2014 Trends: Batteries And Storage

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By Frank Andorka

Originally published on Solar Power World

 

Energy storage, which will be key to further solar deployment, may seem far off to the layperson. But big advances are happening that could propel storage — and solar — forward faster than people think.

Nearly everyone agrees that the key to even more widespread solar adoption is the advent of breakthrough storage developments. At a time when other technologies — computers, phones and electric vehicles — are leaping forward with battery development, it might appear to the layperson that solar is lagging behind.

But appearances can be deceiving, says John Connell, vice president of the SLI Products Group at Crown Battery Manufacturing Co.

 

“This year, there have been two big advances in the battery market: changes in how utilities pay for grid-tied solar, and increased automation at some battery manufacturers’ plants, Connell says. “Utilities are offering substantially lower payments for the energy from solar panels on grid-tied homes. That, in turn, is making it less cost-effective to install grid-tied systems. Now, many homeowners are going off-grid and using the money they save on utility bills toward batteries.

 

But perhaps the even bigger change in the industry is the automation some battery manufacturers have invested in, Connell says. While most batteries look the same from the outside, a battery’s materials and construction can make a tremendous difference in lifespan, performance and longevity.

 

Some companies use manual welding and assembly, which are imprecise and create an inconsistent product. Other manufacturers have invested in automated manufacturing, including cast-on-strap (COS), robotic assembly and computerized quality control (in addition to checks by trained technicians).

 

“The best part for consumers is that even though high-tech batteries last longer, their lifecycle cost is actually lower because sophisticated manufacturing slashes errors and production time,” Connell says.

 

Dean Middleton, global director of sales for renewable energy at Trojan Battery Co., says newly developed carbon technology may hold the key for deep-cycle battery storage.

 

Deep-cycle batteries used in off-grid and unstable grid renewable energy, telecom and inverter backup systems are heavily cycled at partial state of charge (PSOC) and are often never fully recharged on a regular basis, Middleton says. Operating at PSOC can quickly diminish the overall life of a battery, which results in frequent, costly battery replacements.  

 

“Based on more than five years of research and development, the Trojan team developed SmartCarbon, a proprietary formula of carbon additives designed to enhance life and performance of Trojan industrial and premium batteries when operating in PSOC,” Middleton says. “We think this could be a game-changer.”

 

But why hasn’t solar battery storage moved forward more quickly?

 

Trojan’s Middleton warns that to compare solar battery storage with storage for other applications is not an apples-to-apples comparison.

 

“Solar is a much more limited market than other battery-powered markets,” Middleton says. “Popular consumer electronics is supported by a massive market which drives advances in small scale energy storage technology due to the larger economies of scale, and the existing broad customer base present in densely populated areas with high disposable incomes.”

 

The realistic breakthrough for solar batteries is to find a long-term way for them to survive in adverse conditions, Connell says. For decades, battery engineers have pushed the envelope on battery performance in the field, but even the best battery won’t last as long if it’s operating outside the suggested temperature range.

 

There is great optimism about the future of battery storage which, as one sage wrote, would revolutionize solar in the United States.

 

“The use of battery-based energy storage solutions for solar applications will continue to grow as the most reliable source of electricity in off-grid, unstable grid, inverter and telecom applications,” Middleton says. “Customers have learned that buying a high-quality battery up front is a better and more economical decision in the long run than buying a cheaper, automotive battery that will have to be replaced frequently.”

 


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