as hydro power, geothermal and sustainable biomass.”

The project was vaunted as targeting storage although it is unclear what specific measures have so far been achieved on this front.

Meanwhile the Finnish energy company Fortum earlier this year announced a storage project that would trump the Helen Electricity plant as the biggest battery system in the Nordics.

“For the project, Saft’s Li-ion containerised battery system with a nominal output of 2MW and 1MWh of energy capacity will be installed at Fortum’s Suomenoja power plant in Finland,” said the company in a press release in April.

The battery system was due to enter operation in September although no further news has been issued on the project. Even so, it seems further word of Finnish energy storage projects will not be long in coming.

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Skeleton’s crew expands with German focus

Skeleton pitched to investors at The Business Booster in Barcelona (pic: InnoEnergy).

Skeleton pitched to investors at The Business Booster in Barcelona (pic: InnoEnergy).

By Jason Deign

Skeleton Technologies is expanding its top team and contemplating further cash injections as its sets its sights on a precious German market.

The Estonian ultracapacitor maker, which has so far raised €26.7m in funding, is looking for a vice president of global sales as it expands manufacturing into Germany, which is expected to account for a fifth of its global market.

The company was also showing off to potential investors and customers at a showcase event called The Business Booster (TBB), in Barcelona, Spain, last Thursday.

Having closed its round C funding, for €13m, this summer, programme director Egert Valmra appealed to TBB’s audience for a round D injection in support of UCGEN3, a ‘next-generation’ ultracapacitor programme led by Skeleton.

In the meantime, however, Skeleton is focusing attention on scaling up production in Estonia and building a presence in Germany, where it opened a factory this year. 

Assembling complete systems

In the last 12 months, Skeleton has gone from making ultracapacitor cells to assembling complete systems for applications such as uninterruptible power supplies or kinetic energy recovery systems (KERS).

“Scaling up our manufacturing capabilities and moving up the value chain have been our two guiding themes,” said Oliver Ahlberg, co-founder and chief operating officer.

“We’ve finalised our scale-up here in Viimsi, Estonia, which was a huge milestone for us,” he said.

“We’re now able to offer mass-scale cylindrical ultracapacitors that still have market-beating performance: four times higher power density, 60% higher energy density than competitors.”

Skeleton’s €3.5m Estonian factory is designed to produce around half a million cells a year and is “a month or two” off being able to operate at that scale, Ahlberg told Energy Storage Report. 

Current levels of production

He would not divulge current levels of production. The company is also finalising scale-up of its manufacturing capacity in Großröhrsdorf, eastern Germany.

The factory there, which could produce up to 2m 750-farad cells per year, is slated to come online in February. The German plant will focus on final assembly and quality control.

“Germany is currently a large part of the global market,” said Ahlberg. “It’s predicted to achieve about 20% [of total global ultracapacitor demand] and there aren’t any local producers in Germany… or Europe as a whole.

“We see the European market, and the German market in particular, as our home market. We’re just moving closer to our customers with this German plant.”

The vice president of global sales, along with a regional sales manager for Germany, Austria and Switzerland, will lead efforts to tap into opportunities within Europe’s ultracapacitor-hungry industrial and energy sectors. 

Utility market and industrial players

Skeleton’s sales are presently split between the utility market, for ancillary services, and industrial players, for applications such as KERS, where Skeleton works alongside Adgero, a French motor technology firm.

Other notable customers include the European Space Agency, which is expecting to put a Skeleton ultracapacitor into space in 2018, and Flying Whales, a French startup developing a new generation of blimps.

As production ramps up, though, Skeleton is expecting to reach new customer groups.

A big opportunity is in the automotive sector, where there is growing interest in using ultracapacitors either with internal combustion engines or lithium-ion batteries.

“We have a number of projects where our customers are considering going down the hybrid route or just ultracaps,” said Ahlberg. “We’re happy to work with the new ideas out there, and that’s something that sets us apart.”

Short burst of energy

Currently, many work vehicles, such as diggers or forklifts, have oversized engines to deal with situations where a short burst of energy is needed.

Ultracapacitors could take over these jobs and allow manufacturers to reduce the size of a traditional engine, for example from 14 litres down to 8 litres, said Ahlberg.

Increased production will help further reduce costs, which Ahlberg said are already around the average for the ultracapacitor market.

