Battery storage and the influence of prosumers

With ABB launching its REACT domestic inverter and energy storage product for the Australian marketplace shortly, we asked Simon de Bell, head of Business Development and Account Management to share his insights about battery storage technology trends and influences.

What is influencing the uptake of battery storage?

We can learn a lot about potential industry trends by looking at economic history and applying it to the modern era. In the transport revolution, people travelled by horse-and-cart and stagecoach, advancing to commuting along pre-defined routes by rail in order to cover large distances relatively quickly. The advent of the automobile some 70 years later changed transport again, as it freed people from the limitations of rail. Individuals became prosumers, able to choose where, when and via which route they wanted to travel. Rail companies were forced to adapt or perish.

The electricity supply industry is in the throes of a similar revolution. Energy providers are trying to morph themselves into energy service companies as increased choice has shifted the balance of power between producer and consumers. Management of the grid has become more complex, with many more “power plants” feeding into a shared network.

The uniform, one directional market has become segmented with different groupings on the supply and demand side. Consumers demand supply continuity, flexibility and competitive pricing; some are active, others are passive wanting to know what their options are. Information is becoming increasingly important to support correct decision-making.

Not everyone is in the position to “go off grid”. Greater living density in our urban centres means that roof spaces and other communal areas are shared. We may see an increase in communal renewable energy projects, and the rise of small energy companies who take on the responsibility of managing supply and demand for people within the same residential complex. Similarly for new commercial parks we may see energy developers partnering with commercial developers, with the former providing an integrated energy supply, storage and demand management solution for all lessors in the facility.

Transportation is a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions and air pollution. The pace of technological development is such that we could soon see electric vehicles and buses, becoming the normal way to commute to and from these commercial centres. The next trend is likely to be growth of larger (greater than 500kWh) behind the meter energy supply and storage solutions.

How do you foresee battery storage and energy management changing the market?

Energy management activities are a proactive approach by energy users to balance their consumption with power availability, possibly to take advantage of lower time of use tariffs or to avoid increasing power usage and becoming subject to a higher power charge.

Battery storage is a further way that consumers can exercise choice. Battery storage offers a route to address the intermittent nature of solar power generation by facilitating demand management shifting to improve the economics of new solar installations despite falling feed in tariffs.

The price for battery storage is forecast to fall in the next five-10 years as storage technology improves with greater efficiency, longer storage capacity and shortened charge cycles. This will reduce the levelled cost of energy for solar electric generation at a time when conventional power generation may become less economic due to age and reduced utilisation.

Renewable energy and distributed energy sources are two of the hottest topics in the power industry today – when did ABB identify this trend?

ABB anticipated and prepared for the move towards a more distributed energy distribution model some years ago by acquiring Darwin-based PowerCorp, a world leader in integrating distributed energy resources and loads, as well as grid stabilisation and energy storage solutions. The purchase of Power One, one of the top two domestic inverter suppliers worldwide, followed two years later in 2012.

These acquisitions compliment ABB’s USD1.5 billion annual expenditure in research and development in areas such as large-scale inverters, energy storage, grid stabilisation, power regulation, energy monitoring and control, and improving the energy efficiency of devices. ABB is now uniquely placed to offer a complete portfolio of products and engineered solutions.

Sustainable transport is an important area for ABB; what are the latest developments in fast-charging technologies for electric vehicles (EVs)?

In Europe, government policy has incentivised the rapid growth of EV ownership as part of a plan to tackle air pollution and the associated risks to health. ABB is at the forefront of this transport revolution having built Estonia’s nation-wide EV charging network, and expanding those of the Netherlands and Denmark, to name a few.

Recently ABB secured an order for breakthrough 15-second flashing charging technology to enable emission-free public transport in Geneva. ABB will supply onboard electric vehicle technology for 12 TOSA fully electric buses (e-buses) and will deploy 13 flash-charging stations along an urban transit bus route, as well as three terminal and four depot-feeding stations.

This will be the world’s fastest flash-charging connection system taking less than 1 second to connect the bus to the charging point. The onboard batteries can then be charged in 15 seconds with a 600kW boost of power stored at the bus stop. A mere five minute charge at the end of line terminus enables a full recharge of the batteries providing an electrified solution, which can be implemented far quicker and at a fraction of the cost of greenfield light rail projects.