5 Tangible Advances for Long-Duration Energy Storage in 2019

on December 31, 2019

Following long-duration storage is like rooting for a home team that’s always about to win next year.

Lithium-ion batteries utterly dominate grid storage deployments these days. That’s great for the cost decline narrative, in the way that cheap Chinese photovoltaic cells produced a massive expansion in solar deployments. But cost obsession results in technology lock-in, boxing out other tools that could prove useful or even better if given the time and space to grow.

It also makes for homogeneous storylines: In other news, the latest energy storage plant looks and performs exactly like all the other ones; check back as this story develops.

There are good reasons to root for the scrappy upstarts challenging the conventional wisdom and building alternative technologies to store clean energy for days, as will be needed for renewables-heavy grids. But the last decade has seen the long-duration storage field make outlandish promises and instead deliver bankruptcies or a slow-rolled smattering of small demos.

This year, the remaining entrepreneurs gave us something different: signs of financial sure-footedness and tangible steps toward long-awaited scale. At the same time, the mainstream storage industry reminded the world of the value of different, more fire-resistant technologies.

This is still more windup than pitch, but just wait for next year.

  1. Cash like never before
    Investment tallies provide an indirect measure of long-duration storage startups’ prospects but a crucial one nonetheless. And this year delivered windfall investment for leading entrants in this space.

Energy Vault made the biggest splash, pulling in $110 million from SoftBank’s Vision Fund this summer. That marked the single largest equity investment in a stationary storage company, according to Wood Mackenzie’s investment database (battery companies targeting electric vehicles have raised bigger rounds).

SoftBank’s judgment took a reputational hit when star investment WeWork imploded this fall, and it doesn’t have a track record of storage picks. But the money stands: Energy Vault has gobs of cash to construct its initial pipeline of gravity-based storage plants, which use a futuristic automated crane to stack and lower massive blocks. That’s not a sentence Greentech Media could have written a few years ago, when the litmus test for a promising long-duration storage company was mere survival.

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Fractal Energy Storage Consultants5 Tangible Advances for Long-Duration Energy Storage in 2019

Ten Research Teams Aim For Long-Duration Storage At 5¢/kWh

on December 31, 2019

Ten teams working to drive down the cost of long duration storage are competing in a way, using federal grant support to make enough progress to earn a follow-on grant for pilot-scale production. Projects include a sulfur flow battery for full-week backup capability, and a more efficient means of converting electricity to hydrogen and back again.

Each project aims toward a goal of 5 cents/kWh for storage that can last for days, under the DAYS program of the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA-E).

Here are highlights of the ten projects, spanning corporate, university and hybrid teams.

Sulfur flow batteries

Flow batteries use electricity to produce an electrolyte, which may be stored separately from the battery. The electrolyte is later “flowed” through the battery to generate electricity. As a result, long-duration storage using flow batteries requires only a large storage capacity for electrolyte.

Form Energy aims to achieve “full-week backup capability” with a sulfur flow battery “at a factor of 10 or greater cheaper” than lithium-ion batteries, said company co-founder Marco Ferrara in a video posted by global utility Enel. Form Energy may ultimately pilot its battery technology in a joint project with Enel.

“Aqueous sulfur flow batteries represent the lowest chemical cost among rechargeable batteries,” says Form Energy’s grant award notice, but have low efficiency. To improve efficiency, the firm is working on anode and cathode formulations, membranes and physical system designs.

A United Technologies project is focused on sulfur and manganese flow batteries, and has three project partners: Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, MIT, and Pennsylvania State University. The project aims to “overcome challenges of system control and unwanted crossover of active materials through the membrane.”

Electricity to hydrogen

A team at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville aims to improve the efficiency of the round-trip process of converting electricity to hydrogen and back again. The current process uses electricity to power an electrolyzer to convert water to hydrogen and oxygen, and then uses the hydrogen and oxygen in a fuel cell to produce electricity and water.

“It has long been a goal to make a regenerative fuel cell, a single device that functions as both a fuel cell and an electrolyzer,” said lead researcher Dr. Thomas Zawodzinski, as quoted in a university press release. “However, such devices have previously suffered from poor overall efficiency. The new project uses an alternative approach by changing one of the chemical reactions in the cell and bypassing the efficiency bottleneck.”

