TODAY’S STUDY: ENERGY STORAGE COMES TO MARKET
Commercializing Energy Storage in the United States
March 2014 (CSP Today)
With the announcement of California’s energy storage procurement target of 1,325 MW by 2020, and other states working hard to follow in their footsteps, developers are now focused on moving storage technologies from demonstration to commercialization. However, from increasing efficiencies and the reducing costs of existing technologies, to securing investment for commercial deployment, there are still a number of roadblocks that must be overcome to commercialize storage technologies. This guide explores the current status of energy storage commercialization and provides insight into the role of banks and venture capital in bringing technologies to market. It also explores the positive impact that California’s storage mandate could have on market growth, as well as the key lessons that can be learned from other renewable technologies to achieve commercialization.
There has never been a better time to talk about energy storage in the United States. Barely a year ago the need for grid-scale energy storage was infrequently appreciated and even more rarely discussed. Now it is not just being sought after, but mandated.
California, which leads the nation in terms of green energy ambitions, has been the first state to wake up to the need to store, for a variety of uses, at least some of the excess power that will be coming off its growing wind and solar portfolio.
The California Public Utilities Commission’s Assembly Bill 2514 (AB 2514), approved last October, requires utilities to add energy storage to their grids. Puerto Rico followed suit in December, with a mandate for storage to be added to new renewable energy developments. Texas, America’s biggest electricity consumer and largest wind power producer, is similarly tipped to become an energy storage hotspot.
Elsewhere, energy storage is already being embraced to help improve the efficiency and longevity of existing grid infrastructure. In short, energy storage is coming of age in the US.
But there are still uncertainties over which technologies will dominate this market, and how current players can best position themselves to take advantage of the opportunity before them.
This guide examines present thinking around the options for these players, asking:
What is the current state of commercialization of energy storage technologies?
What role can banks and venture capital investors play in commercialization?
What impact will the Californian AB 2514 mandate have on the market?
How will today’s demonstration projects benefit commercialization?
What can energy storage learn from other clean-tech sectors?
The current state of energy storage commercialization
As of January 2014, the US Department of Energy (DoE) Global Energy Storage Database listed more than 21GW of operational energy storage across America.1
Most of this was in the form of long-standing pumped hydro reserves (see figure 1). But Brian Mendoza, Head of Business Development at the battery vendor Eos Energy Storage, says a recent uptick in non-hydro storage’s fortunes is evident in terms of requests for proposals (RFPs)…
However, while energy storage system (ESS) commercialization is picking up pace it still faces a number of significant challenges. Specifically:
The market is characterized by a wide range of technology options, many of which are still in the early stages of development, with different applications, which makes it difficult to pick ‘winners’ that can be produced at a commercial scale.
The business models for energy storage are still being defined. Storing excess renewable energy is often seen as the primary application for ESS, but there are others, such as frequency regulation, which offer more immediate benefits.
Many ESS technologies are not yet cost-competitive. This is particularly evident in the battery market, where prices still determine volumes rather than the other way around.
Reliability and safety are seen as problematic for a number of technologies, including established battery chemistries such as lead-acid and lithium-ion.
With a few exceptions, there is still little regulatory incentive to implement ESS.
The role of funding bodies in commercialization
Funding bodies such as banks and venture capital firms are key to the commercialization of any new technology.
But in energy storage the level of involvement from such traditional funding sources is less than might be expected by comparison with other energy sectors. There are several possible reasons for this.
The most obvious is that the still immature state of the market, as well as of many of its constituent technologies, makes it a poor match for many traditional funders.
Problems with relatively high-profile names such as A123 or Xtreme Power have done little to inspire confidence in the wider investor community.
A further challenge, related to the lack of clear business models, is that ESS projects can benefit a number of different stakeholders but it may be difficult to get all these beneficiaries to assume the upfront costs.
This can make it difficult to make return-on-investment estimations. Finally, larger private equity firms may have difficulty finding ESS projects that meet their minimum capital investment requirements.
All this adds up to an environment where traditional sources of investment are limited to a few entities that understand the market, such as the clean-tech venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers.
Elsewhere, funding has been secured through less orthodox means such as direct investment by individuals (including Bill Gates and Warren Buffet) or companies that can sell into or benefit from ESS, such as equipment manufacturers and utilities…
The impact of the California mandate
According to the DoE: “The recent California ruling on storage targets for 2020 represents a unique opportunity for increasing market adoption of electricity storage in California specifically, and the United States in general.”
