Islands of energy storage

Island energy storage projects offer a test bed for the systems and technologies that might proliferate on the mainland on a much larger scale. Photo credit: El Hierro renewable energy project, ABB energy storage systems

Island energy storage projects offer a test bed for the systems and technologies that might proliferate on the mainland on a much larger scale. Photo credit: El Hierro renewable energy project, ABB energy storage systems

Energy storage for island communities has been in the news a lot recently. Hawaii has been seeking out up to 200MW of storage, while El Hierro in the Canaries is set to become the first island to rely entirely on wind and pumped hydro power next month.

Meanwhile, the millionaire’s playground of Necker Island in the Caribbean and several more are looking to invest in various technologies that store energy. The reasons are hardly surprising.

Islands are usually isolated from large mainland grids and shipping or in some cases even flying in diesel to generate energy is expensive. As a result, island-dwellers, such as those in Hawaii and the Caribbean, suffer high energy bills.
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Distributed energy: battery’s holy grail?

As SolarCity resumes installation applications for its solar energy storage systems in California, we assess the wider potential for batteries and distributed energy storage.

As SolarCity resumes installation applications for its solar energy storage systems in California, we analyse the wider market potential for batteries and distributed energy storage. Photo: © BrokenSphere/Wikimedia Commons

Grid-scale battery makers might want to re-set their sights on distributed energy storage if current market trends are anything to go by.

Across a number of major renewable power markets, demand for commercial and residential energy storage is 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 is reported to have 10MW of commercial and residential solar-and-storage projects in the pipeline.

The company has developed a smart system that can help these distributed storage assets cut out demand charges with the regional transmission organisation PJM Interconnection, as well as providing demand response and frequency regulation capacity.

The combination of solar, batteries and intelligent management leads to a quicker return on investment than installing PV alone, says Intelligent Generation.
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Is battery storage a new growth area for inverters?

We look at developments in the inverters for battery storage market from companies such as Eguana Technologies, ABB, Outback Power and SMA, who have a whole battery inverter family for integration with solar energy.

We look at developments in the inverters for battery storage market from companies such as Eguana Technologies, ABB, Outback Power and SMA, who have a whole battery inverter range for integration with solar energy. Photo credit: SMA

Inverter makers are increasingly catering for battery storage even though the scale of the opportunity is still dwarfed by solar. Last week, for example, Eguana Technologies trumpeted Chinese patents for its Bi-Direx line of inverter platforms.

Eguana Technologies chief executive Michael Carten said in a press release that the move was in response to growing demand for energy storage systems in China.

“In less than a year, Eguana has emerged as the technology leader in storage electronics, and we have had multiple enquiries in the past few months from Chinese firms about gaining access to the Bi-Direx technology,” he said.

“These new patents will allow us to engage with these companies with greater confidence.”

In February, meanwhile, OutBack Power added advanced battery charge profiles to its Radian inverter family, which features an energy balancing system called GridZero.
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Flywheel energy storage: going somewhere fast?

We analyse the current and future markets for flywheel energy storage, reviewing developments from established companies such as Beacon Power and ABB, to startups like Temporal Power. Photo credit: NASA

We analyse recent developments in flywheel energy storage: from established companies such as Beacon Power and ABB, to startups like Temporal Power and Flybrid. Photo: NASA

With all the hoo-hah around the developing nexus between Tesla, SolarCity and Panasonic, the battery subsidies on offer in Japan, plus NEC’s buyout of the A123 Systems grid energy storage unit from Wanxiang, you could be forgiven for thinking battery storage was the only game in town. But there is another technology that can provide some forms of grid-scale energy storage that batteries are less suited to, and which may one day even find its way into mass-produced hybrid cars.

Flywheels store kinetic energy that can be supplied either directly or via an electric motor, acting as a generator once the retained energy needs to be recovered.

The amount of energy that can be stored is a function of the mass of the disk, multiplied by the square of its rotational speed.

As a result, faster spinning wheels are a way of dramatically increasing capacity without the need to upscale the size of the unit (but speeding has its penalties, as we’ll see later).

Magnetic bearings are used to reduce friction and the flywheel is sealed in a vacuum to eliminate air drag. These two elements, plus the use of carbon composites in some of the faster flywheels, add to the cost of the current technology.

Flywheels are not much use at storing large amounts of energy for long periods of time. Applications such as load shifting and energy arbitrage are probably better suited to other technologies.

However, flywheels are in commercial use, there are a number of interesting development projects in the pipeline, and they could become a lot more common.
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Why you might want to give up this year’s profit

A handful of manufacturers may bet on market share this year and lower battery prices –or electric vehicle manufacturers could force price reductions.

Will battery companies bet on market share and lower battery prices, or could electric vehicle makers force reductions? We ask ABB. Photo credit: Tesla battery, Wesley Fryer

A handful of battery makers could force an industry showdown this year by taking a long-term bet on market dominance and lowering prices. And if they do not, there is a good chance automakers may force price reductions anyway. Industry watchers believe the battery market is 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.

The issue is which manufacturers will be willing to sacrifice their short-term profits in exchange for market share, believes Hans Streng, senior vice president and general manager of the electric vehicle charging infrastructure product group at ABB. “Right now the prices set the volumes in the battery market, not the other way around,” he says.

“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.”
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Estonia first with vehicle charging network

Estonia has become the first country in the world to install a nationwide system of fast chargers for electrical vehicles as part of European efforts to reduce carbon emissions, Reuters reports.

The 165 chargers were produced and installed by engineering group ABB, and construction was financed from the government’s sale of 10 million surplus CO2 emission permits to Japan’s Mitsubishi Corporation.

The 2011 deal with Mitsubishi also provided the government with more that 500 electric cars and the financing of a subsidiary system for people to purchase electric cars.

ABB invention brings the high voltage DC grid closer to reality

While we try to keep bang up to minute, there are some reports that are so important we will include them, even if they are a bit dated. One story that slipped through our net the first time around is the development of a DC breaker for high voltage transmission by power technology group ABB.

Announced in November last year, this is a breakthrough to a puzzle that has had engineers scratching their heads for a century. Solving it was an essential step in creating high voltage direct current (HVDC) grids – which are far more efficient at carrying electricity than current AC technology, even over longer distances,.

The DC breaker combines very fast mechanics with power electronics and will be capable of ‘interrupting’ power flows equivalent to the output of a large power station within 5 milliseconds – in other words, thirty times faster than you can blink.

This important development has potentially big implications for the energy storage industry. Will the advent of the DC ‘supergrids’ (where renewable energy can be shuttled across a continent from areas of high production and low demand, to where the power is most needed) reduce the need for energy storage?

Or, because the technology advances the viability of a cleaner, renewables-based energy infrastructure, will it also boost energy storage, which also has so much to offer a low-carbon economy?

Electric car batteries enjoy life after death

They may add thousands of dollars to the purchase price of the vehicle itself, but now it looks like used Chevrolet Volt batteries will extend their usefulness in the greening of society beyond their use on the road.

ABB and GM have announced that the lithium-ion packs that power the Chevy Volt have been successfully re-used in a prototype unit that provides 25kW of power and 50kWh of energy for the home, enough to electrify three to five average US homes for two hours, say ABB.

The back-up energy storage unit repackages five used batteries, thus considerably extending their total useful lives and, perhaps, making the initial high cost of the batteries a more attractive initial investment.