By Rich Heidorn Jr.
WASHINGTON — Speakers at the GridWise Alliance’s GridCONNEXT conference last week left no doubt: Electric storage is long past the “tipping point.”
Moderator Ram Sastry, vice president of infrastructure and business continuity for American Electric Power, had posed the question: “Are we going to see large-scale deployment of energy storage systems? And if not, what’s stopping that?”
“I think we’re at or past that tipping point,” responded Andy Marshall, practice director for distributed energy resource management at Landis & Gyr. “I think you see the flexibility of storage and its ability to get deployed relatively quickly. You have not only the stuff that’s going on down in Australia, but you also have the things that are happening most recently in California.”
On Dec. 1 — the first day of summer for Australia — Tesla turned on a 129-MWh lithium ion battery, the world’s largest, to help the nation’s fragile electric grid. California deployed 100 MW of storage in just six months in response to natural gas constraints following the Aliso Canyon leak.
Praveen Kathpal, vice president of AES Energy Storage, said “the technology is mature,” noting that his company entered the business a decade ago. AES claims 500 MW of storage already deployed or in development.
“There haven’t been any components that needed to be invented for any of the deployments that we’ve done, because they’re all based on lithium ion battery technology, which was commercialized 25 years ago and has benefited from its use in the consumer electronics and transportation sector,” Kathpal said.
“The tipping point we see in storage is really meshing with some of the other megatrends facing our industry right now. We have the accelerated growth in renewables, and we also have the electrification of more sectors including transportation.”
Kathpal predicted new storage technologies will break below the current pricing floor for lithium ion. “So, 10 years from now, do I think we’ll have a commercially available storage technology that’s below $100/kWh? Sure. And that’s exactly why at AES the technology platform we’ve developed is forward compatible with technology change.”
“I think you could argue that the tipping point was several years ago when big PJM systems started to come online,” said Luke Witmer, lead research engineer for Wärtsilä’s Greensmith Energy. “More and more markets continue to value the fast-ramping and bidirectional capability that energy storage provides. And I think as … systems continue to decline in cost, we will compete in more and more markets. A lot of the market prices basically clear according to the natural gas price. … So it’s really just a matter of getting renewables plus storage to below that threshold in more and more places.”
Richard Brody, director of sales and marketing for Lockheed Martin Energy’s energy storage unit, said storage is still relatively expensive when compared with energy efficiency and demand response.
“Whether we’re talking about a C&I customer or a distribution utility, when we come look at an energy problem, we look not just at storage, but we start with efficiency, permanent load reduction, load control, demand response, demand management, grid analytics — all the tools you can bring to solve an energy problem. … We tend to look at other things first because storage — despite the declining costs — remains the most expensive way to address these problems.”
But he is nevertheless bullish on storage. “In terms of the tipping point — oh yeah, we’re passed it. This is a rapidly growing market.
“We’re seeing very strong growth in interest in doing large solar and wind coupled with storage. Most of the large developers we’re working with aren’t contemplating any large development of solar — and increasingly wind — without some way to firm it up with a fairly significant storage system.”
Brody said the demands are exceeding the four-hour maximum life for lithium ion batteries. “We’re looking at much more ambitious efforts that would require the attributes of a flow battery, which is a minimum of six to 12 hours of energy.”