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The challenge, potential and applications for energy storage innovation


Dr David Lee

Dr David Lee discusses what's driving innovations in energy storage technologies and the next steps for companies like BioSolar, which is developing storage solutions specifically for renewable energy.

Driven by increased demand from municipalities, companies and individuals for more efficient power, innovators are developing renewable energy storage technologies that can respond faster to increased energy demands as well as store power supplies for later distribution. However, these developments are accompanied by a few challenges.

In 2013, the U.S. Department of Energy addressed four challenges related to the widespread deployment of energy storage - cost competitive energy storage technologies (including manufacturing and grid integration), validated reliability & safety, equitable regulatory environment, and industry acceptance:

  • Cost competitive energy storage technology – The achievement of this goal requires attention to factors such as life-cycle cost and performance (round-trip efficiency, energy density, cycle life, capacity fade, etc.) for energy storage technology as deployed. It is expected that early deployments will be in high value applications, but that long-term success requires both cost reduction and the capacity to realize revenue for all grid services storage provides;
  • Validated reliability and safety – Prior to selecting an energy storage technology, the validation of the safety, reliability, and performance of energy storage is critical for user confidence;
  • Equitable regulatory environment – This entails value propositions for grid storage dependent on reducing institutional and regulatory hurdles to levels comparable with those of other grid resources;
  • Industry acceptance – Industry adoption requires that they have confidence storage will deploy as expected, and deliver as predicted and promised.

It is essential that energy storage technology developers address each of these challenges by integrating messaging into their sales strategies, but also by ensuring their products meet the expectations of their user-base. The most significant challenges have been and will continue to be the high initial and replacement costs and limited life cycle of Lithium-ion batteries.

A survey from GTM Research and the Energy Storage Association predicted that the energy storage market in the United States will triple in 2015, and will grow from $128 million in 2014 to $1.5 billion by 2019. Currently, the market is very concentrated, as over 70% of installed energy storage capacity uses Lithium-ion batteries, as the technology is proven and bankable.

Solar storage solutions

Furthermore, data from the GTM Research indicates the demand for rooftop solar paired with energy storage systems will reach $1 billion in the U.S. within four years, creating pent up demand for cost effective solar energy storage solutions. Pairing solar panels with low cost batteries means users can effectively store power during the day and use it at night, reducing electricity bills. Those savings would be more significant for customers who pay higher rates for electricity during peak periods. Tesla recently emphasised this point at a large solar conference in San Francisco, stating that battery costs will fall faster than expected, and the same for the demand for energy storage equipment that will be paired with solar panels.

In addition, utility power companies, once challenged in managing the grid, are now installing battery storage as an alternative to adding expensive generation capacity required to handle peak electricity demand. Battery storage offers several benefits over traditional power sources, such as being cleaner, responding faster, can be located directly at load centers, and is increasingly less expensive than other options for tackling peak electricity demand.

It is widely acknowledged that storage can provide an array of beneficial services to the power system with or without renewable energy sources connected to the grid. From adding flexibility to an increasingly complex and distributed grid to saving customers money on their electricity bills, saving utility power companies money by installing battery storage as an alternative to adding expensive generation capacity to handle peak electricity demand.  There is value to be realised at every segment of the power system. 

Advanced energy storage technology can reach a wide variety of industries and verticals for public benefit. Electric vehicles and stations, and even consumer products such as personal cellular represent market opportunity. Transportation is the fastest growing segment of battery industry and is one of the biggest users of energy storage.  A low cost, fast charging and long-range battery will enable the mass adoption and affordability of clean-energy vehicles to replace fossil fuel vehicles.

The innovation recently occurred in the renewable energy space and tech spaces, be it electric cars, solar expansion, new cellular products, and interest from utility power companies, all of which are providing excellent market opportunity for battery technologies that can help address the US$100/kWh cost barrier to mass market adoption.

Consumer Electronics is also a very large segment of the battery industry, and includes everything from mobile phones, laptops, power tools, Internet of Things (IoT).  Higher energy capacity and rapid charge will enable mobile lifestyles where we don’t have to worry about running out of battery charge, or be attached to wall outlets of airport terminals waiting for that extra charge.

Breaking the US$100/kWh barrier

There have been numerous attempts by a number of startup companies to commercialise their battery technologies that promise incremental improvement in storage capacity, cost, or long-term reliability.  Unfortunately, none have been able to provide compelling technology that can address the $100/kWh cost barrier by relying upon conventional cathodes that use lithium-ion intercalation chemistry, an inherently slow process. 
An integral aspect of energy storage technology relates to how battery technology fits within existing manufacturing process infrastructure.

Many recent commercial battery technologies require their own set of processes and resources need to be implemented on-site for each application. This requires additional cost and time that can make potential partners averse to a technology, knowing they will need to rethink their entire manufacturing process. This is an immediate challenge that needs to be addressed by energy storage technology developers.

Like many companies, BioSolar is trying to solve what has been one of the fundamental challenges since the inception of renewable energy technology – once PV panels capture the energy, where do you store it?  Right now, there is no universal solution. However, a super battery that can increase capacity, costs much less, and can break the $100/KWh cost barrier needed for mass market adoption of energy storage, would represent a major contributor to on-site energy storage regardless of whether they are attached to renewable or not.

Clear path to the future

BioSolar seeks to project a clear path with how we will overcome the $100/kWh cost barrier, as well as long-term reliability. Our near term goal is to build commercial grade prototype cathodes that enable full scale testing of Lithium-ion battery incorporating our cathode. Performance data obtained from such full scale testing will help us to secure beneficial partnerships with companies that have significant potential market share in the Lithium-ion battery industry.

BioSolar will also demonstrate that its cathode is compatible with current battery manufacturing processes. Today’s battery manufacturers can simply replace the cathode fabrication process with the new BioSolar materials and processes, ensuring an easy transition from an infrastructure standpoint.

The global business landscape is in need of improved energy storage solutions. The company or companies that can best address challenges faced by municipalities, businesses, and consumers without altering existing processes and infrastructure, will gain significant market share. As predicted by analysts, expect this industry to experience tremendous growth, and for the companies that succeed to expand into many different applications and verticals.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr. David Lee is the CEO at BioSolar Inc., a developer of breakthrough technology to double the storage capacity, lower the cost and extend the life of lithium-ion batteries.

FURTHER INFORMATION

BioSolar

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