“We’re able to compete on costs but we think our value lies at delivering more of a high-performance product at a comparable cost level,” he said. “We’re able to get better performance out of the cells.”

Skeleton’s 160V and 170V modules are also the market’s first water-cooled off-the-shelf products, he said.

Could you help lead Skeleton’s sales efforts? If so, speak to Hyperion Executive Search now.

Why you should aim for an open business model

Delegates at next year's Energy Storage Europe Conference will hear a plea for open business models (Pic: Energy Storage Europe 2016).

Delegates at next year’s Energy Storage Europe Conference will hear a plea for open business models (Pic: Energy Storage Europe 2016).

Energy storage developers and asset owners should aim to be technologically neutral to make the most of global markets, experts will hear next year.

Florian Mayr, partner and storage expert of management consultancy Apricum, is due to make the case for technologically open business models at the Energy Storage Europe Conference 2017 in Düsseldorf, Germany.

These models can benefit most from the growth of international storage markets as flexibility becomes a key factor for success in the industry, he claims.

“Today storage markets are still comparatively small and characterised by individual, often geographically determined application cases,” he said. 

Changing markets

“They are subject to strong change and are dependent on the challenges and regulatory conditions in [each] country.”

At the same time, however, Mayr said storage is rarely being deployed at present in situations where there is no alternative.

Instead storage projects often compete with other ways of carrying out the same energy management tasks.

These tasks include grid expansion, where there is limited cable capacity, or the supply of control energy, which until recently has taken place mainly by means of fossil-fuel power plants.

Because of this, Mayr believes that while energy storage faces major opportunities its commercialisation also contains numerous uncertainties for current players. 

Currently competitive application cases

These players “need to ask themselves which of the currently competitive application cases will still exist in future, and which new ones will arise,” he said.

“There is also the question regarding with which business models one’s own company can best participate in the projected growth.”

On this basis, according to Mayr, it is not necessarily the optimal command of a certain storage technology that opens up the best market access, but rather flexibility.

“Those able to adapt quickly to many new applications cases and customers, and use suitable technologies in each case, make themselves as independent as possible from the uncertainties in a market that is still very dynamic,” he said.

“And at the same time, they can gain the best benefit from new opportunities.” 

More than 240 lectures

Mayr’s plea for open business models will be one of more than 240 lectures in the combined 6th Energy Storage Conference (ESE) and 11th International Renewable Energy Storage Conference (IRES) 2016 programmes.

The number of speakers makes Energy Storage Europe 2017 the trade fair with the world’s largest conference programme on energy storage.

The programmes will focus on economy and finance within ESE and science and social politics within IRES. Full programme details and reduced-price early tickets are being released this week on www.energy-storage-online.com.

Around 180 exhibitors are expected at the accompanying Energy Storage Europe Expo.

Two side events, the 6th OTTI-Conference Power2Gas and the 11th Storage Day, will take place in parallel at the exhibition grounds in Düsseldorf.

The international Energy Storage network is growing

Compared to the previous year, Energy Storage Europe 2016 grew approximately 60%, to more than 3,000 visitors from 54 countries. Around 140 exhibitors presented. For 2017, a further growth of more than 25% is expected.

Approximately 3,900 visitors from more than 50 countries are expected to come to IRES 2016, the ESE and the Energy Storage Europe Expo in Düsseldorf.

The international network of the Energy Storage conferences and exhibitions, of which Energy Storage Europe is a part, also grew again last year.

The overall number of visitors of Energy Storage China, Energy Storage North America, Energy Storage Japan and Energy Storage India increased by 55%.

Sharp: it’s the economy, stupid

Sharp is offering financing to make it easier for customers to buy storage products.

Sharp is offering financing to make it easier for customers to buy storage products. Pic: Otsu4, used under Creative Commons licence.

By Jason Deign

Electronics giant Sharp is pinning its hopes on no-brain financing to gain an uptick in underperforming US commercial and industrial (C&I) energy storage sales.

In September the company, which is an important solar panel maker, introduced a new financing programme for commercial SmartStorage energy storage systems sold with PV.

The no-money-down finance offer is provided by an un-named lender with capacity for up to USD$25m in project funding, equating to around 12MW of installed capacity over the next 12 months.

The financing packages are designed to give C&I customers a saving of at least 5% of annual utility costs, with no upfront investment.

