Reflections on the state of energy storage in 2015 from the stage and the ESA trade show floor

When GTM covered the Energy Storage Association conference in 2011, investor Vinod Khosla described lithium-ion batteries as "toys that can't be deployed at scale," to the 300 attendees.

In 2013 we reported from the ESA show in Santa Clara, Calif. and sensed a shift in an industry that was moving from an R&D mentality to a focus on commercialization and markets.

This year's ESA in Dallas, Texas hosted about 1,000 people confronting the policy and financial realities of getting storage on the grid -- another phase in this fast growing, early-stage market.

Here's a collection of quotes and reports from a small cross section of the crowd and presenters. (As for Khosla, the more than 100 megawatts of stationary energy storage (much of it lithium ion) to be deployed in 2015would appear to sink his claim, never mind the Tesla vehicle fleet and factory.)

  • Ray Mabus, Secretary of the Navy, kicked off Day Two of the conference, saying that one of the basic issues confronting the armed forces is energy storage. "How do we take alternative energy and run it 24 hours a day? How do we construct a microgrid on a base? How do we store energy? Mabus said, "We're building hybrid ships," calling them the "Prius of the seas." The ship is in electric drive for speeds under 12 knots. He called the vessel an "energy hog" and noted that "laser weapons" and a "rail gun" must "store vast amounts of energy," releasing it instantly and charging very fast. "The limiting factor we have today is energy storage." Mabus said, "I want to urge you to redouble your efforts...The work that you're doing and purpose of this conference is crucial."
  • John Zahurancik, AES Storage president, said that energy storage, "is right at the heart of our mission of moving towards clean power -- and that's about improving people's lives," adding, "Storage adds a new level of unbreakability and resilience."
  • Imre Gyuk, DOE Energy Storage Program manager, told GTM that he sees the industry in a "gradual move towards energy systems. We have shown that frequency regulation can be cost effective, but what is really needed is peak shaving, load management etc. That suggests flow batteries." The energy storage stalwart expressed an "interest in energy storage safety. A few good disasters can still sink the industry." He said one of the big questions will be, "Are all these projects in California really improving the Duck Curve and doing what we expect them to do?"
  • Jon Wellinghoff, partner at Stoel Rives and former FERC chair said that in a few years, the storage market will see "multiple proven technologies across new chemistries participating in multiple market structures."
  • Jacqueline DeRosa, director of regulatory affairs for California atCustomized Energy Solutions, said, in a pre-conference workshop, that spinning reserve in California is priced at about $3 per megawatt with non-spinning reserve at $1 per megawatt -- pricing that, DeRosa said, was not enough for a value proposition but instead could provide a value stream.
  • Mike McGuffin, director of wholesale services at CES, noted that PJM has more than 130 megawatts of grid-connected advanced energy storage via batteries and flywheels. McGuffin said the highest value application and best opportunity in PJM was performance-based regulation with payments as high as $40 per megawatt. He also noted that minimum requirements are calling for multiple hours of duration with "four hours as an order of magnitude that people are looking for."   
  • GTM toured Oncor's microgrid site in Lancaster, Texas, and as reported by Julia Pyper, "The grid-tied system consists of four interconnected microgrids and nine different distributed generation resources: two solar PV arrays, a microturbine, two energy storage units, and four generators. The system has a total peak capacity of 900 kilowatts."  The microgrid switching, safety, and management hardware and software come from Schneider Electric and S&C Electric. The 200-kilowatt Tesla battery at the microgrid site has a large fan along with an inverter from Princeton Power.
  • S&C Electric has shipped "nearly 200 megawatt-hours" of storage and deployed five battery chemistries since 2005. Troy Miller, manager of business development and marketing and Jake Edie, business development director for power quality products, described a recent storage deployment in the Australian outback where twenty 25-kilowatt/4-hour systems were deployed for voltage support in a single wire earth return system architecture, used to power rural and remote sites. S&C also provided energy storage, switching, and protection gear to the Oncor microgrid. As for the storage market, "The policy shake-up is happening now in a dozen states," said Edie, adding, "Storage is on the path of becoming the third renewable energy storage deployment."  
  • Ken Munson, the CEO of Sunverge, a firm focused on customer-sited storage (and a partner with SunPower), told GTM to expect "more talk about software in relation to energy storage management. " Munson stressed how important software is to "enabling the aggregation and orchestration of customer-sited behind-the-meter storage assets" and "unlocking value streams for the utilities and grid operators as well as the energy consumer."
  • Alevo CEO Jean-Claude Beney said that his recently unstealthed firm is not a battery company but a "service provider" and a "Swiss army knife" for the grid. The 200-employee company expects to double its headcount in the next year, according to the CEO. As GTM has reported, the recently unstealthed battery firm claims its sulfur-based inorganic lithium-ion electrolyte chemistry has achieved 50,000 complete cycles without failure, without loss of power density, while operating at close to room temperature. Beney suggests that production capacity of its new factory will be 480 megawatts in its first year.
  • Dale Bradshaw, a senior program manager at NRECA, the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, has an 11-kilowatt system on his roof in Florida along with 20 kilowatt-hours of lead-acid batteries. His electric bill went from $300 to $400 per month to about $27. But he acknowledged that it was "not economical" to add $16,000 worth of batteries. He said, "It appealed to my sense of self reliance, a desire for choice, environmental stewardship, and to be able to live in comfort when the grid goes down." He added "Solar PV plus batteries makes sense when the price of electricity exceeds 29 cents per kilowatt-hour."  
  • This year's Phil Symon's energy storage award went to incoming chief of the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources, Judith Judson. Formerly with CES, Judson was cited as one of the key players in getting the FERC 755 pay-for-performance order enacted.
  • As in previous years, solar is interested in storage; First Solar and SunEdison technologists were in attendance. Bankers and analysts were present in small numbers but venture capitalists were few.   
  • Vic Shao, CEO of Green Charge Networks, said his firm's behind-the-meter battery system is being installed at 100 Walgreens stores in California.
  • Ravi Manghani of GTM Research, the author of the joint ESA-GTM energy storage monitor said, "The U.S. market is on track to have its biggest year, breaking the 100 megawatt mark for the first time," but noted, "behind-the-meter energy storage is still a tiny share" of the overall storage market in the U.S.
  • Executive Director of the ESA, Matt Roberts told GTM, "It was great to have Jigar Shah, the Secretary of the Navy, and former Governor Jennifer Granholm here. There was a common thread in each of their presentations. Each drew attention to the need for a growing industry to continue to educate different audiences -- investors, big customers, and government leaders -- to better articulate and define the value proposition for storage in different applications.
  • Despite the preponderance of battery makers and battery integrators among the exhibitors at the show (AES, BYD, EastPenn, FIAMM, NEC, Saft, Stem, Alevo, Ambri, etc.), there were some alternative storage technologies, as well. Those persistent flow battery entrepreneurs were out in force -- looking to outperform lithium-ion batteries in the long-duration applications. Still building flow batteries are RedflowSumitomo, ZBB Energy, Prudent Energy, Gildemeister, UniEnergy, Primus Power, Imergy, ZBB, EnStorage, and ITN.
  • And as Senior Editor Stephen Lacey reported, Jigar Shah, futurist, investor, and Energy Gang member suggested, "If the storage industry is dependent on backing up solar, it’s hopeless. You should quit your job today.
(This news story is from Green Tech Media)