Not just electric vehicle batteries are good for repurposing. At an off-grid site in Yellowstone:
Used Toyota Camry Hybrid battery packs will now store energy generated from solar panels at the Lamar Buffalo Ranch field campus within the park.
The system includes 208 Camry Hybrid nickel-metal-hydride battery packs recovered from Toyota dealers, providing a total of 85 kilowatt-hours of storage capacity.
Many of these kinds of batteries have been used in developing countries for distributed and cheap energy storage. But it’s nice to see them finding a role here in the U.S. Eventually, policy makers need to help facilitate a market for all these used hybrid and electric vehicle batteries, as we discussed in the UC Berkeley/UCLA Law report Reuse and Repower last year.
California is already experiencing it, and it’s now the “new normal“:
Fast-forward to the early spring of 2014. The California Independent System Operator (CAISO), due in part to an unexpected abundance of solar generation in what was supposed to be the rainy season, had to institute curtailments of wind and solar power coming into the grid on four separate occasions. In one instance, more than a gigawatt of combined wind and solar power was curtailed, a condition that the grid operator calls over-generation or “overgen.”
There are three options to deal with the problem of renewable over-generation:
1) Store the surplus energy in energy storage technologies like batteries for later use,
2) Export it to other states, or
3) Encourage ratepayers to delay using electricity until this surplus becomes available.
California is trying to encourage all three options, and we’ll need them all to address the problem.
Tesla’s big announcement that the company is entering the standalone battery market for building owners and utilities got a lot of press and favorable Wall Street reaction. For longtime energy observers, Elon Musk wasn’t unveiling anything new — just repackaging something familiar and making it cool. But that repackaging and investment could be transformative.
The advantages to consumers that Tesla cites are well-established but probably not widely applicable. Some consumers can make a bit of money storing cheap energy and dispatching it at more expensive times under time-of-use rates. Big industrial customers may even save a lot of money this way. Other customers may like the clean backup power from batteries, although generators may be cheaper. And batteries could enable a few customers to go off-grid completely (really just for rural customers). There are already companies establishing themselves in this market, like Stem and Advanced Microgrid Solutions (which is partnering with Tesla on this effort).
Still, I can’t help but be taken by the cool factor that Elon Musk bestows on this otherwise geeky world. Just take the name: “Powerwall.” “Home battery” sounds so boring compared to having a Powerwall. And then there’s the sleek design with the Tesla logo:
Some people may pay $3500 just for the aesthetics — like a piece of garage art.
The other interesting piece is the price. At $3500 for 10kWh and $3000 for 7kWh, it looks like the estimates of a $300/kwh battery production cost may be accurate, which is a good sign for battery price decreases (prices were at about $1000kwh a few years ago). That price doesn’t include installation or the inverter.
Still, that’s not a bad deal, and if California ends up bolstering time-of-use rates, customers could soon get quicker repayment as the difference between cheap off-peak electricity and expensive peak rates increases.
The other wildcard here is repurposed batteries. Could Tesla end up taking used electric vehicle batteries and repurposing them for the Powerwall? Their future gigafactory could probably handle that workload well, further driving the price down of stationary batteries.
All told, the unveiling of Tesla Energy, while not revolutionary right now, could soon become the lead in a technology wave that fundamentally changes our energy system. As with so many clean technologies in this fast-changing field, we’ll have to stay tuned to find out.
Big news in the climate world yesterday as California Governor Jerry Brown announced ambitious 2030 targets for greenhouse gas emissions for the state:
The target, contained in an executive order and expected to be folded into pending legislation, seeks to reduce emissions in California 40 percent below 1990 levels by 2030.
The goal is in line with one adopted by the European Union last year, and proponents characterized it as the most aggressive in North America.
“With this order, California sets a very high bar for itself and other states and nations, but it’s one that must be reached – for this generation and generations to come,” Brown said in a prepared statement.
California is well on pace to meet our 2020 goals set forth by AB 32. But admittedly, we’ve had some winds at our back. The recession significantly cut energy demand and also seems to have reduced driving miles, although there could be multiple factors there. Cheap natural gas has also helped.
