Navigant Research Blog

Australia Leading Solar PV plus Storage Innovation

— May 23, 2016

Rooftop SolarImprovements in technology and cost have allowed solar PV plus storage systems to become an attractive investment in many parts of the world. However, what remains to be determined are the optimal business models to unlock the full value of these systems. Pairing solar PV directly with energy storage holds the potential to dramatically transform the electricity industry and provide customers with cleaner and more secure power at a predictable price. Despite the potential, there has been little consensus in the industry on the best way to deploy these systems on existing grids and on how to overcome the significant barriers that the required upfront investment presents. 

Although solar PV and energy storage systems (ESSs) have been paired up in microgrids and remote settings for decades, their integration into existing electrical grids presents new challenges. Innovative models for the ownership and operation of these systems are being explored around the world, driven in part by the increasing funding flowing into the distributed energy industry. Australia has been at the forefront in the development of distributed energy resources, and two recently announced projects in the country offer different paths forward.

Dueling Approaches

In early adopter markets around the world, two primary models for deploying solar PV plus storage systems are emerging. Many stakeholders in the industry believe the optimal way to deploy these systems is through incumbent utilities and electricity providers that can leverage technical experience and access to financing. The recently developed suburb of Alkimos Beach in Western Australia was seeking a community-scale solution to help manage an increasing number of distributed solar PV systems and limit the need for new infrastructure to serve its growing population. The neighborhood elected to work with local energy provider Synergy to deploy a 1.1 MWh lithium ion ESS that is being fed by over 100 solar PV systems located on rooftops throughout the area. In addition to reducing costs for customers, managing the intermittency of PV generation, and limiting the need for new infrastructure, the project provides Synergy an opportunity to use community engagement as a way of combating the threat of grid defection.

Alkimos Beach is not the only community in Western Australia exploring innovative ways to harness the power of the solar PV plus storage combination. The community of White Gum Valley has chosen a different path toward a sustainable, local energy system both in terms of ownership and technical design. Most homes in the community will have both solar PV and battery ESSs onsite that will be operated in concert. In addition to the physical distribution of energy storage in this model, systems in White Gum Valley will be owned by the company managing most of the community’s apartment buildings. The company will act as a utility by owning assets and retailing energy directly to customers, a rare situation in Australia’s regulated electricity markets.

The Path Ahead

These two projects may provide some unique insights into how solar PV plus storage solutions can be optimally developed. They provide clear examples of some of the major debates in the distributed energy storage industry, such as whether it is better for systems to be centrally located or distributed, or if they should be owned by utilities or by customers. While it may take several years for these projects to illuminate the merits of one approach versus the other, they may be a sign of things to come as the distributed energy industry takes shape.

 

Dyson and Sakti3 Move Toward Solid-State Deployments

— May 13, 2016

BatteriesAs power and energy requirements are proving to be increasingly sophisticated for large-scale grid energy storage and automotive applications, many companies and research institutions across the globe are looking for alternatives to the lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery. U.K. company Dyson acquired the rights to battery startup Sakti3 last December for $90 million and announced that it will invest an additional $1.44 billion to develop new battery technologies over the next 5 years. A portion of the investment will go toward building a new battery factory and R&D center.

Sakti3 is a pre-commercial battery technology firm based in Ann Arbor, Michigan, specializing in lithium solid-state battery chemistries. The company was founded with a goal of bringing next-generation battery technology to electric vehicles (EVs) and consumer electronics, stating that it intends to double the energy density at lower costs than current commercially available Li-ion batteries. Historically, solid-state batteries have been plagued by the solid-solid interface’s high resistance to ion intercalation (resulting in low power density) and performance scalability; Sakti3 believes that it has reduced design cycles and is on track to find the critical mass to take its technology to market.

Solid-State Battery

Ian Blog Image

 (Source: Dyson)

A Start in Consumer Electronics

Li-ion batteries started in early consumer electronic markets in 1991 when they were first discovered and now are being deployed in complex applications globally. Navigant Research expects 93.1 GWh of Li-ion capacity will be deployed globally for EVs in 2025 alone, along with an additional 59.1 GWh deployed for grid storage. Dyson has been developing an in-house battery technology for its cordless appliances for the past several years and now plans on utilizing Sakti3’s prototype technology in existing and future products. The biggest questions to be answered will be how this acquisition affects Sakti3’s process of innovation—and what it could mean for battery industry stakeholders.

The complementary nature of the acquisition could help Dyson develop competency in cutting-edge aspects of solid-state batteries and commit to the reutilization of the technology as a whole. Starting in smaller consumer electronic markets and growing toward others could put Dyson in direct competition with battery giants Panasonic, LG Chem, and Samsung SDI. The company has not ruled out the option of licensing out Sakti3’s technology to other companies, further expanding its market reach. Dyson’s CEO says it is transitioning to become more of a technology company as opposed to a home appliance vendor and plans to develop a more sophisticated product catalog in the coming years.

Supporting the Investment

One challenge the company may face is how its R&D expertise and support teams support this investment. To push the technology forward, it is imperative that Dyson thoroughly understands how integrating Sakti3’s battery affects its existing product catalog. As a home appliance company, teaming with a battery company could make sense in the long run and translate to developing robust synergies down the supply chain. Focusing on niche applications, making deployment a priority over research, and rushing the development of R&D projects could potentially lead to failure. One of the biggest risks after mergers and acquisitions is the threat of organizational upheavals. Hiring and maintaining key employees that drive research forward will be important. Sakti3 founder Ann Marie Sastry will continue to lead the development of the technology as an executive for Dyson.

