Silicon Valley’s energy storage university

San José University (SJSU) calls it a “battery university” and says that it will help to train a much-needed workforce that will lead developments in this key area of energy storage. Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and CalCharge are partnering SJSU’s Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering, which sends more engineering professionals to Silicon Valley than any other university.

“As an institution of higher education, we know the challenges in meeting the workplace demand for trained personnel in this rapidly growing and changing field,” said SJSU Vice President for University Advancement, Rebecca Dukes. It is hoped that this new continuing education programme will become a reality sometime in the summer of this year.

Renewable subsidies no problem in Germany

Germany’s goal is 80% power generation by 2050. The only sour note is that, according to Bloomberg at least, the increase in feed-in tariffs used to guarantee the necessary investment in wind and solar are costing customers and smaller businesses dear. This, says Bloomberg, will have a general chilling effect on the German economy, effectively being an additional tax. Whether this turns out to be the case, we’ll have to wait and see.

In the meantime, an article in Cleantechnica disputes any idea that there is a general dislike of clean energy subsidies in Germany. Pointing to a series of polls taken from 2011 to June 2012, author Zachary Shahan notes that: “The majority (51–61%) of respondents said that renewable energy growth was ‘too slow’, while another 30-33% said it was ‘just right’. When asked the main reason for hikes in energy prices, only 8% blamed renewables.” The chief culprit? “Corporate greed, monopolies, market failure,” said 34%.

Australia set for energy storage boom

There is a lot of encouraging clean-tech news coming from Down Under these days. A report entitled Energy Storage in Australia – Commercial Opportunities, Barriers and Policy Options, compiled by Marchment Hill Consulting, makes the prediction that by 2030 energy storage capacity will reach more than 3GW. The current usage is estimated at around one tenth of that figure.

The report also estimates that the average cost could fall by more than 50% by decade’s end, to reach around USD$300/kW in a best-case scenario. The Australian industry itself has aimed for around $250/kW, which may be a little optimistic given another estimate, this time from Lux Consulting, of $500/kW.

Australian lobby group the Clean Energy Council cites increasing fossil-fuel prices, as well as the falling price of energy storage, as being a key factor in the sector’s predicted growth, claiming the market for energy storage will outshine the photovoltaic solar industry in terms of being a transformative technology.

During an interview with smh.com.au, the Council’s strategic policy manager, Tim Sonnreich said: “Whether policy makers like it or not, it’s coming. The cost-curves are coming down and the costs of alternatives (such as coal and gas) are going up. Storage is becoming a better and better deal.”

‘The Economist’ reviews batteries

Billed by one cynic as “a great article if you haven’t been paying close attention,” a piece in The Economist gives an overview of the state of play of the battery technology. Batteries Included? is an up-beat for anyone in the industry, although it of course could not pass over the chance to mention the recent Dreamliner fiasco. Ho hum.

And now for the GOOD news on batteries

The reputation of lithium-ion and other batteries, such sodium-sulphur, used in a range energy storage applications have taken a real pounding lately – coming to a head with the heavily-publicised Boeing Dreamliner grounding and now an investigation into manufacturer GS Yuasa, who supplied the suspect cells.

There appear to be a number of safety issues involved, with one expert opining that a reason for battery maker A123’s demise was the fact that “the American auto industry chose energy density over safety and lifecycle capacity.” The over-arching problem is that, as commentator Neal Dikeman puts it: “Batteries are just hard. Investing in them is hard. Commercialisation of batteries is hard.”

The industry is learning, according to NAATBatt (National Alliance for Advanced Technology Batteries). In a summary of the US industry body’s latest annual meeting, it states that: ‘The mantra that “what is most important in advanced battery development is cost, cost, cost” is becoming “what is most important in advanced battery development is safety, safety, safety”.’

But the best thing this week – for litihium-ion batteries, at least – is the news that annual sales for electric vehicle applications are predicted to reach USD$22 billion by 2020. Accentuate the positive, people – accentuate the positive!

Fixing battery uncertainty

Unless you live in North Korea (in which case you won’t be allowed to read this anyway), you’ll know that President Obama got sworn in on Monday, much to the relief of the renewables sector. We’re certainly very aware that the current funding his policies have initiated have been a huge shot in the arm for innovation in energy storage.

Here are some recent projects that are now being backed by US DoE agency, ARPA-E –all of which might have a hand in overcoming some of the current technical problems in the battery sector:

Laser-guided Ultrasonic Battery Monitoring

From GTI, a laser-guided, ultrasonic electric vehicle battery inspection system that would help gather precise diagnostic data on battery performance.

Thin-film Temperature Sensors for Batteries

Thin-film sensors that enable real-time mapping of temperature and surface pressure for each cell within a battery pack, being developed by GE.

Wireless Sensor System for Battery Packs

LLNL is developing a wireless sensor system to improve the safety and reliability of lithium-ion battery systems by monitoring key operating parameters of Li-Ion cells and battery packs.

Temperature-regulated Batteries

ORNL’s temperature-regulated Li-Ion cells are being designed to increase cooling efficiency and result in better battery performance at substantial system-level cost savings.

Embedded Fiber Optic Sensing System for Battery Packs

Fiber optic sensors that would be embedded into batteries to monitor and measure key internal parameters during charge and discharge cycles are being developed by PARC.

Reconfigurable Battery Packs

A reconfigurable design for electric vehicle battery packs that can re-route power in real-time between individual cells, currently in the pipeline at PSU.

Battery Monitoring and Control Software

Bosch is developing battery monitoring and control software to improve the capacity, safety and charge rate of electric vehicle batteries.

Germany launches energy storage organisation & new subsidies

We had only just congratulated the Twitter-meister of the newly announced German Storage Association, when we came across the equally exciting news in PV Magazine that the German Federal government was to launch a €50 million subsidy to nurture energy storage development in the country. What’s more, this money is only the beginning of a longer-term policy of encouraging the adoption of energy storage, and will include €2,000 individual handouts for each installation, a move presumably aimed at boosting domestic deployment.

Number of energy storage projects increased last year

The Energy Storage Tracker for the final quarter of 2012 has some cheery news for the sector from Pike Research. Demand has risen in Asia, according to Pike’s analysis, thanks to Asian economies moving toward advanced battery technologies, with the intention of developing export industries.

There are good indicators in North America as well, where the market is characterised by a government policy of funding innovation. As a result, it is currently the most technologically diverse region in terms of energy storage.

Partially because of this regional growth, the total number of announced projects rose globally from 83 in the second quarter of 2012, to 107 in the fourth quarter. Meanwhile, the number of deployed, operational projects grew from 522 to 562 during the same period.

In addition to state funding, two other factors account for the rise in deployments. Firstly, demand for energy storage has grown, as utilities have learnt more about energy storage technologies and become less risk averse.

Secondly, what Pike describes as the brightening economic outlook has made companies become more willing to invest the capital required for energy storage. Where that capital is coming from and going to, exactly, is an interesting question – given the well-publicised phobia US venture capital has developed toward battery technology lately.