But make no mistake, California has encouraged significant progress on renewables and electric vehicle deployment, and is starting to make strides on energy storage as well. These will be critical technologies to meeting the governor’s 2030 goals. But the other big challenge will be the less sexy energy efficiency efforts, which so far the state has made only moderate progress on.
Still, with these goals, the path is now laid out for businesses, regulators and the public to follow. And California will provide a strong example for other states and countries by showing how to decarbonize the economy without hurting economic growth.
The new president of the California Public Utilities Commission thinks it’s possible:
Michael Picker, president of the California Public Utilities Commission, said the grid already is comfortably managing solar and wind energy that reached as much as 40 percent of the total a few days last year. In the years ahead, authorities can add the flexibility needed to manage power that flows only when the wind blows or the sun shines.
“We could get to 100 percent renewables,” Picker said at the Bloomberg New Energy Finance summit in New York on Tuesday. “Getting to 50 percent is not really a challenge.”
He notes that California is making cash selling excess renewables out-of-state. It’s definitely an answer to overgeneration during peak sun and wind times.
The article does not address, however, what happens in the evening when the wind isn’t blowing. We can import some renewable power from out of state, but ultimately we’ll need energy storage to capture overgeneration in-state for use at night or on cloudy or windless days. And we’ll need leaders like President Picker to push for policies that achieve that kind of energy storage deployment.
The L.A. Times picks up a story that will only become more common as more renewables come on-line: the lack of resources to store surplus, intermittent renewables. In the old days we simply matched supply to demand, mainly by burning fuels like natural gas and coal. Nowadays we need to react to the energy supplied by nature — specifically when the sun shines on solar panels and the wind turns the turbines.
The article references the problem in a powerful anecdote:
On a quiet Sunday morning last April, power plants were pumping far more energy into California’s electricity grid than residents needed for their refrigerators, microwaves and television sets.
So officials made an odd request in a state that prides itself on leadership in renewable energy: They asked wind and solar plants to cut back their output. For 90 minutes, clean energy production was slashed 1,142 megawatts, enough electricity for hundreds of thousands of homes, while dirtier power from less flexible sources stayed on to keep the system stable.
The article then points to some of the promising energy storage resources out there, from big battery banks to compressed air. It also describes the need to moderate our demand to match the resources, as well as the opportunities to export (and import) surplus renewable power from across the western U.S.
Ultimately, we’ll need all of these resources and more, at cheaper cost, to truly decarbonize our electricity grid and achieve long term greenhouse gas reduction goals. Otherwise, we’ll have to keep burning the dirty fuels when nature isn’t giving us the clean ones.
Some interesting nuggets from the EV Iron Man. For example, it sounds like the falcon doors on the new all-electric SUV — the Model X — caused the big-time delays on getting the vehicle rolled out:
Getting that right and making sure it works really well and isn’t a gimmick but is a fundamental improvement in utility and aesthetics for the cars, is extremely difficult. There’s a reason other people haven’t done this. And then the second row seats on the Model X are a piece of sculptural beauty. They’re amazing. They’re the nicest second row seats you’ve ever seen in any car, ever. That actually might have been harder than the door. And there are some other things about the X that people don’t know about yet.
Now I’m curious about being a backseat driver in that car. And then Musk discusses the need to hurry up his mass-market EV, the $35,000 Model III that will go 200 miles on a charge but won’t be delivered until 2017 (if we’re lucky):
There are things we could do with the Model III platform that are really adventurous but would put the schedule at risk. So what we’re going to do is have something that’s going to be an amazing car but it won’t be the most adventurous version the Model III to being with. But we will then have the more different version of the Model III, on the Model III platform, following the initial version.
David Baker in the San Francisco Chronicle criticized Musk’s admission here that later models of the III will be better, arguing that it will scare people away from buying the first year’s model. But I disagree. There’s so much pent-up demand for a mass-market EV that Tesla won’t have any difficulty selling this model.
Finally, there’s Tesla’s play to be an energy storage provider: Musk promises to deliver home batteries in about six months, with an unveiling in another month or so.
