How to choose a storage battery: Think of an onion

South Africa’s stretched energy grid has led to a rapid uptake of uninterrupted power supply (UPS) systems and a marked increase in renewable energy investments.

Freedom from the grid needs reliable storage batteries – where the energy created by turbines or solar panels is stored for continuous power, or in the case of a UPS system in a home or business, the power from the grid is stored for use when the power trips. “When you understand what makes a high-quality storage battery, it makes choosing the right battery system a lot easier. I always tell people to see it as they would an onion with its multiple layers,” Felix von Bormann, co-founder of REVOV says.

There are four layers that make a good battery, says Von Bormann. They are:

First layer: The chemistry

“This is perhaps one of the most crucial elements,” says Von Bormann. “If the chemistry inside the battery is not right, it will not only be ineffective, but dangerous as well. Different chemistries are better suited for specific environments. For instance, automotive-grade battery cells deliver extreme temperature resilience and high energy density, which makes them well-suited to environments that rely on these characteristics.”

Second layer: Charging capacity

Once you are satisfied with the chemistry, you need to ensure that the battery chosen has the right capacity insurance. “This is to provide the ability to support the charging required and remain within the 48-volt paradigm critical for renewable energy.”

Third layer: Well-designed box

The battery cells must obviously be of the highest grade. Von Bormann says: “The chemistry means little if the battery is not constructed correctly. The physical box must be rugged while the connections to the cells for monitoring and power delivery must be solid. The battery must have a well-designed box that can take shocks.”

Fourth layer: Safety

“The final part is ensuring the battery does not leak or explode,” says Von Bormann. “The safety specification of the battery you choose is an important consideration. Chemical devices need to be designed and stored correctly as this speaks directly to their safety.” 

A lithium battery, for instance, features a battery management system (BMS) that monitors and shuts down the battery if something goes wrong. “There are also physical signs to check out as well such as whether the battery is misshapen or has watermarks on it,” says Von Bormann.

Interestingly, says Von Bormann, repurposed, or second life, batteries from electric vehicles (EVs) are tailor-made to deliver the performance and safety required to be quality, robust storage batteries. “Of course, it is not a case of simply removing them from a car and plugging them into a solar solution. Care must be taken to select the right kind of battery that can deliver this second life and that is equipped to deal with the demands of long-term storage.

“If you consider that these carefully chosen and repurposed second life batteries have 10 to 15 years of use once we have repurposed them from EV into storage batteries, the value is two-fold: first, you pay less for high-grade batteries and second, by repurposing EV batteries that would have ended up in landfills by their tons, we can move off the grid in a carbon-sensitive and sustainable manner.”

He adds that quality batteries should be put through rigorous testing so that by the time they are built into commercial or residential systems, the end-user knows they have bought quality. “Ongoing testing really is non-negotiable. When you are choosing a battery, ask about the testing. Our 2nd LiFe lithium-ion phosphate batteries, for instance, have been quality checked and have gone through rigorous testing to ensure they are fit for purpose, that is long-term energy storage.”

READ MORE | Repurposed EV batteries a boon for stational energy storage

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Bouncing back in 2021

There is little doubt that 2020 has been the year that has severely tested our mettle and has left many an industry imperilled and in urgent need of a reboot. But experts believe that the economic slump and consequent expected government investment into infrastructure is one of few positive spinoffs of the catastrophic outbreak and can be a silver lining for rebooting failing industries and organisations.

According to Igor Hulak, partner at global management consultancy, Kearney, these investments could present massive opportunities in digital transformation; transitioning to renewable and cleaner energy; and, an outcome-based ecosystem of collaboration between operators and suppliers.

Energy

A re-imagined energy supply is among the key shifts that will shape our new resilient, future-proof business mindsets.  Internationally, the pandemic has seen several European countries taking advantage of the slump in demand for energy to wean themselves off coal and into renewables.  Nationally, an accelerated implementation of a mixed energy supply, in which renewables and liquid natural gas (LNG) will play a much greater role is on the cards.

