Navigant Research Blog

Distributed Energy Storage, Low-Cost Financing a Powerful Combo

— April 14, 2015

Leases and third-party ownership models have helped the global solar PV market grow dramatically in recent years, and now they’re spreading to the energy storage market. ViZn Energy Systems recently announced that it will offer a similar financing program from LFC Capital, Inc. for ViZn’s distributed energy storage systems. While several companies, including CODA Energy, Stem, and Green Charge Networks, offer leases that feature a shared savings model on energy storage systems for commercial and industrial (C&I) customers in the United States, ViZn’s offering will be the first to target larger facilities (system capacities of 80–500 kWh of storage) with a different leasing model that aims to be more beneficial to customers.

ViZn takes responsibility for the system performance and the risks associated with its relatively new zinc/iron flow battery technology. This move demonstrates full trust in the system’s ability to greatly reduce a customer’s energy bills. The leasing program, available for C&I projects combining ViZn’s energy storage with solar PV and/or cogeneration energy systems, is designed to eliminate construction-period financing costs and simplify the installation process. In contrast to complex and lengthy power purchase agreements (PPAs), LFC’s 3-page lease will be familiar to customers accustomed to leasing general business assets and provide them with a predictable low-cost of ownership in 6 or 7 years.

Fees and Incentives

The primary benefit from using ViZn’s system will be ongoing cost savings from reduced demand charges and energy management expenses. Pairing storage with onsite solar PV can improve the economics of both systems by minimizing the consumption of grid power during peak demand periods, as well as hedging against any future net metering restrictions or export limitations. ViZn has also designed its systems to participate in ancillary service markets by aggregating its fleet of distributed storage systems to act as a single, dispatchable resource.

While the leasing program is available nationwide, ViZn anticipates most of the uptake to come from states with high electric rates and strong local incentive programs, such as California, Texas, and several states in the Northeast. The leasing program is not available for use outside the United States at this time. However, with prototype systems already running in the United States and Europe, the company is well-positioned to move into new markets in the coming years.

Innovative financing solutions can be an important component driving an emerging market to further growth. It will be interesting to see if this business model is adopted by other players in the storage industry, and what impact it may have on the market.

 

Energy Storage Diversity Highlights Regional Differences

— April 14, 2015

As the global energy storage industry continues to take shape, clear differences between regions are emerging. These differences reflect of a number of factors in each area, including electricity market structure, local manufacturing expertise, industrial and energy policies, and geographic characteristics. These factors have significant influence on the diversity of energy storage technologies being deployed in each region. Navigant Research’s Energy Storage Tracker 1Q15 tracks all storage projects around the world, allowing for deep insights into the impacts that market structure and policies have on each region’s market and technological diversity.  

Map of Energy Storage Technology Diversity (Number of Deployed Technologies), World Markets: 1Q 2015

North America is the most technologically diverse region for energy storage in the world, with 19 different technologies (20 including pumped storage) currently installed. This is a result of agencies and favorable policies in North America that are focused on encouraging innovation, such as the United States’ Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) program, as well as various state policies. The U.S. federal government supports technological diversity through the Department of Energy (DOE) Loan Programs Office, which provides secure, competitive financing for innovative clean energy projects that utilize a new or significantly improved technology. As a result of these factors, lithium-ion (Li-ion)-based storage systems (the most popular globally) only account for 12% of deployed systems in North America and 13% of the regional pipeline, which includes projects utilizing 15 different technologies.

Local Specialties

Due to local manufacturing and engineering specialties, batteries are the primary choice for energy storage in Asia Pacific, making the region less technologically diverse than North America or Western Europe. Regulatory policies tend to favor domestic technologies and manufacturers. Notably, Japanese sodium sulfur (NaS) battery manufacturer NGK Insulators has benefited from close relationships with many utilities, resulting in an installed base of over 360 MW in the region. Given recent safety concerns regarding NaS systems and the opening of new markets, domestically produced Li-ion systems now lead the Asia-Pacific region. This is also a result of the region’s grid resiliency efforts (particularly in Japan), which encourage the adoption of smaller distributed storage systems, an ideal application for Li-ion systems. Overall, Li-ion-based systems represent 76.6% of the pipeline for the Asia Pacific region.

The technological diversity of Europe’s energy storage industry falls in between North America and Asia Pacific. Europe has a much greater diversity of market rules and policies compared with other regions. In general, European policies favor innovative/foreign technologies more than in Asia, and as a result there are eight different technologies in the European project pipeline.

Regional View

Germany, the leading market in Europe, has policies and market conditions (e.g, a high penetration of distributed solar, net metering restrictions) that favor distributed energy storage. As Li-ion systems are ideally suited for distributed installations, those batteries have begun to lead the German market despite a relatively diverse base of deployed technologies.

The Energy Storage Tracker explores the global energy storage landscape by tracking projects deployed and planned around the world. Navigant’s project database allows for in-depth analysis of regional markets to understand the impact of policy on technological diversity. Technological diversity can be a key indicator of the overall health of a market and the opportunities for innovative or foreign companies to compete.

