Interview: We talk to Azelio’s CEO Jonas Eklind

BY RICHARD HEAP:

“The whole discussion about energy storage just a couple of years ago has been for short-duration and peak shaving, or frequency regulation.”

Jonas Eklind has watched the changing discussion about storage more closely than most. He has spent 14 years leading companies with systems ranging from batteries to hydrogen-based storage, and became chief executive of Swedish thermal storage manufacturer Azelio in December 2015.

Now he says the discussion is moving on: “It is just the last year the market has understood that long-duration is something that is really needed to make the transition from fossil fuels to renewables,” he says.

Nowhere is this shift clearer than California, where long-duration storage is now seen as a vital tool to keep the state going amid devastating wildfires.

Eklind says this is different to his discussions in California just two years ago.

“Everyone said, ‘You are crazy. No-one needs anything more than three hours.’ And now everyone says, ‘We need long-duration. We can’t survive without the rail system.’ It has been a huge change during the last years, and people also understand that a battery system for short duration and peak shaving is not competing with our system for long-duration and energy shifting. These systems need to work together in a complete system.”

We spoke to Eklind to learn more about Azelio’s thermal energy storage technology and its growth plans, as well as recent deals around the world.

Storage heating up

Swedish firm Azelio was set up in 2008 with the name Cleanergy, which it kept until 2018 when it unveiled its thermal energy storage system.

The system uses excess electricity from solar or wind projects to drive an electrical heater that stores energy at 600 degrees Celsius. When electricity is needed, that heat can be converted back into electricity using a Stirling engine.

Eklind says the main challenge over the company’s first decade was developing the three main parts of the system, and getting them to work together.

“One is the heat transport within the system, because it is tricky to do that in a cost-effective way. We have developed a complete thermal energy transfer system. We have developed the thermal energy storage system. And we have commercialised the Stirling engine, which is an old invention but we have brought it to an industrial scale,” he says.

The company then looked at around 200 different simulations of how the technology would look when it was installed, and selected one that offered the best potential to achieve high levels of production by 2021.

Azelio started installing its technology in pilot projects in 2018, and achieved its first installations on an industrial scale in its verification projects in Amal in Sweden and Ouarzazate in Morocco last December.

This work enabled Azelio to secure a few high-profile deals in recent months.

This month, it signed a deal with Atria Power to deploy 65MW of its systems in India in 2025, with the first small-scale installations of 100kW due in 2021.

Last month, it announced a tie-up with Abu Dhabi investor Masdar and Khalifa University to install at the emirate’s renewables-powered Masdar City. This could open the way for Masdar to deploy Azelio’s technology in 30 countries.

And it has also this year unveiled partnerships with Trimark Associates for projects of 45MW in North America; with Citrus JMK in Mexico; with Industria Mecanica Vogt in Chile; and with Hussein Atieh & Sons.

These transactions helped Azelio to conclude a share issue this month that is worth the equivalent of around €25m.

Eklind says many of its first projects focused on pairing storage with solar because concentrated solar power was the only way to charge the battery, but he adds that it was able to adapt its technology to run on electrical heat in 2019. Azelio expects this flexibility to support its goal of being a company with €1bn annual revenue by 2024.

This is supported by existing demand and strong investor backing.

“We have a pipeline of project requests to a total value of €16bn… and the potential revenue from already-signed cooperations is about €1.6bn,” he says. “[And] since the share issue [this month] we have some very solid institutional investors from Europe. That might be an indication that they are not planning to sell the company next week!”

With growing appetite for long-duration storage, that feels like a safe bet.

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