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsTen Research Teams Aim For Long-Duration Storage At 5¢/kWh

The Battery Decade: How Energy Storage Could Revolutionize Industries in The Next 10 Years

on December 31, 2019

What a difference a decade can make. In 2010, batteries powered our phones and computers. By the end of the decade, they are starting to power our cars and houses too.

Over the last ten years, a surge in lithium-ion battery production drove down prices to the point that — for the first time in history — electric vehicles became commercially viable from the standpoint of both cost and performance. The next step, and what will define the next decade, is utility-scale storage.

As the immediacy of the climate crisis becomes ever more apparent, batteries hold the key to transitioning to a renewable-fueled world. Solar and wind are playing a greater role in power generation, but without effective energy storage techniques, natural gas and coal are needed for times when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t howling. And so large scale storage is instrumental if society is to shift away from a world dependent on fossil-fuel.

UBS estimates that over the next decade energy storage costs will fall between 66% and 80%, and that the market will grow to as much as $426 billion worldwide. Along the way entire ecosystems will grow and develop to support a new age of battery-powered electricity, and the effects will be felt throughout society.

Changing electrical grid
If electric vehicles grow faster than expected, peak oil demand could be reached sooner than expected, for instance, while more green-generated power will alter the makeup of the electricity grid.

In a recent note to clients, Cowen analysts said that the grid will “see more changes over the next ten years than it has in the prior 100.”

The growing energy storage market offers no shortage of investing opportunities, especially as government subsidies and regulations assist the move towards clean energy. But like other highly competitive markets — such as the semiconductor space in the 1990s — the battery space hasn’t always provided the best return for investors. A number of battery companies have gone bankrupt, underlining the fact that a society-altering product might not reward shareholders.

“Eventually this will come down to some industry leaders who make some money,” JMP Securities’ Joe Osha said. “I think all these companies are going to do a good job of delivering declining prices for [electric vehicle] manufacturers over the course of the next 5-10 years. I am not so sure that they are going to generate great stockholder returns in the process.”

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsThe Battery Decade: How Energy Storage Could Revolutionize Industries in The Next 10 Years

Solar-Energy–Harvesting Hybrid Device Provides Uninterrupted Power

on December 31, 2019

Integrated system simultaneously harvests and stores solar thermal energy with low losses for 24/7 power under all conditions.

Researchers at the University of Houston have designed a device that efficiently captures solar energy and stores it for use by applications for the internet of things (IoT) and industrial IoT. Unlike solar panels and solar cells, which use photovoltaic technology for direct electricity generation, the hybrid device leverages the physics of molecular energy and the accumulation of latent heat to make the collection and storage of energy a 24/7 process, addressing a primary shortcoming of current solar products.

The researchers synthesized the device using norbornadiene-quadricyclane (NBD–QC), an organic compound with high specific energy and extended storage times, as the molecular storage material (MSM), separated from a localized phase-change material (L-PCM) by a silica aerogel to maintain the necessary difference in working temperature.

The common approach for storing solar energy is the use of batteries coupled with photovoltaic systems for both small- and large-scale installations. It is not only electricity that needs to be stored: An equally useful aspect of energy transition is the ability to capture and store solar thermal energy. That goal is not so easy to achieve, however, especially if you need a system that can preserve heat for long periods.

The challenge has spurred a new line of research in recent years that is devoted to the creation of solar storage on demand. The critical point of these systems remains efficiency. The Houston researchers’ development could thus drive decisive change in the thermal-battery sector.

Efficient harvesting and storage of solar thermal energy are essential to exploiting the abundant solar radiation that reaches Earth’s surface. Today’s systems use expensive materials with a high optical concentration, which leads to high heat losses.

The new device is based on a hybrid paradigm that uses daytime heat localization to provide 73% collection efficiency on a small scale and ∼90% on a large scale. In particular, at night, the energy stored by the hybrid system is recovered with 80% efficiency and at a higher temperature than during the day, setting it apart from other state-of-the-art systems, according to a paper published by the researchers in the December issue of Joule.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsSolar-Energy–Harvesting Hybrid Device Provides Uninterrupted Power

Challenges Remain in Understanding Energy Storage as an Investment

on December 27, 2019

Energy storage is a rapidly growing segment of the clean energy sector, and prices are dropping fast. Yet many are still struggling to understand how to value energy storage as an investment.

