Your five top stories of 2014

Energy Storage Report 2014 review: battery prices, distributed energy storage, the Alstom takeover, vanadium redox flow batteries and energy return on investment. Photo credit: Animam for Energy Storage Report

Energy Storage Report 2014 review: battery prices, distributed energy storage, the Alstom takeover, vanadium redox flow batteries and energy return on investment. Photo credit: Animam for Energy Storage Report

It’s already dimming in the memory. But before 2014 fades out of sight completely, let’s remember this was an important 12 months for energy storage.There was plenty of the usual hype, of course, but also a real sense that energy storage was being taken seriously at last… and some pretty big stories. Of all our headlines over the last 12 months, these are the ones that you were most keen to read.

1. Why you might want to give up this year’s profit

In January we reported on how a handful of battery makers could force an industry showdown by taking a long-term bet on market dominance and lowering prices. And if they did not, there was a good chance automakers might force price reductions anyway.

Our prediction was that the battery market was reaching a tipping point similar to that seen a few years ago in the photovoltaic (PV) solar sector, where one or two players could trigger a wave of consolidation by launching cut-price products.

“Right now the prices set the volumes in the battery market, not the other way around,” said Hans Streng, senior vice president and general manager of the electric vehicle charging infrastructure product group at ABB.

“It’s a strategic choice for battery manufacturers whether they want to open up the market for themselves or wait for change to happen for them.”

A year on, our prediction appears a little premature. We’re still waiting for battery prices to tumble, but there’s no doubt the pressure to bring down costs is increasing. Could 2015 be the year the tipping point comes?

2. Distributed energy: battery’s holy grail?

In April we opined that grid-scale battery makers might want to re-set their sights on distributed energy storage if market trends were anything to go by.

Across a number of major renewable power markets, demand for commercial and residential energy storage was beginning to mushroom as a result of burgeoning solar photovoltaic (PV) installations and a desire for greater independence from the grid.

In Northern Illinois, USA, for example, Intelligent Generation was reported to have 10MW of commercial and residential solar-and-storage projects in the pipeline.

While the grid-scale market is far from dead, what we have seen in the remainder of 2014 is that distributed battery storage does indeed seem to offer quicker growth prospects for now.

Selling batteries as part of a residential PV package appears to be much easier than getting a utility or plant owner to splash out on a major project.

The question is whether volume sales from distributed generation equipment can ultimately outgun bigger, rarer grid-scale deals.

3. What the Alstom deal means for energy storage

Every now and then a news item comes along with the potential to shake up an industry.

The prospect of GE taking over the Alstom energy business looked like it might fall into that category, although our analysis was that the effect on the energy storage market would actually be relatively minor.

“Alstom, GE and Siemens are all involved in energy storage but only GE has made a tangible impact to date, via its division GE Energy Storage,” Bloomberg New Energy Finance associate Logan Goldie-Scot told Energy Storage Report.

“It is primarily a battery manufacturer whose main product, the Durathon battery, is an energy-oriented battery. It does, however, provide solutions spanning the entire storage value chain.”

We noted that GE has been eager to deploy Durathon-based battery storage in a variety of settings, starting with transportation and more recently including applications ranging from wind power to mobile base stations.

In contrast, Alstom had been slow to capitalise on the battery storage market. In 2015 we’ll be keeping a close eye on these and other market leaders.

4. Redox flow batteries for cheap grid-scale energy storage

Mike Stone’s review of redox flow batteries went down a storm with readers, perhaps indicating a thirst for information about reliable grid-scale energy storage that does not involve huge civil engineering projects.

We pointed out that while battery storage is currently leaning towards lithium-ion technology, potentially encouraged by the prospect of gigafactories springing up all over the US in the next few years, redox flow batteries are making a global impact.

In 2014 the technology was attracting investment and seemed to work, with a number of larger projects currently in operation. Vanadium redox flow is a centrepiece in Bosch’s showcase Braderup energy storage project.

Over the next 12 months we expect to see further progress in the use of redox flow batteries in grid-scale storage. What we are not clear about is whether this will end up being a competitor or a companion to other battery technologies.

5. Why energy storage is a dead-end industry

‘Could energy storage send us back to the Stone Age?’ we asked in October. There was a growing body of evidence that suggests this might indeed be the case.

The studies have nothing to do with energy storage’s main preoccupation at the moment, which is cost. Instead, they deal with a much more fundamental issue: how much energy it takes to be able to store the energy in the first place.

The concept of energy return on investment (EROI, also called energy returned on energy invested) is critical to energy storage because it provides a measure of whether a particular technology might be appropriate for use at scale.

In essence, if it takes more energy to create a given storage mechanism than the mechanism could ever deliver over the course of its life, then the net result of using the technology is that it will cannibalise power rather than return it to the system.

We thought the topic was important enough to warrant a two-part investigation. Thankfully our conclusion dispelled our original concerns, but we will be keeping an eye on this topic in the months to come.

Written by Jason Deign

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