Navigant Research Blog

What Constitutes “Grid-Wide” Storage?

— June 25, 2014

A recent article in The New York Times made the claim that energy storage technology is “decades away from grid-wide use.”  Reporter Jim Malewitz did not define “grid-wide,” so it is difficult to understand how this term is defined for the purposes of the story.  We can examine that prediction, though, based on various measures.

One measure could be grid generation capacity of the capacity of installed energy storage.  Given that on its own the U.S. grid has about 1,058 GW of total generation capacity, energy storage rightfully appears to be a drop in the bucket – to be precise, 0.07% of grid generation capacity excluding pumped storage and 2.2% including pumped storage.  It’s worth noting, however, that the solar PV industry is considered to be successful and growing, and currently represents about 1.1% of total generation capacity in the United States.  Moreover, the pipeline for energy storage is expanding rapidly.  Approximately 13,000 MW of storage capacity is in the pipeline – 3,000 MW of which is advanced batteries, compressed air, flywheels, and power-to-gas.

Energy Storage Capacity, Installed and Announced, World Markets: 2Q 2014

(Source: Navigant Research)

The First Thousand

A second measure could be the number of markets where storage is present and the variety of technologies in the market.  Navigant Research is currently in the process of updating its Energy Storage Tracker, which tracks 30 energy storage technologies in over 600 projects – some of which include more than one storage system.  Overall, 952 systems in 51 countries are tracked in the database.

Worldwide, there are 2,497 MW of deployed advanced energy storage projects – this excludes pumped storage, a mature technology that accounts for 124 GW installed.  Asia Pacific continues to be the world leader in deployed capacity of energy storage, with 1,184 MW of deployed capacity, which represents 43% of global capacity.  New pumped storage makes up nearly 60% of Asia Pacific’s capacity, followed by sodium-sulfur batteries, with 31% market share.  The market share of advanced lithium ion batteries is growing quickly in Asia Pacific, with 74 MW installed currently.

Demand Flattens

Western Europe (762 MW deployed, 28% of global capacity) is primarily composed of power-to-gas, compressed air, new pumped storage, and molten salt technologies.  North America (725 MW deployed, up from 566 MW in 3Q13) is more evenly divided among technologies, with compressed air, flywheel, lithium ion, thermal, and advanced lead-acid batteries composing a majority of the capacity.  Clearly, a number of markets and technologies are being deployed across grids globally.

One other measure could be the growth of storage relative to a traditional industry.  In 2007, 28 MW of advanced energy storage were installed.  In the subsequent 6 years, 1,300 MW have been installed.  More specifically, installed energy storage grew 28% between 3Q13 and 2Q14.   In contrast, electricity sales have decreased over the past several years in the United States, and the U.S. Energy Information Administration predicts that electric demand growth will average less than 1% per year between 2012 and 2040.

Although energy storage is unlikely to revolutionize the global grid system in the near term, it will certainly begin to scale up rapidly in the next 3 to 5 years.  Perhaps then it will be closer to grid-wide.


Tesla Looks to Fuel a Battery Revolution

— June 18, 2014

Elon Musk, CEO of Tesla Motors, stunned the automotive world with his announcement that he was making all his company’s electric vehicle (EV) patents open source.  “Tesla will not initiate patent lawsuits against anyone who, in good faith, wants to use our technology,” he said on his blog.  Musk explained that he decided to do this because the “world would all benefit from a common, rapidly-evolving technology platform.”

Automotive companies are well-known for developing proprietary solutions for almost anything in an effort to get one step ahead of the competition, even for a short time.  But this approach means that often the opportunity to share in the rapid growth of a new technology is lost, and suppliers can miss out on the potential for much higher volumes.  Some have speculated that this change in attitude to patents is a move to create bigger demand for battery cells from Tesla’s planned Gigafactory.

Weight and Range

Conventionally powered vehicles are still the main business of all major automakers, which are continually investing in new ways to make these vehicles more efficient.  One of the current trends is to develop stop-start technology to capture some of the efficiency gains of a full hybrid at a fraction of the cost premium.  Full details on the latest developments are discussed in Navigant Research’s 48 Volt Systems for Stop-Start Vehicles and Micro Hybrids report.

When designing an electric or electrically assisted powertrain, manufacturers have to weigh a number of characteristics for each particular model.  Not all hybrid vehicles and EVs are optimized for economy.  Some use the stored energy to boost power or drive an additional pair of wheels.  Bigger batteries cost more and also add weight and take up space, but they provide greater electric-only range.  Small, light vehicles can travel further per kilowatt-hour of battery capacity than larger, heavier vehicles.  These compromises are difficult to resolve, and battery manufacturers have a role to play.

Step Up

Anticipated sales of battery electric vehicles (BEVs) are projected to be large enough to lead the demand for lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries in the automotive world.  Even though sales numbers of hybrid electric vehicles (HEVs) dwarf those of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles (PHEVs) and BEVs, a much larger battery capacity means that at least 60% of the Li-ion batteries made for automotive use will end up in a BEV over the next couple of years.  That percentage will increase slowly until the end of this decade, after which stop-start vehicles will begin to influence the distribution.  Maybe this move from Tesla will be an incentive for the established carmakers to put more effort into their BEV product range.