This opportunity is significant because it will force utilities to deploy energy storage technologies at increasing levels between now and 2020 (see table 1).
California is effectively set to become a major proving ground for ESS, with learning from the market serving to help deploy energy storage at scale elsewhere in the US and worldwide.
This scaling up will not only give current, more established storage technologies the chance to be tried and tested in a utility grid setting, but will also potentially allow those that are still in development to be put to the test…
The mandate will thus help energy storage to overcome some of the commercialization challenges outlined above, particularly around business models and cost.
Regarding the latter, the payback period for ESS under the California Self Generation Incentive Program is already estimated to be of the order of three to four years, compared to five or six years without incentives.
The status of US demonstration projects
As of January 2014, the DoE Energy Storage Database listed almost 180 operational energy storage projects in the US. Around two-fifths of these were pending verification, indicating the challenge associated with detailed reporting on existing projects.
Of all the operational projects listed, almost half (48%) are battery-based, perhaps reﬂecting the large number of battery technologies and vendors currently vying for attention in the market.
A further 29% were thermal storage projects, followed by pumped hydro (20%), then compressed air and ﬂywheels (about 1.5% each).
However, when viewed by capacity instead of number of projects, pumped hydro dominates the landscape, with 20.3GW installed.
This compares to around 50MW for thermal storage, 20MW for batteries, 11MW for compressed air and a little over 2MW for ﬂywheels.
Also worthy of note is the wide variety of applications that energy storage appears to be used for (see figure 2). The top applications are (in order) energy time shifting, electric bill management, renewable capacity firming and frequency regulation.
Beyond this, though, are uses that range from transmission upgrade deferrals and ramping to load following and on-site power.
While the data on commissioning of projects is incomplete, it appears many of the developments listed on the DoE database have only begun operation in the last five years or so. Most projects from before 2000 are pumped hydro.
This implies that the majority of the ESS facilities currently in place could be considered pilots or demonstration projects, which is an important point in terms of commercialization…
What can energy storage learn from other clean-tech sectors?
Energy storage in general is too varied a field to bear comparison with any single other clean-tech sector.
While wind, solar, tidal, biomass and other green generation sources all comprise discrete groups of technologies in their own right, energy storage mechanisms as diverse as pumped hydro and battery ESS have little in common.
Having said that, the battery market in particular has been noted as bearing a strong resemblance to the solar PV market of five to 10 years ago.
Partly this is to do with the range of applications it covers; like PV, battery storage can be used anywhere from utility grids to consumer residential settings.
Another similarity is that the economics of battery commercialization are heavily dependent on economies of scale (something that does not happen with pumped hydro, for example).
Finally, the battery market is currently characterized by a large number of start-ups and technology variants, with few clear market leaders, as was the case for PV until a few years ago.
This situation has led some observers to predict an imminent phase of aggressive price competition followed by intense market consolidation, as has been the case with PV6. This would bring down prices and could trigger much wider adoption of battery ESS.
It should be noted, however, that not all observers agree that such a transition is imminent, or even likely.
As one analyst remarks, the battery manufacturers most likely to succeed a competitive showdown, which are those owned by diversified conglomerates such as Panasonic, have little incentive to start a price war since their products are selling well already.
Energy storage is still in its infancy. But it is growing up fast. And the US is leading the way.
Worldwide, only Germany has a comparable environment for the development of energy storage, but ebbing support for renewables in general raises questions over how much of a market the nation will ultimately be.
Across America, in contrast, support continues to grow, with the DoE correctly identifying energy storage as a key plank in the country’s quest for energy security.
Similar mandates to those imposed by California and Puerto Rico look set to be introduced in other states, including Texas and New York.
In the latter, the New York Battery and Energy Storage Technology Consortium was created in 2010 to position the state as a global leader in energy storage technology, including applications in transportation, grid storage and power electronics.
Beyond interested parties ranging from state policymakers and utilities to residential solar customers and electric vehicle owners, the USA is home to other important stakeholders that are committed to developing energy storage.
The US Department of Defense, for instance, has put about $145 million a year into energy storage programs since 20098
. With this kind of support, it seems inevitable that the USA will play a key part in the commercialization of energy storage worldwide and that the changes taking place in markets such as California could be critical for wide-scale adoption in the coming year.