“The dearth in demand for oil, and the reduced cost of solar and wind technologies has resulted in a favourable investment landscape for renewables. Government has come on board to facilitate these transitions, and Eskom is poised to purchase power from independent renewable energy producers for use in the national grid.”

Hulak adds that, in the renewables sector as well as other industries, we’re seeing an emergence of novel restructuring of projects so that they become scalable, executable modules. “This flexible, iterative approach obviates the need for lump-sum upfront investments and is congruent with innovative modern business paradigms.”

In South Africa, the fifth round of bidding for independent energy supply is currently underway and government and corporates alike are investigating the recent innovations in battery technology and how to best procure these for greater storage capacity of energy gleaned from non-traditional sources.

Digitisation

For forward-thinking organisations, the Covid-19 pandemic might well be the watershed moment that drove broad-based digitisation and spearheaded the Fourth Industrial Revolution (4IR). Hulak urges businesses that have not yet embraced digital transformation to do so swiftly or risk obsolescence in the face of agile disruptors.

According to Hulak, the promised future of digitisation and 4IR is already upon us and is expressed through the greatly increased carrying capacity of the cloud, the ubiquity of reliable connectivity and greater numbers of people going online and becoming digitally active. 

“The customer of tomorrow fully expects automated, instantaneous access to a wide variety of basic, and more nuanced services and transactions.” 

Igor Hulak, partner at global management consultancy, Kearney

This recognition will drive innovation and expansion and will enable companies to emerge stronger, nimbler and more resilient to future disruptions.

Collaborative partnerships

It is widely acknowledged that strategic partnerships, when done right, add mutual value through a less-siloed approach and enhanced efficiencies of operations. Hulak explains that the constrained business climate brought on by the pandemic has necessitated a radical shift toward tactical alliances based on the outcome, rather than adversarial competition focused narrowly on cost and position.

“Rather than the traditional contracting methods of the past, which saw lump-sum risk being pushed onto suppliers, the risk is now shared proportionally, incentivising outcomes and driving towards a common goal”.  Hulak adds that in the new reality, data will enable an aligned view of what ‘best’ looks like thereby building trust, as well as prompting realistic, auditable costs and timelines.

Rishad Khan, the South African operations manager for engineering, procurement, construction, and maintenance company, Fluor, believes that early and effective resource-loaded portfolio planning and identification – and engaging strategic alliances upfront – will help mitigate and manage risks associated with key performance drivers of safety, cost, schedule, and quality.

“An example of this early engagement is applying a construction-driven execution approach to enable better-build techniques that drive the engineering and design process, instead of following the traditional engineering and design sequence, and then finding a construction solution and developing an execution strategy. The same methodology can be applied to suppliers. Significant cost savings have been achieved with this approach,” says Khan.

“These shifts toward holistic leadership reflect the increasing sophistication of governance globally and enable the management of often finite resources in a more responsible way with greater oversight. This stands in stark contrast to the adversarial, myopic paradigms of yesteryear,” concludes Hulak.

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VIDEO | Storage: The missing link to renewable energy

TED2012 | DONALD SADOWAY

What’s the key to using alternative energy, like solar and wind? Storage — so we can have power on tap even when the sun’s not out and the wind’s not blowing. In this accessible, inspiring talk, Donald Sadoway takes to the blackboard to show us the future of large-scale batteries that store renewable energy. As he says: “We need to think about the problem differently. We need to think big. We need to think cheap.”

Donald Sadoway is working on a battery miracle – an inexpensive, incredibly efficient, three-layered battery using liquid metal.

This talk was presented at an official TED conference, and was featured by our editors on the home page.

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What’s on the Energy Storage Market Besides Lithium-ion Batteries, Asks IDTechEx Research

In this first part of a series of articles from IDTechEx, an overview of the flow batteries characteristics is provided, extrapolated from IDTechEx’s recent report “Redox Flow Battery 2020-2030: Forecast, Challenges, Opportunities“. 

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Mr. Gabriel Kroes to address the Power Generation Summit

The upcoming Power Generation Summit will feature a host of expert speakers, including Mr. Gabriel Kroes of IMPOWER speaking to the topic of PV Solar and Battery Storage.

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