As a growing number of cities, states and businesses commit to 100 percent clean energy, storage is already playing a pivotal role in determining how they will meet these targets. Wood Mackenzie’s latest Global Energy Storage Outlook projects that deployments will grow 13-fold over the next six years, from a 12-gigawatt-hour market in 2018 to a 158-gigawatt-hour market in 2024.

This emerging market represents a huge opportunity. Global investments of $374 billion a year will be needed to upgrade the grid with enough flexibility to account for the variable power generation profiles of renewable technologies like solar and wind. Storage solutions are now a growing part of this energy transition and will represent a $150 billion industry in the U.S. alone by 2023.

However, massive deployment numbers and dropping costs won’t streamline project finance for energy storage in the short term. As a nascent industry, battery storage lacks historical data, requiring investors and lenders to familiarize themselves with its unique qualities.

Installing storage, whether as a standalone asset or by adding it to an existing utility power source, is highly individualized from one project to another. So extrapolating risk and returns from any given asset is not straightforward. Each project draws power from a unique generation source (renewable or traditional power plants) and is interconnected to a regionally regulated power market and a unique revenue stream.

Some storage projects are able to generate income both while charging and deploying energy, while others are focused just on deployment. There are also interconnection considerations depending on how and where your storage project plugs in. Are you directly charging from the grid? From a solar or wind farm or some other standalone generation facility?

Another consideration for investors is that batteries in a storage project have shorter lifespans of 10 to 15 years versus solar or wind energy assets that may last twice as long. And similar to PV modules, which lose efficiency as they age, it’s critical to understand the factors that impact a battery’s ability to store energy as it ages and to factor in the cost of replacement as needed. Understanding the intricacies of asset management and optimization is highly complex, but it is necessary in order to adequately mitigate risk for each storage portfolio.

To realize the full potential for the investment markets and the global energy transition, it’s critically important to understand the entire value stack that integrated storage brings to the table.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsChallenges Remain in Understanding Energy Storage as an Investment

The Year in Solar, Part III: Battery Breakthroughs, Inverter Trouble, Sustainable Role Models And New Tech

on December 27, 2019

As we moved into the third quarter of another eventful year in PV, the breakthroughs in storage predicted for 2019 appeared to be taking shape, not least in the U.S. where two big battery projects are set to be deployed in 2021.

The U.S. Energy Information Administration in July predicted the 1 GW of battery storage systems expected in the States this year would grow to 2.5 GW by 2023, helped along by Florida Power and Light’s 409 MW Manatee Solar Energy Center in Parrish and the initial, 129 MW phase of oil and gas company Helix Energy Solutions Inc’s 316 MW Ravenswood facility in Queens, New York.

That encouraging prediction came despite the findings of MIT researchers a month later that the cost of battery storage systems would have to fall almost 90% – to less than $20/kWh of capacity – to enable an entirely renewable energy power system. The number crunchers did point out, however, reducing by just 5% the amount of generation from solar and wind power – perhaps by methods such as demand-side management – would raise that storage project break-even figure to around $150/kWh. MIT folks also estimated, in August, global heating will affect the performance of solar panels, reducing yield by around 0.45% of each degree Celsius of global temperature rise.

Is gas a necessary evil?

The cost hurdle of energy storage was cited as one of the reasons why natural gas must remain a key back-up element to national grids, according to an interview given to pv magazine by Tom Vernon, MD of British company Statera, which operates both battery storage capacity and gas-fired peaking power stations in the U.K. It was a divisive article, which prompted convincing counter-claims from the proponents of storage solutions such as pumped hydro but it certainly added to the debate over the composition of the future energy mix.

The business case for battery storage was illustrated by the performance of the Tesla-supplied, 100 MW/129 MWh Hornsdale Power Reserve in South Australia, which cost French owner Neoen €56 million (US$62.3 million) and had already repaid €8.1 million in its first six months of operation by providing grid services and power to the state government.

