Storage hopeful Alevo confirms PJM project

Alevo battery technology is entering commercial operation this month, as it installs six GridBank units for the PJM Interconnection Market. Pic: Alevo.

Alevo battery technology is entering commercial operation this month, as it installs six GridBank units for the PJM Interconnection Market. Pic: Alevo.

By Jason Deign

Alevo, a Swiss battery maker with operations in Concord, North Carolina, USA, has confirmed the first commercial delivery of its sulphur-based lithium-ion GridBank product.

The company is due to install six 2MW/1MWh GridBank units this month across three sites in Hagerstown, Maryland, to provide frequency regulation and other ancillary services to the PJM Interconnection Market.

Speaking to Energy Storage Report during European Utility Week last year, Alevo officials confirmed that two other projects were already “grid connected.”

The implication is that these two projects, a 8MW/4MWh deployment Lewes, Delaware, which was announced in March 2016, and a 10MW, 3MWh project in Georgetown, Texas, are non-commercial pilots.

According to the Charlotte Business Journal: “The company has taken longer than initially expected to get to commercial production of the battery and its control systems. 

First GridBanks off the production line

“When the company first announced its plans for the Concord battery manufacturing plant, it had projected that the first GridBanks would roll off its production line by the end of 2015.”

The delays may have been partly linked to factory acceptance testing, which was carried out by Parker Hannifin.

“We have been testing the GridBank in conjunction with Alevo since August,” said Jim Hoelscher, general manager of Parker Hannifin’s Energy Grid Tie Division in Charlotte, in Alevo’s latest press release.

In the meantime, Alevo has also seen changes to its top team. Earlier this month it announced the appointment of former oil and gas exploration firm executive Peter Heintzelman as group chief financial officer.

Heintzelman replaced Larus Arnason, who “returns to his native Iceland,” Alevo said, and joined a heavyweight team led by executive chairman Jostein Eikeland, a ‘visionary serial entrepreneur’. 

All eyes on Alevo’s products

In any event, all eyes will now be on Alevo’s products, rather than its management team, to see if the GridBank lives up to its promise.

Alevo, which has 330 employees, picked up the recipe for the GridBank in 2014 from a German business called fortu PowerCell and then invested USD$68m in a factory in Charlotte, Forbes reported last May.

Christopher Christiansen, president of Alevo USA, said the sulphur-based electrolyte being used by fortu PowerCell had first been uncovered in the late 1970s but had not been used in its current form factor until 2009.

By then, some of the battery’s more notable characteristics were becoming apparent. Christiansen claimed the battery could undergo 50,000 cycles with 100% depth of discharge because “the internal resistance is constant.”

Alevo also says its inorganic electrolyte is 10 times as conductive, electrically and thermally, as traditional organic electrolytes. 

The biggest draw for customers

Another potentially big plus for the technology is that it is non-flammable, which means it can be installed without the need for fire-suppression measures. But perhaps the biggest draw for customers is the cost.

Christiansen said Alevo was targeting a levelised cost of storage of $0.10 per kWh, almost equal to the $0.09 per kWh touted by rival Eos Energy Storage, which is said to be almost 40% less than traditional lithium-ion products.

“We have a perfect power battery,” Christiansen said.

Whether customers will agree remains to be seen. Since launching the GridBank, “we’ve received more interest than we expected, said Christiansen.

And in November last year, Alevo’s executives were expecting to have installed more than 100MW of capacity around the world by the third quarter of 2017, with up to 70% being deployed on US soil. 

Capacity for 300MWh of production a year

Alevo’s factory has capacity for up to 300MWh of production a year, the company claims.

That should allow it to take care of growing GridBank demand for the near future, but potential customers may first need to be convinced that Alevo is the real deal.

The slower-than-anticipated commercialisation of the GridBank does not bode well for the company. And observers may well question how Alevo will succeed where its predecessor, fortu PowerCell, failed.

Alevo bought fortu PowerCell after the German company’s Swiss parent, Fortu Holding, filed for bankruptcy. It is not clear whether Fortu’s misfortunes were related to the commercialisation of battery products.

Soon after the acquisition, Alevo pulled the plug on a battery plant that fortu PowerCell was planning to build in Muskegon, Michigan, using $100m in tax credits.

Alevo’s executive team is not currently in search of financing, but given the uncertain history of its technology it may need some goodwill in the bank in order to succeed.

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