By Jason Deign
The year 2016 will probably be remembered as the point at which energy storage began to take off in earnest.
Projects came thick and fast as interest in storage extended quickly beyond early hotspots such as California and Germany.
We saw grid-scale storage playing a starring role in the UK’s frequency response market, while battery makers jostled for position in an increasingly buoyant Australian consumer market. And that was just a couple of examples.
Almost every major energy market in Asia, Europe and North America had a storage story to tell. But which were the ones that caught your eye? Here’s a rundown of our most popular headlines from 2016.
The year of energy storage software?
Around this time last year we asked whether 2016 would be the year of energy storage software.
It certainly looked that way after E.ON and American Electric Power invested in Greensmith, and AutoGrid Systems joined forces with hydrogen storage developer Electro Power Systems to build software-defined power plants.
“The last year has seen energy storage project developers increasingly moving away from connecting hardware and towards creating intelligent software that can control distributed batteries and other assets,” we reported.
A year on, there’s no doubt that storage systems rely more heavily on software capabilities than ever. What has changed, perhaps, is that software is no longer a valuable add-on to storage. Instead, it’s become an essential component.
Aquion cuts cost reduction target
Saltwater battery maker Aquion Energy is frequently cited as one of energy storage’s ‘ones to watch’.
And it certainly proved worthy of attention in October, when it revealed a cut in projected costs that was pretty remarkable even by our industry’s hyperbole-laden standards.
“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 noted.
The cut could take the price of Aquion batteries down to about USD$200 per kWh. With no rare earth elements or heavy metals in its manufacturing, Aquion remains a favoured challenger to lithium-ion products in the battery market.
Kreisel Electric puts Tesla through its paces
For all Aquion’s promise, lithium-ion is still the firm favourite for dominance in the battery market. And the technology isn’t standing still, as Austrian manufacturer Kreisel Electric proved in June.
Similar to Aquion, Kreisel is targeting a price point in the €200 ($210) per kWh range once it achieves volume production of around 1,000 of its Mavero batteries a year.
The company also claimed a number of advantages over battery-maker-to-beat Tesla, such as 300kW charge and discharging and balance-free cells yielding a capacity of up to 95%.
When discharging, “we can suck out 15% more than Tesla, from the same cell, due to the [lower] inner resistance,” said Christian Schlögl, head of business development at Kreisel.
Another company to beat Tesla
Tesla was definitely the company to everyone wanted to topple last year.
And claiming to do even better on costs than not just Tesla, but also upstarts such as Aquion and Kreisel, was Capacitor Sciences, a California start-up that reckoned it could get storage costs down to $100 per kWh.
The Menlo Park firm is hoping to use nano-structured crystalline thin films as the dielectric material for capacitors with up to 10 times the energy density and 100 times the power density of lithium-ion batteries.
The catch is that other capacitor makers, such as EEStor, have failed to make a go of the technology. Capacitor Sciences thinks it may have struck gold by using organic materials, but we’re still waiting to see the proof.
Distributed storage is going to take over
September saw a clutch of analyst reports that, by our reckoning, added up to the most significant finding to emerge from the energy storage market in the whole of 2016.
Bloomberg New Energy Finance’s Global Energy Storage Forecast was akin to most other energy storage reports in predicting massive growth for the industry.
But what caught our eye was a forecast trend towards distributed storage, with behind-the-meter applications scheduled to overtake utility-scale projects between 2020 and 2021.
Shortly before, another Bloomberg New Energy Finance report hinted at large price reductions to come from second-life electric vehicle battery sales, within a similar timeframe.
If correct, the predictions add up to a massive influx of low-cost lithium-ion batteries leading an irresistible rise in domestic, commercial and industrial-scale storage systems.
Start-up claims first integrated system
Perhaps surprisingly, given all the high-profile announcements that went out last year, our top headline concerned a company almost nobody has heard of: Concept by US.
In April the Florida, USA-based start-up came out with what it claimed was the industry’s first truly plug-and-play system for residential solar energy storage: in other words, the first to come with an integrated inverter.
Throwing an inverter into the pack no doubt gave Concept by US a brief lead in the market.
But as we observed: “It remains to be seen how this concept will stack up against companies that are already moving towards all-in-one solar-plus-storage packages for residential customers.”
- Also in this week’s intelligence brief roundup: Tesla, Oregon Public Utility Commission, San Diego County Water Authority and more. Get your free copy now.