The customer signs an energy service contract similar to a power-purchase agreement, explained Carl Mansfield, general manager and founder of Sharp’s Energy Systems and Services Group. 

Assigning ownership to a third party

Once Sharp has installed the system it assigns the contract and ownership of the assets to the funding party. “It’s not too dissimilar to a typical tax equity fund that finances solar, for example,” Mansfield said.

“There’s a third-party company managing the fund. They attract tax equity, debt and equity investments from a variety of partners and then they purchase the system from us.”

Sharp’s installations come with a full maintenance programme and include a 10-year performance guarantee. “Technically we are providing O&M [operations and maintenance] services to the owner,” said Mansfield.

Sharp, which has been pondering financing packages for more than a year, is rolling out the no-money-down funding offer after sales of C&I systems failed to catch on as expected.

In April 2015 the company told Energy Storage Report it was aiming for $100m in US C&I sales within two years. “It’s moving slower than that,” Mansfield admitted. The business is “not as large as we would like it to be,” he said. 

Finding it hard to close C&I deals

Part of the problem is that Sharp has found it hard to close C&I deals quickly, despite having “a huge number of commercial and industrial projects in our pipeline that have good economics,” according to Mansfield.

On average it can take 12 months to close a deal.

“The fundamental challenge with the business right now, and part of the reason that up until recently we’ve been moving slowly with those projects, is the lack of turnkey financing has been a real barrier,” said Mansfield.

“Most of the target businesses like the economics of the project, but when it comes down to how they’ve got to finance it the timeline for a close on a commercial sale is pretty long.”

Mansfield said he hoped the new financing package might cut that sales cycles down to six months. He confirmed no financing deals had been signed yet, although several were “in progress.”

Loath to fund non-viable projects

Another factor that has potentially prevented Sharp from bumping up its sales figures is that the company has been loath to fund non-viable projects, which Mansfield said might not always be the case with some of Sharp’s competitors.

With some other companies, he said: “Progress to date is based on equity venture-type economics.

“For companies like that, where you’re trying to build a market share and equity in the company, there’s a lot of incentive to ignore short-term economics and potentially lose money on several projects you build early on.”

Sharp’s outlook is “fundamentally different,” he said. “We have to establish viable business economics on a much shorter timeframe.

“When you see a system being deployed by us it is fundamentally profitable, or it would not be happening. We’re building a profitable business here, so you won’t hear as many loud claims from us as you would out of others.” 

First solar-plus-storage deal

In September Sharp was involved in New Mexico’s first commercial solar-plus-storage project.

The contract, to provide two 30kW SmartStorage units linked to a 366kW rooftop solar array for Roadrunner Food Bank, a charity organisation, was also Sharp’s first foray into the New Mexico energy storage market.

It should allow Roadrunner to save $30,000 a year from an annual $180,000 electricity bill, equivalent to 150,000 extra meals for needy citizens of New Mexico.

More recently, Sharp reseller HelioPower announced it had installed a 120kW SmartStorage unit at Blisterpak, a packaging manufacturer in California. The system was expected to save $42,000 a year on energy bills.

Despite these wins, it is clear that Sharp’s sales are not booming as much as the company would like. But Mansfield was quick to quell any suggestion that Sharp might abandon its foray into energy storage. 

A lot of time and money

“I can tell you that Sharp has spent a lot of time and money to enter the energy storage market,” he said.

“Sharp is committed to greatly expanding its energy solutions business in the US market and views energy storage as a key piece of this.”

Also, he said: “Sharp rolled out its SmartStorage system with long-term objectives, which is why it is backed by Sharp’s 10-year performance guarantee.

“As long as there’s an energy storage market, Sharp will be part of it.”

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How phase-change materials are saving lives

The Dulas solar-powered direct-drive vaccine fridge uses phase-change materials to store vaccines more effectively, helping save human lives.

The Dulas solar-powered direct-drive vaccine fridge uses phase-change materials to store vaccines more effectively, helping save human lives.

By Jason Deign

Phase-change materials (PCMs) are boldly going into an energy storage realm where even the most modern battery technologies have failed to deliver: saving lives.

Dulas, a Welsh renewable energy technology company, is using PCMs in place of batteries as an essential component of solar-powered direct-drive refrigerators for off-grid vaccine storage in developing countries.