All in all, lots happening at the company trying to change the world.
It’s been a long time coming, but it looks like energy storage is finally ready for the big time. After years of waiting for price declines, technology breakthroughs, and policy and regulatory actions, Southern California Edison (SCE) set a precedent for California and the U.S. last month by awarding local capacity procurement contracts for 2.221 gigawatts of energy resources across greater Los Angeles. This marks the first time in U.S. history that a utility will make strategic use of advanced energy storage systems (on both sides of the meter) to meet local long-term electricity needs.
As Renewable Energy World describes:
SCE’s contract awards marked at least a few industry firsts. It was the first time a U.S. electric utility evaluated a diverse range of conventional and preferred “green” energy resources — natural gas-fired power plants, solar PV, advanced energy storage, energy efficiency and demand response — in “head-to-head competition.” It was also the first time a U.S. utility solicited proposals from advanced energy storage solution providers to meet projected long-term electric power needs.
SCE awarded more than five-times the 50-megawatts (MW) of energy storage capacity it was required to by state power authorities, California Energy Storage Association (CESA) co-founder and Executive Director Janice Lin pointed out. Contracts to deploy 260.6 MW of advanced energy storage capacity were awarded to AES (100 MW), Stem (85 MW), Advanced Microgrid Solutions (50 MW) and Ice Energy Holdings (25.6 MW).
I’m particularly intrigued by the range of energy storage technologies that SCE plans to deploy. Advanced Microgrid Solutions is a fast-growing company, headed by industry veterans, that aggregates distributed energy storage resources among various large customers to create combined storage and demand response resources for grid operators to use to balance the grid. Ice Energy, meanwhile, freezes water at night when rates are low to deploy and offset expensive daytime rates during the heat of the day.
Overall, it’s a nice range of technologies represented, and symbolizes exactly the kind of innovation, diversity of approaches, and economics that California hoped would happen when the legislature passed the landmark energy storage law AB 2514 (Skinner) in 2010. We’ll need much more of these resources if we have any hope of decarbonizing our electricity system and achieving long-term greenhouse gas reduction goals. But this is a great start and hopefully the beginning of much more to come.
New information on Tesla’s Nevada gigafactory indicates that the company is making a major play for the stationary storage market (i.e. backup battery systems for homes and businesses and maybe stacked batteries for bulk energy storage. According to CEO Elon Musk:
“Stationary storage is a vital element for going to sustainable power generation and we are currently assuming that somewhere around 30 percent or so of the Gigafactory output would be aimed at stationary storage, that’s a rough guess, says Musk. But, one way or another, stationary storage is going to be a really huge thing that needs to be done.”
30 percent is a pretty staggering figure for a company making such great headway on the vehicle side. Of course, we need both types of energy storage, for transportation and for decarbonizing the grid. Meanwhile, plans for the factory are coming along, with some production possibly beginning as soon as 2016.
I hope they hurry up — I’ll be in line to get their mass-market Model 3 as soon as it’s available.
At least one observer from last month’s Energy Storage North America doesn’t think so:
“Lithium ion was not fundamentally designed for grid scale storage,” said Andrew Chung, a partner at Khosla Ventures, during a panel at the conference. “Even with the Gigafactory, the cost won’t come down enough.”
Chung’s skepticism essentially revolved around the three complaints most often associated with lithium batteries: they cost too much, they can become a safety hazard and they have a limited lifespan. Utilities and commercial building owners want something that will last twenty years flawlessly.
Others at the conference of course disagreed, noting that no new technology has managed to step in and fill the void like lithium ion, which covers a range of technologies. Still, it’s encouraging to see some large-scale flow batteries coming on-line to handle bulk storage duties, albeit still at the pilot-type scale.
Maybe lithium ion can’t work in the long haul, but the article points to some good news for batteries competing with other grid resources. Basically, if your battery can deliver service for four hours, it can be competitive in the utility and grid operator markets. As prices come down generally and investment continues to flow, I think the future will only be bright for grid-scale storage, whatever the technology of choice may be.