battery storage

The power industry is staking bets on battery storage to aid in stabilising national grids during loadshedding and power outages by reducing the intermittency between demand and supply – but what more is pushing the proliferation of battery storage R&D that lends itself to renewable energy integration on the grid?

This article first appeared in ESI Africa Issue 1-2020.
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The world has awakened to the need for change in our attitude to and practice of carbon-intensive processes. This awareness has led to the growth in demand for cleaner approaches to mitigate global climate change, particularly in energy production. Through its proliferation, technology enhancements, and global scalability there has been rapid cost reductions in renewable energy power generation, such as seen with wind, solar, hydro, and biogas.

We caught up with Kaloyan Dimov, CEO of Solar MD, who draws attention to other key applications of storage, which include shifting the use of energy out of peak times, congestion optimisation, capacity firming, and voltage and frequency optimisation. Dimov starts by pointing out that “when you enter the realm of distributed energy, you find a collection of smaller-scale generators that can connect to the grid at a distribution level. This generator set is the domain of roof-top solar, electric vehicles, and modular battery storage units”. These advancing technologies help enable a more robust grid with multiple contributors from many sources and two-way power flows. However, it is highly dependent on when the wind blows, when the sun is out, or, if the water is available.

The industry has become accustomed to associating battery storage with solar PV. Are there alternative energy sources that can be included in this association?

Any power produced, regardless of the source, can be stored and despatched at will. Usage can be from a single cell level to the symphony and multiplicity of modular applications that can be despatched for an entire village or on a utility-scale project.

In South Africa, Eskom is currently investigating a massive storage facility for 2020. The utility proposes to install a Battery Energy Storage System (BESS) at its existing Skaapvlei Substation located within the Sere Wind Energy Facility in the Matzikama Local Municipality. It is hoped that the BESS will address voltage and capacity constraints, increase the amount of renewable energy from the wind farm onto the grid, and reduce the need for new distribution substations.

Of particular interest to the market is the increasing association between storage and mobility. Where electric vehicles have been adopted for personal and business use, this creates a new space for expanding technology markets and reducing carbon emissions.

There is also a link between battery storage and the job market, where quality batteries that are clean, compact and that enable easy and neat installation by qualified installers is in growing demand. This is also true in the production of batteries. Locally manufactured batteries are providing jobs and impetus to the needs of IPPs to satisfy local content purchase requirements.

What are the most influential drivers and anchors of the energy storage market?

Better materials are in development, which improves battery performance. For instance, we are the only facility in South Africa that has introduced laser-welding as a technology that seals each cell more effectively and is a move to zero-defect within batteries. Such developments result in improvements in the battery’s overall performance and reduce potential downtime.

Artificial neural networks that use artificial intelligence is increasingly used for energy management and analysis. It helps to predict more accurately what to anticipate in terms of weather patterns by using historical data. With this tool, forecasting for solar photovoltaic power production, with the idea to build a model to identify varying pattern sequences, can be adapted accordingly.

We’ve also recently developed a logger that does real-time data collection and analysis, which is internet-based to monitor and manage a system’s performance. This operates remotely and seamlessly across a range of technologies, multiple energy inverters, and even for weather data equipment.

Let’s talk about battery technology on the market and in particular Li-ion.

Lithium-ion (Li-ion) battery deployment has not yet reached its peak and will be on an upward trajectory for the next 5-10 years. The cost has also dropped considerably in the past decade, primarily as the Li-ion market can provide longer ranges to electric cars, which is showing to be probably ten times more lucrative than the storage market. It’s a commercially available technology with a decade of deployment that gives us some certainty of performance, so grid-scale storage is very viable. Lowering energy storage costs gives us longer duration periods.

With lower costs coupled with improving efficiencies and cleaner, cheaper power production like wind and solar PV, storage becomes a provider at peak periods. Investment into distributed energy storage units can off-set the need for distribution upgrades. There are applications that are either energy-based, for prolonged operations, or power-based for short and high power outputs. Operational times of storage units can be adjusted from between a few hours to within a few seconds. In terms of safety, most batteries include an integrated Battery Management System (BMS), which implements a list of features specifically designed to protect the battery pack. It is advisable always to follow the manufacturer’s installation manual and follow the safety precautions. It is also important to follow the relevant electrical regulations. For peace of mind, it is recommended to contact an engineer with requisite experience in Li-ion storage.

Battery storage is a game-changer, but what are the major hurdles?

Battery storage is expected to witness considerable growth owing to climate change mitigation needs and the volatile nature of fossil fuels. However, a major hurdle is the skills gap in the African market. Stakeholders need to undertake skills development as a business imperative, and the challenge is to groom employees into a career, and not just a means to an end. It is equally important for companies involved in the battery storage market to acknowledge the end of the life cycle and have a proactive approach to effectively dispose of products for minimal environmental impact. A lack of policy commitment has also hindered Africa from utility-scale storage investments. It is imperative to get a political commitment to secure larger storage projects in Africa.

It’s not just about battery storage but smart storage. Tell us about innovations currently on the market.

Breakthroughs in adjacent digital technologies such as the Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning, and blockchain, have engendered the creation of innovative software platforms that advance the technical capabilities and economic viability and bankability of battery storage. Software is expected to play an essential role in the energy storage industry as power grids transition toward a distributed, digitised, and decentralised system.

Our recent innovative software development provides records, data and events from third-party devices – inverters, energy meters, weather stations and other energy devices. It serves as an internet gateway and provides both battery and inverter management and customised data management for residential, commercial and utility PV, battery and hybrid systems as well as SCADA integration. Lastly, what do residential and industrial consumers need to know before installing an energy storage system?

Foremost, it is essential to choose an installer or reseller that is certified and qualified. To start the process, you will need to have made an analysis of your energy usage and significant energy users – which are critical – and what equipment is being supported. What is your peak demand period and how much power will you need to have available for how long? What can you absolutely not do without! Safety, security and visibility are vital components in your analysis. ESI