On Monday the company announced a contract to supply 345 of its VC200 fridges to health and aid agencies working in Yemen, Sierra Leone and Nigeria.

The company said the deal represented “a significant expansion” of its partnerships with the World Health Organisation (WHO), the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and the Institute of Human Virology in Nigeria.

Dulas will be sending 60 fridges to the Institute of Human Virology, 143 to the WHO in Yemen and 142 to UNICEF in Sierra Leone. “There is the potential for further orders in the near future,” said the company. 

Fridges delivered to three projects

The fridges are due to be delivered within eight weeks on all three projects, to be used in programmes helping to fights AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.

Non-governmental organisations such as the WHO are interested in Dulas’s off-grid solar direct-drive fridge design because it provides significant advantages over traditional versions, which have tended to use lead-acid batteries.

The batteries, which are preferable to lithium-ion because of their greater temperature tolerance, allow vaccine fridges to work overnight with stored solar power, but tend to run down and need replacing after about five years.

This can be a problem for remote healthcare centres, which may not have the funds to invest in new batteries… or the skills to recognise when a battery needs changing.

Just as importantly, however, battery-based fridges rely on traditional evaporators to stay cool. This means there can be parts of the fridge where the temperature is less than 0ºC, so there is a risk of freezing a vaccine. 

Improving vaccination rates

Once frozen, a vaccine is useless.

And it can be hard to tell whether a vaccine has been frozen at some point, so in order to improve vaccination rates it is important that the whole of the fridge be maintained at a constant temperature between 2º and 7ºC.

The Dulas design, developed with funding from a joint European and Welsh government research and development project, overcomes this problem by having a lining with a paraffin wax-based PCM that freezes at 5ºC.

During the day, rooftop solar arrays are used to cool the PCM down to its freezing point.

At night, in the absence of solar power, the PCM melts and in the process absorbs heat, without any rise in temperature, until it has all turned into liquid. This makes sure the vaccines stay within their optimum temperature range. 

10,000 cycles with minimal degradation

Another advantage of the PCM design is that the thermal storage medium can go through around 10,000 cycles with minimal degradation. This equates to a lifespan at least twice as long as that possible with batteries.

Dulas senior technical consultant David Elliot told Energy Storage Report the fridges were expected to last at least a decade but up to 15 years might be more likely.

“The design and capabilities of Dulas’ vaccine refrigerators are a major step forward,” said Opute Ifeoma Rosemary, associate director of procurement at the Institute of Human Virology, in a press release.

The design is “allowing us to more efficiently cool and freeze samples for preservation in turbulent areas or those that are particularly difficult to reach,” she said.

Dulas currently offers three fridge designs, each with a solar array to match. The smallest unit has capacity for 50 litres of vaccine and comes with a 300w, 1m by 1.5m PV array. 

Room for 132 litres of vaccine

A larger product has room for 132 litres of vaccine and requires up to 500w of solar power.

Finally, Dulas has a version that combines a vaccine storage space with a freezer unit that is used to make ice for when vaccines need to be carried far afield, in cool boxes. This model requires 750w of PV power.

In all cases, said Elliot, the solar arrays are oversized compared to the 80w-per-compressor maximum power requirement of the fridges because of the need to keep the PCM cool for as long as possible.

“The secret is about managing the energy coming in,” he said, “and getting 365 days of the box staying cold.”

To this end, the solar arrays are big enough to start delivering the fridges’ full energy requirements early in the day, and late into the afternoon. 

Excess energy from PV panels

During the daytime, excess energy from the PV panels is made available through a ‘solar socket’ that can be used to charge phones and other appliances, or even top up batteries for electrical applications.

Dulas, which has been making solar vaccine fridges since 1982, launched the PCM-based design in 2014 and sold 1,000 units last year, at between €2,750 and €4,750 per unit depending on size.

Apart from Dulas, “there are only five or six companies doing direct-drive fridges,” Elliot said. “It’s not a huge market.”

Also in this week’s newsletter headlines: Policy Exchange, Indianapolis Power and Light, University of Southern Queensland and more. Get your free copy now.

Moixa wants to install a million batteries by 2020

Moixa Energy Holdings wants its wall-mounted battery systems in a million homes by 2020. Pic: Moixa.

Moixa Energy Holdings wants its wall-mounted battery systems in a million homes by 2020. Pic: Moixa.

