• Advanced Batteries
  • Power Outages
  • lithium ion batteries
  • Utility Infrastructure

Advanced Batteries Can Help in a Polar Vortex

Ian McClenny
Feb 19, 2019

Lithium Batteries

The US Midwest is experiencing some of the coldest temperatures in modern history. In addition to rendering millions of people throughout the region with no power, extremely cold temperatures introduce several challenges to conventional electrical infrastructure. Low temperatures disrupt and, in some cases, stop fossil fuel generators from operating properly. Ice that forms as a result of low temperatures may restrict turbines from rotating for wind installations and disable solar panels from seeing sunlight. Utilities are taking precautions to ensure that they remain in operation for all constituents. For example, Xcel Energy notified its customers in Minnesota to turn down their thermostats to 63 degrees Fahrenheit at the end of January to “reduce significant strain on [its] natural gas system.”

Two of the largest independent system operators (ISOs) in the nation, PJM Interconnection and the Midcontinent Independent System Operator, implemented emergency cold weather procedures in light of the plummeting temperatures. Electricity generators were mandated to insulate pipes and fill up backup fuel tanks to mitigate power losses throughout the cold stretch. 

Advanced Batteries Aid in Cold Weather Operations

Certain types of advanced batteries can help solve this problem. Lithium ion (Li-ion) batteries are able to discharge with minimal efficiency losses over a wide range of temperatures; according to Navigant Research, there is a loss in efficiency of approximately 8%-10% when the temperature is below 32 degrees Fahrenheit. Several companies have built their battery businesses around providing energy storage system (ESS) solutions that can operate in extreme environmental conditions. For example, South Carolina-based RELiON Battery manufacturers a special Li-ion battery system built exclusively for cold weather operations.

On the other hand, charging may introduce problems to the battery depending on the charge method. Several Li-ion battery chemistries can be quickly charged; this translates to a higher power current being pushed into the battery within a short period of time. Under extremely cold temperatures, Li-ions coat the surface of the porous anode rather than intercalating through it. This is known as lithium plating. As a result of this phenomenon, reducing the charge current is imperative to ensure that the system maintains mechanical stability and does not endure irreversible damage. It is important for ESS owners to have trusted and proven software that can respond dynamically to physical and environmental changes of the battery system.

Expect Batteries to Play a Role in Infrastructure Updates

The array of problems the US electricity infrastructure endures highlights the important role that batteries can play for critical infrastructure. Navigant Research recently reported that an estimated 35.5 GW of advanced batteries will power critical infrastructure through 2027. Issues that batteries can solve more readily and, in many cases, are less expensive than conventional generation include:

  • Power Surges: Equipment can suffer from failure from high voltage, causing wear on key system components.
  • Spikes: Energy burst lasting fractions of a second can cause equipment to crash and become permanently damaged. Spikes can be triggered from extreme weather like thunderstorms.
  • Brownouts/Blackouts: Loss in main power supply for several minutes may damage and/or reset key components within a building’s central processing infrastructure. 

Going forward, it will be important for ISOs, power providers, facility/business owners, and residential customers to evaluate their specific needs and provide solutions that are robust to withstand sudden changes in the environment. Advanced battery solutions will increase reliability, safety, and reduce customer demand charges while generating revenue from ancillary service markets. This will make the value that advanced batteries provide much higher than a traditional backup power system.