 

Storage Helps Ease Schools’ Demand Charge Pain

— April 7, 2015

For many businesses, demand charges are like room service delivery charges for travelers, only more painful. Utilities levy demand charges on customers for short duration peak power usage during a month, which can add between 15%–50% to the cost of a utility bill for the entire month. In some cases, this can mean hundreds or thousands of dollars for a few minutes of excessive power use.

Utilities justify these substantial fees because high consumption of power at peak times can strain transmission and distribution assets or cause them to invoke their most costly generation equipment.

No Money Down

In power-constrained California, where demand charges run high, five school districts have turned to batteries to save money by reducing or avoiding demand charges. Energy storage solutions provider Green Charge Networks (GCN) developed energy storage systems using battery packs from Samsung SDI for Mountain View-Los Altos Union High School District, Oak Park Unified School District, Butte Community College, Peralta Community College District, and California State University, Fullerton.

GCN’s CEO Vic Shao told me that because of the high demand charges (Shao says San Diego Gas and Electric charges $45 per kilowatt), his company can provide the systems for free to the schools. The company can recoup its investment quickly by receiving a share of the savings that the schools receive from avoiding demand charges. For perpetually cash-strapped schools, a no-money-down solution for cutting energy costs can be compelling.

Solar Fee

Since the partnering schools are focused on reducing emissions, GCN also threw in free Level 2 electric vehicle (EV) chargers to incentivize employees and the districts to buy EVs. Shao said that thanks in part to California’s incentive program for storage and other clean energy technologies, the company has done more business aimed at combatting demand charges in the last 2 months than in the previous 3 years. New York City is another attractive market for storage systems, according to Shao.

Similarly, demand for energy storage systems in Arizona could be on the rise thanks to a controversial new demand charge being levied exclusively on solar customers by the Salt River Project utility.

GCN is one of several vendors, along with Stem and CODA Energy, offering storage products aimed at demand charge mitigation, as described in Navigant Research’s report, Community, Residential, and Commercial Energy Storage.

 

Energy Storage Leaders Stumbled, Then Survived

— March 20, 2015

At a time when the major electric industry players were either unwilling or not nimble enough to develop energy storage systems integration expertise, four growing energy storage players with four distinct technologies took a risk to develop this expertise. Over the last few years, each of these companies failed financially and was subsequently acquired, in some cases more than once. In nearly every case, private equity firms stepped in, seeing an opportunity to invest in a maturing technology company with specialized expertise in the market.

Citing Tesla founder Elon Musk’s determination to build a massive Gigafactory to manufacture batteries for his vehicles, E Source Senior Fellow Jay Stein has argued that company failures like these indicate the shortcomings of the overall market. This is a logical fallacy.

Number of Deployed Systems Market Share by Top 10 System Integrators, Excluding Pumped Storage and CAES, World Markets: 1Q 2015

(Source: Navigant Research)

Detours Behind

The chart above is derived from Navigant Research’s Energy Storage Tracker 1Q 15, a global database of energy storage installations that includes 808 projects. This specific graph charts the top 10 systems integrators of energy storage in terms of number of systems deployed globally. Four of the 10 market leaders for systems integration have gone bankrupt and been acquired in the past several years. NEC Energy Solutions, formerly A123 Energy Solutions, was acquired following a bankruptcy filing, and the grid business was subsequently spun off and sold to NEC Corporation for approximately $100 million in 2014. Beacon Power was acquired by a private equity firm following a bankruptcy filing in 2012, and Xtreme Power (now Younicos Inc.) was acquired by Younicos AG in 2014, also after filing for bankruptcy.

All three firms were focused on a core grid storage technology (lithium ion batteries, flywheels, and advanced lead-acid batteries, respectively), but all spent a great deal of resources in the earlier days of the market learning how to integrate complete systems. Ultimately, all three firms developed this expertise, and NEC Energy Solutions and Younicos repositioned themselves as systems integration companies, offering software, controls, and integration expertise as opposed to pure-play battery suppliers. Beacon Power is a market leader in flywheels and flywheel systems integration and has developed a modular flywheel product with built-in power electronics for simpler integration and installation.

Managers, Not Markets

Finally, Coda Energy repositioned itself as an energy storage integration firm in 2013 after filing for bankruptcy. The company rebranded and shifted its product offering to target stationary energy storage using a battery management system, battery thermal management, and a sophisticated power source controller.

Together, these four companies account for 21% of the global market share for the top 10 systems integrators (although part of this market share is attributed to Younicos AG). These companies and others like them are challenging incumbents such as ABB and S&C Electric, demonstrating that their earlier stumbles arose out of flawed management and/or strategy, not failed markets or futile technologies.

Equating a management failure with a market failure ignores the value of the technology. Whether the Gigafactory will be Musk’s Waterloo or Austerlitz has less to do with the technology and much more to do with Tesla’s strategy and execution—and Musk has proven he can accomplish both in the automotive and the financial services worlds.

 

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