Can large battery companies and automotive OEMs learn something from this acquisition? Only time will tell. Dyson plans to get Sakti3’s technology to market within the next 2 years; it will be fascinating to see how it plans to overcome engineering issues faced by other companies that have attempted to bring solid-state batteries to market. How well-equipped is a home appliance company to accomplish such a feat? History says to remain skeptical while the technology says to remain optimistic.

 

Smaller Utilities Explore Energy Storage-Enabled Solutions

— April 20, 2016

GeneratorWhile California’s investor-owned utilities have received the most media attention for their high-profile energy storage procurements, smaller municipal and cooperative utilities around the country are beginning to recognize the value that energy storage can provide. The services that energy storage systems (ESSs) can provide these smaller utilities may differ from larger organizations, as will their procurement processes.

One notable difference is that municipal and cooperative utilities are generally able to make much quicker decisions regarding investments, as they are not as burdened by regulatory oversight and financial commitments to shareholders. Many of these organizations have been exploring the diverse benefits that energy storage and microgrids can provide, particularly as renewable energy developments become more common for smaller utilities. It is estimated that member-owned electric cooperatives in the United States have nearly 240 MW of solar PV capacity online or in development, which may bring about the need for energy storage to effectively integrate these resources and ensure grid stability.

Problems to Solve

Much of the interest from publicly owned utilities in energy storage and microgrids stems from the generally large geographic area that these entities control. In addition, many customers are located at the end of long feeder lines in relatively remote areas. As utilities see load growing at the end of these isolated circuits, issues around relatability and the need for significant new investments will arise. This challenge is magnified by the fact that many public utilities do not own generation assets, making it different to control frequency and voltage on their system when the generators feeding power are potentially hundreds of miles away. Increasingly cost-effective energy storage is emerging as an ideal solution to these problems by allowing utilities to defer investments in new infrastructure, enabling greater control over their networks and improving reliability for remote customers.

Emerging Solutions

Municipal utilities are able to solve challenges using energy storage either distributed throughout their service territory or at a single facility. For example, the Eugene Water & Electric Board in Eugene, Oregon is developing a solar PV and energy storage microgrid utilizing a 500 kW lithium ion battery from developer Powin Energy. The system will ensure the operability of critical facilities in the event of an outage as well as reduce the expensive peak demand energy the utility buys on wholesale markets. Eventually the utility may look to sell excess capacity into energy markets themselves. An alternative model is being tested by the Glasgow Electric Plant Board in Kentucky, which will deploy distributed ESSs at the homes of 165 customers in partnership with Sunverge. The systems will charge at night when costs are low and discharge during the day or during peak demand, reducing the need to supply additional power and lowering overall costs. This network of ESSs will also provide detailed, real-time insights about the local grid’s performance and ensure customers have power in the event of an outage.

These programs demonstrate the various ways that smaller utilities can enjoy the benefits of energy storage while improving service for their customers and integrating local renewable resources. As energy storage costs continue to fall, there will be numerous opportunities for the nearly 3,000 publicly owned and cooperative utilities in the United States to benefit from the technology.

 

Nevada’s Net Metering Change May Present Opportunities for Storage

— April 15, 2016

GeneratorNevada’s public utilities commission (PUC) has changed the net metering rules for solar PV, effective January 1, 2016. Not only will this development erode the business case for new systems, but will also affect approximately 17,000 existing customers. SolarCity and Vivint have eliminated jobs in Nevada, and Sunrun has exited the solar PV market in the state. Two customers have filed a class-action lawsuit against utility NV Energy in protest of the decision. Although this rule change has been characterized as a bait-and-switch for solar PV customers, this is also an opportunity for residential energy storage under two scenarios.

The first scenario would be if residential energy storage with PV can be aggregated to deliver services to NV Energy. The aggregator—which could either be the utility itself or a third party—would share the payment with residential customers. In order to make the storage option appealing to customers that have invested heavily in solar PV, it would need to be offered using a low capital expenditures (CAPEX) business model. The value of the services delivered through the virtual power plant would need to at least cover the monthly grid connection charge and would also need to help the customer minimize the amount of solar PV energy exported to the grid and maximize self-consumption. The Nevada PUC could also opt to waive the grid connection fee for solar PV plus storage plants because distribution system issues would be mitigated by using a storage system.

Customer Disconnects

A second scenario that may present an opportunity for storage is if the storage can help customers disconnect completely from the grid. This would be a much more radical move for customers, but would help them avoid the grid connection charge. This charge starts at $12.75 to $17.90 per month in 2016 and is slated to increase to $38.51 per month by 2021. Although the yearly grid connection fee is relatively modest in 2016 at between $153 and $214, it is set to double to $462 within 5 years. Customers could spend over $1,500 over a 5-year period in grid connection charges alone. This solution’s business case would take many years to pay for both the battery and the solar PV. Therefore, this solution would also require some financing mechanism to ease the CAPEX burden on the homeowner in order to gain market traction. This scenario would be appealing to customers dissatisfied with the local utility, or who are looking to move off-grid for ideological reasons.

The chart below forecasts the power capacity and revenue of residential solar PV and energy storage systems—referred to by Navigant Research as nanogrids—as 40.8 GW and $79.5 billion from 2015 to 2024. North America is slated to account for 16.8% of the global market over the 10-year period. One of the key issues to tapping into this market will be creative customer offerings and go-to-market strategies on the part of vendors in this space.

Solar PV plus Energy Storage Residential Nanogrid Capacity and Revenue by Region,
World Markets: 2015-2024

Anissa Blog Chart

 (Source: Navigant Research)

 

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