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Energy Storage Roundup: Xtreme Power, Rhubarb, Compressed Air, DOE's Grid-Scale Push

Grid-scale battery storage continues to be a tough place to do business.

This week Xtreme Power filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the Western District of Texas, in an attempt to rearrange deals with its creditors (as opposed to Chapter 7 liquidation). The filing includes a "stalking horse" option whereby one of its creditors can file a bid, essentially setting the bar for a purchase price to avoid other lowball offers. The preliminary filing ballparks the company's total assets at $10-$50 million vs. $50-$100 million of liabilities to more than a hundred creditors; topping that list are Toshiba and Dynapower. Some reports suggest the company has less than $50,000 in cash against $10 million of debt.

The company touts 12 projects in the field amounting to 60 MW, more than 34,100 MWh charged and discharged over 472,200 hours of integrated power. That includes a 36-MW battery storage system for Duke Energy's 153-MW Notrees wind power project; a 1-MW/1-MWh system using Samsung SDI lithium-ion batteries at for the Texas Center for the Commercialization of Electric Technologies (CCET), part of a $27 million DoE "Smart Grid Demonstration Project," and several installations in Hawaii (including one that caught fire). It also claims to have a pipeline in excess of $100 million and $65 million worth of letters-of-intent, and that it will break even before taxes, interest, and depreciation and amortization (EBITDA) later this year. As of last fall the company had raised $90 million since its founding, with backers including SAIL Capital Partners, Bessemer Venture Partners, Dow Chemical, Fluor, BP Alternative Energy, Dominion Resources, POSCO ICT, Skylake, and Spring Ventures.

Last spring the company pivoted away from purely making and selling battery hardware to become a battery chemistry-agnostic integrator and ancillary hardware provider, noted Steve Minnehan, analyst with Lux Research. But like a roster of grid-scale battery storage firms — A123, Ener1, Altair Nano, ABB, NGK — it's had a hard time as initial large-volume contracts haven't drawn in new projects. "There's no de-facto leader in grid-scale energy [battery] storage that looks in good shape right now," he said.

From lead-carbon to lithium-ion to flow batteries, they all can make the cost and performance work in some instances such as microgrids, but have been slow to move those needles beyond incremental improvements and push hard into the grid. Moreover, solar and wind energy aren't anywhere close to grid-integrated levels where their intermittency would cause real problems, though, Minnehan points out. For now demand response is still more cost-effective, and increasingly faster-responding with better real-time demand management, to deal with intermittency on a broad scale, he said.

That said, help may be on the way in the form of policy. California's energy storage mandate (see below) means utilities have to acquire a big fleet of energy storage, and they'll choose whatever is most ready for action today, he said. If that proves the shining example" of what energy storage can do, other states and even countries could adopt similar policies, Minnehan says. There's also a potential market for independent power producers to combine solar and storage, then bid into electricity markets.


IN THE NEWS

Rhubarb: Great for Pie...and Batteries? Harvard scientists say they have developed a flow-battery that stores energy using a naturally occurring organic molecule — specifically a type of quinone nearly identical to one found in rhubarb — instead of metal materials. Here's a more in-depth discussion of the research, which was published in the journal Nature.

AES: 1.5 Million MWh Served: AES says it has delivered 1.5 million MWh of delivered service, spanning six years from its 174-MW of battery arrays in the U.S. and Chile. They made a video summarizing the high points. Readers may recall AES won our 2012 Wind Project of the Year for the Laurel Mountain Wind Farm which houses a 32-MW battery storage facility.

Amprius Secures More Funds: Amprius has raised $30 million in Series C funding to commercialize its high-energy, high-capacity lithium-ion batteries, and push development of next-generation battery technology. Asian private equity firm SAIF Partners led the new round along with all of the company's previous investors.

DOE: Bring On Grid-Scale Energy Storage: More energy storage hooked into the grid means more renewable power can be added, more lower-cost power at peak times, less infrastructure investment, and better-quality and reliability in power generated. That's the boiled-down takeaway from the aforementioned DOE report released in December , which identified four major challenges to overcome: get costs down through R&D and streamlining the path from design to manufacturing to deployment; validate reliability and safety with standard test protocols. independent tests vs. utility requirements, and documenting actual performance in the field; craft "an equitable regulatory environment" with public-private evaluations of grid benefits, and standards for siting, grid integration, procurement, and performance evaluation; and get the industry's buy-in through demos and field-trials with planning and operational tools.

Projections for Compress Air Energy Storage: Looking at the options for longer-term duration of energy storage, there's the firmly entrenched pumped hydro, and compressed air energy storage (CAES) category, for which new technology is more flexible in siting and scalability. Navigant Research explains why it thinks CAES will top $4.8 billion in annual sales and 11.2 GW of installed capacity within the next decade, up from just 400 MW deployed today.

Storing Energy in Puerto Rico: Puerto Rico is now mandating energy storage as part of technical requirements for utility-scale solar PV systems, which will tack on an estimated 15 percent to upfront system costs. IHS' Sam Wilkinson weighs the benefits and drawbacks of the new mandatory requirements, which will contribute to an estimated 1.5 GW of storage by 2017.


A DEEPER LOOK

How the U.S. Congress Could Help Advance Energy Storage Technologies: Kelly Kogan, senior attorney with Chadbourne & Parke, takes a closer look at two bills pending in Congress — the Storage 2013 Act and Master Limited Partnerships Parity Act — that could go a long way to addressing some of the challenges in putting more energy storage on the grid.

Inside California's Energy Storage Mandate: Devi Glick from the Rocky Mountain Institute looks more closely AB 2514, California's energy storage mandate passed last October, which requires more than 1.3 GW of energy storage (electricity and thermal) by the end of this decade. He also questions the emphasis on transmission-level storage and de-emphasis on storage at the customer level (i.e. distributed solar), despite usage and pricing trends to the contrary.


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IN CASE YOU MISSED IT

December 5, 2013: Energy Storage Roundup: Ontario and California, Imergy, Stem, Hitachi

Lead image: Battery containing wind turbine against blue sky, via Shutterstock

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