By Jason Deign

A UK energy storage system developer is looking to go from 650 installations today to 1m by 2020 with an aggregation-based residential business model.

London-based Moixa Energy Holdings is positioning itself as a utility’s friend by aggregating residential storage assets into a virtual power plant that provides ancillary grid services, then sharing the rewards with its customer base.

On its website, the company claims its GridShare service can earn homeowners between GBP£50 and £75 a year, or “almost 15% of the average electricity bill.”

Chief executive Simon Daniel told Energy Storage Report that 2016 was a scaling-up year for Moixa, which began piloting smart battery technology in 2012 and launched its current products two years ago.

The company is expecting to shift up to 100,000 storage systems within the next 36 months, Daniel said. And although Moixa is looking to bolster sales abroad, most of that capacity could go online in the UK. 

The largest residential storage fleet

“We think the UK will have the largest residential storage fleet by 2020,” said Daniel, noting that growth in the British market is not dependent on self-generation incentive programmes as it is in markets such as California.

Furthermore, he stated: “The UK has 891,000 solar homes, nearly the same as the US total.”

Moixa aims to make money through battery system sales and its GridShare concept. “Customers save on self-consumption and night or smart tariffs,” explained Daniel.

“We are an AC-coupled solution that is a solar battery in summer and grid-services battery in winter.”

Current pricing for the battery systems is £2,000 for 2kWh of storage or £2,500 for 3kWh. The price includes the battery, inverter and control software but not installation, which could add an extra £100 to £150 onto the cost.

Bringing costs down below £2,000

Daniel said the company was expecting to soon bring costs down below £2,000, including wall-mounted installation, and ultimately hoped to give the storage units away by prefunding the purchase through grid services revenues.

Last month Moixa launched an all-in-one solar-plus-storage package for less than £5,000.

“The package, targeted at homeowners, housing associations and other landlords, bundles a 2kWh Moixa Smart Battery with a 2kW, eight-panel solar photovoltaic system for an installed price of £4,995 including VAT,” Moixa said.

Larger systems could be purchased at a rate of £500 for each additional kilowatt-hour of capacity, Daniel said. He called it “likely the cheapest global solar-plus-storage installed deal in homes.”

Given that Moixa’s business model is so dependent on selling services to the grid, it is unsurprising that the company is keen to be seen as an ally for electricity companies. 

Helping avoid peak-period consumption

Daniel said he expected Moixa’s battery systems to power customer premises for no more than around a third of the day, helping to avoid consumption during peak periods rather than allowing consumers to go fully off-grid.

“We don’t think technologies on their own today should compete and take people off-grid,” he said. “This makes the rest of the system more expensive for those without. We work with rather than against utilities.”

Daniel claimed competitors such as Tesla and Sonnen “seem to want to disrupt and disintermediate.”

This is certainly the case with Sonnen, which has made no bones about potentially cutting utilities out of the energy equation altogether.

Tesla, however, seems to have adopted a more cautious approach to knocking utilities, particularly after winning major utility contracts such as the 20MW, 80MWh Aliso Canyon project from Southern California Edison.

“Not one or the other”

“The solution is both local power generation and utility power generation,” said Tesla boss Elon Musk in a press conference announcing the fully integrated Powerpack 2 system last week. “It’s not one or the other.”

Despite the Powerpack 2’s eye-poppingly low cost per kilowatt-hour, Daniel said he believed Moixa could outgun Tesla not just on price but also on form factor.

“Tesla finally realises that the only way forward is an all-in-one, plug-and-play system,” he said.

“Though at 115 kg [actually 122 kg] and six times the physical volume of ours, it’s $1,000 to install and not really good outside niche, high-end prosumer adopters.” 

Tesla remains hard to beat

For all Daniel’s fighting talk, however, there is still one area where Tesla remains hard to beat: financing.

While investors still seem willing to pump money into Musk’s star venture, Moixa is currently in search of additional funding to help it scale up for business across Europe and further afield.

The company, which has already raised more than £7m from grants and high-net-worth individuals, is seeking up to £20m by “early in the New Year,” Daniel said.

Also in this week’s newsletter headlines: Dalian University of Technology, Samsung SDI, Husch Blackwell and more. Get your free copy now.

Aquion cuts cost reduction target by eight years

Aquion expects to halve the cost of its batteries in as little as two years.