We also saw the flexible scale of battery storage during Q3, with products evening out renewable energy supply from individual household to national levels. Japanese electronics giant Panasonic unveiled its EverVolt lithium-ion household storage system at the Solar Power International trade show in Salt Lake City in September, with the U.S. model available in 5.7-34.2 kWh sizes.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsThe Year in Solar, Part III: Battery Breakthroughs, Inverter Trouble, Sustainable Role Models And New Tech

Lineman’s Idea Leads to Microgrid in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

on December 27, 2019

Duke Energy’s Jessica Wells explores how one lineman’s idea lead to development of a Great Smoky Mountains National Park microgrid. Learn how using solar power and batteries, Duke Energy was able to remove power lines atop Mt. Sterling.

Jeff Fisher has spent more time than most in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park. Not as a tourist, but as a lifelong resident of North Carolina’s Haywood County and a lineworker. The park is home to some of the tallest mountains on the east coast, and Fisher has spent his 34-year career at Duke Energy hiking the challenging terrain to fix broken power poles, wires and equipment to get the lights back on as quickly and safely as possible.

With as much time as he spends walking in the woods, he has had plenty of opportunity to think about better ways to provide power. One of his ideas removed 3.5 miles of power lines and helped provide reliable power for park rangers to communicate in emergencies. Duke Energy installed a microgrid consisting of solar panels and batteries at the top of Mt. Sterling, one of the highest peaks in the park.

Fisher estimates he climbed Mt. Sterling seven times a year to make repairs to the line before the microgrid, but now he doesn’t have to repair the system at all. He visits every six months for routine maintenance with a representative from NantEnergy (formerly Fluidic Energy), a vendor that provided the microgrid system.

He sounded like a tour guide driving his white pickup truck around winding roads in the Cataloochee valley on a recent visit to the trail, pointing out places of interest like the general store where he buys local honey, an old church that’s mostly used for decoration, and, on the left, a turn in the road where you’re likely to spot elk roaming the protected lands.

At the top of the mountain, there’s a tower containing communication equipment for rangers in remote areas of the park. The radio system was powered by a 3.5-mile line, which was sufficient since it was installed in the 1960s, but, it had limitations. During high winds and heavy snow, trees fell on the line and knocked out power, which left the park without a way to communicate between ranger stations. If a hiker were to be injured during an outage, it would be impossible to dispatch emergency services.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsLineman’s Idea Leads to Microgrid in Great Smoky Mountains National Park

Scientists Discover Three New Species Of Solar Power Plants in 2019

on December 26, 2019

For a long while, the job of solar power was to deliver daytime electricity – starting to pump the juice in earnest somewhere around 10 a.m., and finishing at 2 p.m. And every single drip of electricity was needed to be used to get investors into the project. This reality is no longer. For instance – we’re now talking about how in Minnesota overbuilding solar power and dumping “extra” electricity is cheaper than seasonal storage and gas over the coming decades. This ain’t your parent’s solar power.

In July of this year, a project in Connecticut was completed with a DC to AC ratio – the ratio of total solar panel wattage to solar inverter capacity – of 1.8 to 1. This value is significant (greater than the average closer to 1.3:1) because it shows that large developers have fully grasped, and are deploying, a strategy that takes full advantage of cheap solar panels to gain greater benefit. While a normal solar power plant might start clipping—i.e., dumping electricity produced by the solar panels that the inverter isn’t able to export—as the day approaches 12 noon, a plant like this will begin clipping much sooner. Generally, this wasted electricity is lost revenue. and designers abhor it. However, a plant like this will also offer a more consistent amount of electricity delivered to the power grid—starting much earlier and ending much later. As well, it will also offer a greater amount of electricity during the low sun wintertime periods. An analysis by Fluence suggested that these extra solar panels, beyond the 1.3:1 ratio, cost approximately 60¢/Wdc to install—far cheaper than standard system pricing.

What might be the most significant solar project of the year was developed by 8minute Solar Energy—the Eland Solar Power Plant totalling 400MWac / 600(?)MWdc plus 300MW/1,200MWh of energy storage. The facility will sell its electricity to two separate California buyers at just under 4¢/kWh. The plant was, to the best of this author’s knowledge, the first large solar plus storage facility that could arguably be considered a true power plant.

