Battery Competition Brewing in Hawaii Courtesy of New Sony Venture

It hasn’t taken long for Hawai’i to emerge as a bustling hive of activity revolving around intelligent battery storage technology. From well-established market leaders such as LG Chem and Samsung SDI to fast rising young companies such as Tesla/SolarCity and Stem, it’s safe to say that practically every company looking to stake a claim in the nascent market for distributed battery storage solutions has established a presence in the Aloha State.

Credit: Blue Planet Energy Systems.

You can add Honolulu-based Blue Planet Energy Systems to the list. Launched publicly on July 6 by video game tech entrepreneur and Blue Planet Foundation founder Henk Rogers, Blue Planet Energy aims to take Hawai’i’s budding market for residential energy storage systems by storm by pairing Rogers and co-founder Darren T. Kimura’s intelligent energy storage/management software with Sony Electronics’ lithium-iron phosphate (LFP) smart battery storage systems.

Opening the doors of his expansive, off-grid home overlooking Honolulu to a local news crew, Rogers last week gave the public a first-hand look at the integrated PV-Blue Ion smart energy storage system Blue Planet Energy Systems intends to bring to Hawai’i’s residents and businesses.

Favorable Island Economics

With high energy costs, the economics of advanced battery storage systems tends to be a lot more favorable on islands. The average cost of electricity on Hawai’i, for instance, is around three times that in the continental U.S., Lux Research senior energy storage analyst Cosmin Laslau highlighted in an interview.

Island nations and communities are also particularly interesting when it comes to studying the pairing of energy storage with solar and renewable energy generation capacity. Along with Hawai’i, Lux puts California, New York and Germany at the top of the list when it comes to tracking and analyzing developments.

Advanced battery storage developers and vendors have been flocking to Hawai’i given supportive policies as well as the favorable economics. Furthermore, manufacturers, such as Sony are joining with local entrepreneurs and businesses, such as Rogers and Kimura, to develop and grow a market.

Sony’s rechargeable LFP battery technology is the heart of Blue Planet’s residential energy storage system. A technology and industry pioneer, Sony began shipping residential LFP battery storage systems back in 2011. Available in Australia, New Zealand and the Philippines, in Germany a 4.8-kWh SMA Sony Energy Storage System retails for around 10,000 euros (~$11,000).

Technologically, LFP batteries have advantages and disadvantages as compared to the lithium-ion batteries that dominate the nascent market for stationary battery storage systems, Laslau pointed out.

LFP vs. Li-ion

Operating at lower temperatures, LFP batteries pose less in the way of safety risks. They’re also more durable and last longer. Though Sony says its LFP batteries have a lifespan of 20 years, the Blue Ion systems Blue Planet will offer in Hawai’i will come with a 10-year warranty, Rogers told KITV-4.

A Sony LFP battery storage system. Credit: Enwitec.

LFP batteries are also more environmentally benign. Furthermore, iron and phosphate are much more abundant and readily available, hence cheaper, than some of the key minerals used in Li-ion batteries. Though end users probably aren’t aware, cobalt is a key element of Li-ion batteries. That raises the issue of supply chain sourcing and conflict minerals, Laslau pointed out.

The downside to LFP as compared to Li-ion batteries is lower energy density. That means more battery packs are needed to store an equivalent amount of energy and makes for a larger footprint.

Rogers installed 16 1.2-kWh Blue Planet “blade” servers that manage charging and discharging for three banks of Sony’s LFP batteries in his garage. The system’s 60-kWh energy storage capacity is more than enough to meet the needs of nearly all prospective residential system customers.

Rogers said they purposely overbuilt the system because his is the first of its kind and he didn’t want to run out of electricity. He added that a typical on-grid home might make use of just one bank as a back-up power supply in the event of outages.

Rogers and the Blue Planet team celebrated a first year of off-grid living and system testing on July 4. As is the case with Tesla’s Powerwall, sleek and functional product design is seen as one of its key selling points. “As you can see they look like stereo equipment — it’s a Sony, of course,” Rogers told a KITV-4 reporter.

Blue Planet intends to have residential and commercial versions of its smart energy storage system available in August.

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