Aquion expects to halve the cost of its batteries in as little as two years.

By Jason Deign

Aquion Energy, the saltwater battery maker, has cut a 10-year, 50% cost reduction target by eight years within the last five months.

The company now hopes to halve the cost of its products in as little as 48 months, instead of the decade it had estimated in June this year.

“We’ll probably achieve that within two years,” confirmed chief commercial officer Tim Poor.

“We’re a new chemistry with lots of optimisation as yet to be factored in by additional innovation and improvements to the basic battery chemistry design.”

A 50% reduction would bring the wholesale price of Aquion’s Cradle-to-Cradle-certified products down to around USD$200 per kWh.

A lot of confidence

“We actually have working batteries in the lab right now that are demonstrating the performance that gets us there,” Poor told Energy Storage Report. “We have a lot of confidence and it’s quite reasonable given that we are still new.”

Besides performance improvements, Poor said Aquion’s cost-reduction efforts would benefit from the fact that its saltwater batteries are made with cheap materials that can be sourced globally.

They do not contain rare earth elements or heavy metals, he said.

The cost reductions come as Aquion gears up for a major increase in production through the sale of integrated products developed in partnership with other original equipment manufacturers (OEMs).

In Australia, for example, Aquion earlier this month announced an integrated storage system called Titan SmartStorage, launched in association with the Australian power and energy systems integrator Fusion Power Systems. 

Residential solar energy storage

“Fusion’s Titan SmartStorage is Australia’s first fully integrated, safe and easy-to-install residential solar energy storage system,” claimed Aquion in a press release.

“The system combines clean and cost-effective Aquion Energy Aspen saltwater batteries with an Australian-made, purpose-built inverter and charge controller, designed and built to withstand Australian conditions.”

Poor called the Titan SmartStorage product “a more elegant, packaged solution” than simply having batteries hooked up to an inverter. “Some customers, especially on the residential side, like that,” he said.

Fusion also offers an integration system called Titan Smart Bridge, which allows the storage arrays to be connected to existing PV setups without having to swap out the inverter.

Besides avoiding extra cost, Titan Smart Bridge connections negate the need for work on the AC side of the consumer’s electricity system, meaning any feed-in tariff or permit arrangements would be unaffected, said Poor.

Bringing a lot more value

“It’s a lot more sophisticated and brings a lot more value” than assembling a storage system from scratch, he noted.

Fusion Power also sells Aquion batteries on a standalone basis. But the Titan SmartStorage agreement is not exclusive, meaning Aquion is free to tie up similar integration deals with other vendors in Australia and further afield.

Last month, for example, Aquion unveiled a partnership with the Canadian PV company Sentinel Solar, releasing a plug-and-play offering called the Wave Energy Storage System.

Poor said to expect more of these tie-ups in the near future as Aquion is in “active discussions” with a number of possible partners. Further announcements are likely within six to 12 months, he predicted.

“For the large residential markets we’re very interested in working with OEM-type suppliers that want to design our batteries in as a component to a complete packaged energy storage solution,” he said. 

Keen to court integration partners

Aquion, which has shipped about 30MWh across some 150 installations around the world, is keen to court integration partners not only to extend its current sales footprint but also to tap into new applications.

The Wave and Titan products, for example, are both rated for outdoor use, allowing them to be sited in places where you might not use a standalone battery.

Ultimately Aquion expects up to half its revenues could come from this component-based sales approach.

Currently, the residential market accounts for roughly 50% of Aquion’s income, and sales to this segment could see a “double-digit” uplift thanks to batteries being used in integrated storage systems, according to Poor.

As well as the residential sector, Aquion sees potential in off-grid and microgrid projects. “The batteries are really competitive on remote, off-grid applications,” Poor said. 

No complex battery management

“Our batteries have zero maintenance and we have no complex battery management system that has to be used and maintained. That makes them ideal for remote locations. They’re also tolerant of high temperatures.”

The company is currently seeing products being commissioned in commercial and industrial settings in Samoa, Asia, Africa and North America, said Poor.

Finally, the company is also active in the telecommunications base station market. This makes up around 10% of Aquion’s sales, compared to 40% for the commercial and industrial segment and 50% for residential use.

Overall, the company expects to see around 20MWh of products shipping this year. To support this expansion, Aquion is engaged in a fundraising round that has already pulled in $30m.

