By Jason Deign
The energy storage industry just keeps going from strength to strength. In 2017, the sector saw rapid progression to more and bigger projects, faster deployments, cheaper prices and greater market acceptance.
Energy storage started to be seen as a potentially vital addition to solar plants and a critical ingredient to grid stability. Electric vehicles went from being an ‘if’ to a ‘when’ proposition.
The range of potential technologies for energy storage continued to grow, but at the same time not all of the industry’s players made it to the end of the year.
The GridBank maker Alevo collapsed amid murky funding rumours, and saltwater battery hopeful Aquion narrowly missed extinction after a bankruptcy sale to a Chinese bidder.
More optimistically, European utilities continued to invest heavily in US energy storage start-ups, acquiring several of the market’s most promising names. But what were the five Energy Storage Report stories that most caught your eye?
Kodak: three takers at Eastman Park
Perhaps surprisingly, our most widely read website story of 2017 was the October news that Eastman Kodak had signed up three customers for its Kodak Cell Assembly Center at Eastman Business Park in New York.
“We’re working with three customers right now to build their devices using a process that’s scalable to high-volume manufacturing,” explained Dan Ocorr, pilot coating manager at the centre.
He declined to name the three customers, citing confidentiality agreements, but said they ranged from a start-up to an established manufacturer.
One was thought to be the ultracapacitor maker Ioxus, which provided a testimonial when Kodak opened a cell assembly line at its Eastman Business Park facility in August.
“Kodak’s battery facility has the ability to be the intermediate step between the lab and high-volume manufacturing, where the processes are scaled up and controlling parameters defined,” said Ken Rudisuela, chief technology officer.
Study: flow batteries beat lithium ion
In July, we published details of a study that showed flow batteries could maintain a cost edge over lithium-ion chemistries, even in the face of massive deployment of the latter.
The research, by Imperial College London in the UK, estimated the future cost of different electrical energy storage technologies based on experience rates, or the rate at which product prices change with cumulative production.
It showed redox flow batteries achieving a ‘competitive’ capital cost threshold of USD$650 per kWh of capacity by 2019, once around 7GWh or $4bn of projects had been installed.
Lithium-ion batteries, in contrast, would require at least 33GWh of installations to reach the same level. This would take until 2023 and cost $94bn, the authors concluded.
The $650 price point was chosen as a level at which energy storage systems could be competitive based on their ability to deliver multiple services simultaneously.
GE sees storage at centre of the grid
Also in July, the industrial behemoth GE revealed that it sees energy storage as occupying an increasingly central role in grid stabilisation.
More and more, said Mirko Molinari, general manager of distributed grid systems at GE Grid Solutions, storage and its associated software could act as a central hub for electricity network control, particularly on microgrids.
“In the future, you will see more storage at the centre of microgrids and distributed energy systems, as a functional part of broader grid management controls, just because of the properties it has,” he said.
The view represents a shift in emphasis in the role of energy storage, which until now has mostly been attached to the grid to fulfil specific roles such as frequency control or load shifting.
Putting energy storage at the centre of microgrids or isolated grids would help the electricity networks cope with increasing levels of intermittent renewable generation, Molinari said.
Webinar’s solar-plus-battery secrets
Combining battery storage with solar generation is already cheaper than using diesel in most microgrids, said experts at an Energy Storage Report webinar in March.
“As the key applications, we see islanded grids or microgrids, [where] PV and batteries are becoming cost-competitive with diesel,” confirmed Valts Grintals from Delta Energy & Environment in the event organised alongside Ata Insights.
A case in point is France, where interest in solar plus storage is highest in islands and “non-interconnected zones,” where around 60% of PV projects so far have been installed with batteries, Grintals said.
This interest is set to grow following the launch of a tender last year for almost 52MW more of island-based solar capacity, spread across 33 projects. “We expect to see more storage coming into these projects,” said Grintals.
“In France, PV and storage is a great solution to stabilise the grid [and] help enable microgrid use, and it is already cost competitive.”
GenCell’s secret for hydrogen world domination
GenCell, an Israeli fuel-cell maker, in January trumpeted a major win as part of an under-the-radar strategy to get utilities relying more on hydrogen.
The company said San Diego Gas & Electric (SDG&E), the Californian utility, would be installing GenCell G5rx fuel cells for substation backup power.
Bloomberg reported the deal would cover an initial three substations, with 27 more to follow within three years. SDG&E is keen to use fuel cells as a way of extending the backup power capacity at substations.
Backup power is a technical requirement at all utility substations. It is used to keep high-voltage circuit breakers open whenever there is a loss of power on the grid.
A G5rx fuel cell, however, “can operate 10 times longer than existing back-up power sources, and has the capacity to maintain all substation operations versus only critical operations,” said GenCell in a press release.
- Also in this week’s intelligence brief roundup: Toyota, Hyundai,the California Public Utilities Commission and more. Get your free copy now.