Navigant Research expects that the overall market for vehicle Li-ion battery revenue will reach $26 billion by 2023, and that revenue could exceed that if newly emerging 48V micro hybrid technology delivers on its promise of fuel efficiency at a low-cost increment, and a significant number of original equipment manufacturers choose to implement it with Li-ion battery packs.  In addition, the expected steady lowering of per-kilowatt-hour cost will encourage the market if manufacturers pass the savings on to customers.  Full details of the automotive market for Li-ion batteries are covered in Navigant Research’s report, Electric Vehicle Batteries.


Wearable Computing Batteries Get Real

— June 9, 2014

In the computing revolution that started with the invention of the transistor in 1947, microprocessors have continuously become faster, cheaper, and more energy efficient.  These improvements have shrunk the typical computing device down from the size of a room into a phone that fits into the palm of your hand.  The next step: something that fits onto our wrist or attaches like a piece of jewelry onto our clothes or bodies.  The era of wearable computing is emerging, and the only thing holding it up is batteries.

The typical consumer device battery is made up of rigid electrode plates surrounded by a gel or liquid electrolyte that needs a lot of non-flexible packaging to keep the outside air from getting in and the potentially flammable internal materials from getting out.  All that rigidity makes for very few options in designing a battery that is capable of meeting the ever increasing power needs of wearable devices.  In fact, if you look closely at most wearable devices today, including the Google Glass and the Jawbone Up, they are designed around a battery that can’t bend or conform to the shape of the device, while the other parts of the device — including the microprocessors, accelerometers, and other active components — are much more flexible in their design parameters.

Slim and Powerful

Now that the wearable computing industry is demanding better and more flexible batteries, the battery industry is responding, and for good reason.  Navigant Research’s Advanced Batteries for Portable Power Applications report forecasts that the market for batteries for wearable devices to grow from $62 million in 2014 to $795 million in 2023.  Two large battery manufacturers have begun to build customized manufacturing lines expressly to make smaller, more power-packed, and more flexible batteries for wearable computing devices, and at least four battery startups are expressly targeting the wearable device industry with new battery chemistries and designs.  One of them, Imprint Energy, believes that its zinc-based chemistry lends itself to very slim and flexible battery designs.

And then there are the laboratory experiments.  Many electrochemistry laboratories are trying to design novel batteries for the wearable computing industry that meet its three fundamental needs: energy density, durability, and safety.  One of the more promising developments comes from the laboratory of James Tour at Rice University, which developed a thin-film nickel fluoride battery that has shown impressive durability.  Other interesting projects involve weaving battery electrodes into a yarn-like structure that can be sewn right into clothing, such as is being done here and here.  While such textile-like batteries might eventually prove very promising, it’s hard to imagine that a shirt made out of battery components would be very popular clothing choice, due to the risk of sweating next to a surface with an electrical charge running through it.  However, a textile-like battery that is properly enclosed in safety packaging could provide the necessary flexibility and conformability for which wearable computing manufacturers – and potential buyers – are clamoring.


Energy Storage Reduces Diesel Use in Microgrids

— June 6, 2014

One of the challenges to deploying energy storage in existing grids is building a convincing business case.  If the business case for storage is built on reducing or optimizing the use of diesel fuel, it doesn’t take much to get a positive return on investment (ROI) for a storage asset.  Two examples of diesel reduction applications are remote microgrids and mobile base stations.  In this blog, I’ll look at the numbers on remote microgrids.

Even using conservative assumptions, storage makes sense to rein in the total cost of ownership of remote power generation – and hopefully make operating systems, such as remote microgrids, less vulnerable to volatility in diesel prices.  For example, Ontario Power Authority has estimated that it spends CAD$68 million each year on diesel fuel for 20 remote communities.

Payback Time

In the case of remote microgrids, the storage system typically provides several benefits: diesel reduction, higher renewables penetration, and improved power quality.  Even if the business case is based only on diesel reduction, though, the ROI is still positive in less than 4 years across all advanced battery chemistries.  The forecasts in the chart below assume the replacement of all batteries except flow batteries at the 7-year mark – which may or may not be required.  It also assumes that for each kilowatt-hour (kWh) of energy, a diesel generator requires 0.3 liters of diesel, and that the cost of diesel is about $1 per liter and remains steady over the forecast period.

Less than 4 years is an impressive payback period, but the payback period is even shorter with a 25% increase in diesel prices. If the cost of diesel is $1.36 per liter, the payback period goes down to less than 3 years for all storage technologies.  At $1.64 per liter, the payback period shrinks to 2 years or less.

Cumulative Net Present Value of Energy Storage Technologies Integrated in Remote Microgrids by Battery Type, World Markets: 2013-2023

(Source: Navigant Research)


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