The company is “making good progress” to break even, Poor said.

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HyperSolar moves along lonely path to hydrogen

HyperSolar is working to make it easier to create hydrogen on site at commercial and industrial locations, or even filling stations such as this one. Pic: Toyota.

HyperSolar is working to make it easier to create hydrogen on site at commercial and industrial locations, or even filling stations such as this one. Pic: Toyota.

By Jason Deign

US-listed technology firm HyperSolar is looking to develop a commercial-scale solar-powered hydrogen generation system after unveiling a working prototype last month.

The Santa Barbara, California-based company is hoping to give the hydrogen fuel cell industry a boost by removing one of hydrogen’s biggest problems: having to transport the gas over long distances.

Hydrogen “is expensive enough in the manufacturing process,” said Tim Young, president and CEO. “When you add on trucking it 500 miles in a pressurised truck, it stops making economical sense.”

Being able to manufacture hydrogen on site, using water and sunlight, could eliminate these costs and open up a vast array of potential energy applications, Young told Energy Storage Report.

These include “thousands and thousands of backup power plants” that “would all love to be hydrogen powered” because the fuel can be stored indefinitely until needed, he said. 

Emitting water from hydrogen

Also, Young said, “you’ve got all this power equipment inside warehouses” that currently creates greenhouse emissions but “would love to be emitting water from hydrogen.”

HyperSolar’s plan is to put solar-powered hydrogen generation plants on top of warehouses and similar sites, next to fuel cells provided by manufacturers such as Plug Power. Admittedly that vision is still some way off, however.

A video of HyperSolar’s prototype shows the company’s patent-pending technology splitting water into hydrogen and oxygen in the lab, but not at a scale, efficiency or cost that is commercially viable.

The design contains a proprietary hydrogen production unit that consists of a high-voltage solar cell encapsulated in a protective catalyst coating, integrated into a membrane separator.

“The protective coating has been demonstrated to allow hydrogen production to run for hundreds of hours in very corrosive water, without damage,” said HyperSolar in a press release. 

Demonstrating fuel cell capabilities

“To fully demonstrate fuel cell capabilities, the produced hydrogen is connected to a fuel cell that converts hydrogen into usable electricity, ultimately facilitating electrical power to illuminate the two light bulbs.”

However, Young explained: “What we used in that video were expensive gallium arsenide solar cells where were really good but would never be cost effective.”

HyperSolar is currently investigating whether it can use US-made triple-junction crystalline-silicon solar cells instead. “They would be much more cost efficient,” said Young.

The company is also hoping to double the efficiency of the hydrogen generation process, so that 10% of the energy from incoming sunlight gets captured rather than 5% at present.

Finally, a commercial-scale hydrogen generator would need to effectively capture and store the gas in volume. Young viewed this as a minor engineering problem that could be solved with pumps. 

A fairly simple process

“If the solar cells are able to effectively split the water molecules, we think the piping is a fairly simple process that could be quickly perfected,” he said.

Despite the hurdles, it is also true that HyperSolar has gone a long way towards perfecting the technology for solar-powered hydrogen generation.

The company has filed patents for the means to split water molecules, separate oxygen from hydrogen, and capture the gas without losing most of it.

Plus the technology has been found to have some unlikely side effects, such as helping to purify the water used for hydrogen production.

The higher the salinity and the greater the organic content of the water, “the easier it is” to generate hydrogen, Young said. “The organics in the water are just more conducive to the process. It becomes more efficient.” 

Tweaking the production process

Water salinity and organic content have forced HyperSolar to tweak its production process to include an anti-corrosive polymer coating for the solar cells and to add a commercial anti-foaming agent to the feedstock.

With most of these refinements now in train, the pieces for solar-powered hydrogen generation are “starting to come together,” Young commented.

How long it will take to get to full commercialisation is still highly uncertain, of course.

But Young, who is planning to lease a Toyota Mirai in the coming months, remains convinced there is a massive potential market for hydrogen not just in commercial and industrial settings but also in the automotive market.

“The other day I test drove a Tesla,” he mused. “It takes 25 to 30 minutes to get a full charge and there was a line eight-deep of Teslas wanting to charge.

“Two miles from there, there’s a hydrogen filling station where in four minutes you can fill your car. Elon Musk says hydrogen is and always will be the technology of the future. I’m trying to prove him wrong.”

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