But the real kicker of this facility, and the reason there is a “?” after the 600 MWdc above, is the capacity factor that approaches 60% per CEO Tom Buttgenbach. This value is far above the peaks of AC capacity factors found in the 35% range per recent research. There are a few reasons this plant can offer a value like this:

  • The plant is located in the Mojave Desert with some of the world’s best sunlight
  • Single axis trackers “widen the shoulders” and up production overall by 15-30%
  • DC coupled energy storage captures and later on delivers the clipped electricity
  • And last, but with a question mark as the actual values aren’t known, it is probable that bifacial solar modules and/or an oversize DC to AC ratio are pumping out extra electricity for those batteries to grab.
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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsScientists Discover Three New Species Of Solar Power Plants in 2019

Top 10 Utility Regulation Trends of 2019

on December 26, 2019

In August, we published the top 10 utility regulation trends of 2019 — so far. With 2019 wrapping up, we look at the 10 trends and actions that stand out above the rest.

From the falling cost of renewables and storage driving utilities’ resource planning, to the realignment of utility performance incentives with evolving policy goals, it was a busy year.

Below is an executive summary of the complete roundup, which has specific examples of state public utility commission action. (You can read AEE’s full version with details and links to proceedings here.)

  1. Implementing 100% clean energy commitments
    As renewable energy and energy storage resources become increasingly cost-competitive, states have become more ambitious in their clean energy targets. At least 13 states plus Puerto Rico and Washington, D.C. have now set 100 percent clean energy targets.

Washington, D.C. codified the most aggressive target, setting 2032 as the deadline for powering its grid with 100 percent renewable energy. A few others, including Illinois, Maryland, Michigan and Oregon, have announced initial plans to transition to 100 percent clean energy.

In addition, at least six investor-owned utilities — Avista, Duke Energy, Green Mountain Power, Idaho Power, Public Service Co. of New Mexico and Xcel Energy — operating in 12 other states have committed to 100 percent clean energy targets.

While the requirements, timelines and implementation mechanisms may differ, one trend is clear: There’s nothing alternative about advanced energy anymore.

  1. Falling cost of renewables and storage drives resource plans
    In most states, it is now often cheaper to build new wind and solar plants (in some cases even when paired with storage) than to operate existing fossil-fuel power plants.

The data bears this out. The average levelized cost of energy for large-scale solar PV and onshore wind without subsidies is now as low as $32 and $28 per megawatt-hour, respectively. This compares favorably to the marginal cost of operating existing coal plants — now at about $33 per megawatt-hour. Falling costs have led to an estimated $2.6 trillion in new investments in clean energy, as defined by Bloomberg New Energy Finance, in the past decade.

Renewables are now dominating utility long-term planning, as we saw this year in Colorado, Georgia, Indiana, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico and Utah.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsTop 10 Utility Regulation Trends of 2019

Top 10 Most Popular Microgrid White Papers of 2019

on December 26, 2019

Microgrid Knowledge’s 10 most popular microgrid white papers of 2019 explore key questions surrounding microgrid development, finance, design, construction and operation. Top papers also focus on microgrid affordability and the evolution of distributed energy resources.

These paper — and energy headlines in 2019 — make clear that energy customers are looking for resiliency and reliability that often only a microgrid can provide. They show that different and fresh financing models, like energy-as-a-service, are making microgrids affordable to businesses and communities.

As a result, interest in microgrid research is high. Microgrid Knowledge members have free access to a full library of microgrid white papers , covering a range of clean energy topics, from emerging technology and trends to non-wires alternatives, financing and ownership models.

New white papers are regularly added by a range of microgrid and clean energy leaders, among them S&C Electric, Siemens, Ameresco, Schneider Electric.

Below you will find the top 10 most downloaded white papers on Microgrid Knowledge in 2019, covering everything from microgrid affordability to the evolution of distributed energy resources:

  1. The Evolution of Distributed Energy Resources

This report makes plain the complexities involved in capturing DER benefits. Some of the most significant advantages occur within wholesale energy market transactions, a complex arena best pursued with guidance from experts in the space.

  1. The Financial Decision-Makers Guide to Energy-as-a-Service Microgrids

A new energy-as-a-service (EaaS) model has emerged that simplifies microgrid development and ownership for organizations. EaaS relieves the microgrid host from operational and financial risk—but guarantees them the benefits. This special report highlights in detail the new model for energy-as-a-service microgrids.

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Fractal Energy Storage ConsultantsTop 10 Most Popular Microgrid White Papers of 2019