Today in Cleantech

Controversial cleantech investor Vinod Khosla spoke at the Energy Storage Association this summer and, as usual, he made news. And argued that the smart grid is hype and predicted that embattled battery maker A123 Systems won’t exist in 10 years. At the core of Khosla’s view is that all of the smart grid efforts, from demand response to smart thermostats to dynamic pricing to advanced meter readings, don’t matter if you can store energy at around $100 per kilowatt hour. We’re a long ways from storing energy at $100 per kilowatt-hour. But, yes, if you can easily store energy, then you can forget about the demand side of the energy equation, which is essentially what the smart grid is all about—regulating demand on energy because of supply volatility owing to renewable energy introduction. Given that Khosla referred to lithium-ion batteries as “toys that can’t be deployed at scale,” I’m thinking we’ll have to make the grid smarter until we have that easy grid storage solution.

Today in Cleantech

What’s the future market for grid-scale energy storage? Not nearly as big as previously assumed, according to Pike Research. The research firm has adjusted its expectations for the market for grid-scale batteries, flywheels, air and hydro storage reservoirs and other energy (and power) storage technologies from a previous estimate of $35 billion by 2020 down to $22 billion over the next decade. At the heart of the reduced estimate are some updated figures from the utility-backed research group, the Electric Power Research Institute, that lay out a pretty tough and complicated path forward for energy storage technologies seeking to justify the cost of their investment with today’s grid economics. That’s too bad, because the grid could really use the backup storage capacity to help manage the flood of on-again, off-again power that wind farms and solar power plants will be providing to it in ever-increasing amounts over the next decade. Pike predicts that nearly half of the growth to come in grid energy storage will be to help manage those intermittent power generation resources. Interestingly, Pike has named flow batteries — energy storage systems that share some characteristics with fuel cells, in that they use a pumped electrolyte material to recharge — along with pumped hydro systems as the two top contenders for major growth in grid energy storage over the next decade.

How the Energy Storage Market Could Pay Itself Off

Grid energy storage is an expensive and complicated affair, as EPRI’s latest update on the industry indicates. But which combination of technologies and markets can make storage pay itself off today?

Today in Cleantech

It’s Friday, and that means it’s time to kick back with some weekend reading — in this case, the latest grid energy storage white paper from the Electric Power Research Institute. EPRI’s new report (available for download here) goes deep into the nitty-gritty of different storage technologies, different energy and power applications, and different price points in terms of dollars per kilowatt-hour of storage. The take-away finding is that the U.S. energy storage market could grow to as much as 14 gigawatts of capacity, if energy storage systems can be installed for $700 to $750/kW-h and “the energy storage owners and operators could monetize the estimated benefits.” That last part is critical when it comes to bringing batteries into the mainstream for grid storage. Some energy storage projects can balance out at today’s high costs per kilowatt-hour, as VPs from lithium-ion battery company A123 and energy company AES noted at last week’s Green:Net conference. But building beyond these niche applications will require a whole host of technical, economic and policy issues to be aligned to allow batteries that can, for example, provide high-value grid-balancing services as well as longer-term load-shifting capabilities — and capture the revenue streams from both to make the projects pencil out.

15 Questions for the Don of Liquid Metal Batteries

Donald Sadoway, a professor of materials chemistry at MIT, aims to deliver a “lifesaver” for renewable energy in the form of a stable, low-cost, large-scale battery. Here are 15 questions with Sadoway on the future of liquid metal batteries.

Backyard Batteries Test Price Points, Biz Models

Backyard batteries could help stabilize neighborhood grids and give residents the juice to ride through blackouts and peak power spikes. But with batteries so expensive nowadays, how can utilities justify the expense?

AEP: Deploying the Future of Backyard Batteries

Backyard batteries that back up nearby homes and businesses as well as the neighborhood grid could provide a lot of value to utilities and their customers, but they come at a high price. Utility AEP’s “community energy storage” (CES) pilot project should help see how the concept pencils out in the real world.

Today in Cleantech

LG Chem, already a monster player in plug-in hybrid and electric vehicle batteries, is dipping its toe into storing power in homes and businesses as well. The South Korean giant announced Wednesday a pilot project with Southern California Edison, one that will include 10-kilowatt-hour lithium-ion batteries from LG Chem, solar inverter and control gear from LG Electronics and battery charging systems from LS Industrial Systems — a multiple-technology play that brings to mind other cross-platform partnerships, such as Panasonic’s smart grid linkup with Hitachi, or General Electric’s work with the Department of Energy. I have to wonder if LG intends to link its smart home appliances to these pilot solar-battery systems — or if it plans to recycle EV and plug-in batteries for home energy storage.

GM, ABB Seek Chevy Volt Battery Afterlife in Grid

The green car battery recycling bandwagon just got a bit more crowded. General Motors and Swiss grid giant ABB announced that the two companies will jointly research ways to reuse old batteries from GM’s Chevy Volt hybrid for storing power on the grid.