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PÖYRY POINT OF VIEW BLOG / 22 Sep 2016

Rise of the batteries just got faster…

With the excitement of the Rio Olympic Games still fresh in our memory, it is interesting to dwell on how world records have inspired athletes to superhuman achievements.

At the time Roger Bannister ran the mile in under four minutes, many believed that the human frame was not capable of doing so.  Yet Hicham El Guerroujnow’s record run in 1999 stands almost seventeen seconds below.

The world’s electricity industry is seeing new performance benchmarks set down that have the potential to shake all participants to the core.

In August National Grid in GB announced the winners of its auction for Enhanced Frequency Reserve capacity – i.e. systems that could respond in under a second and then carry on delivering electricity for at least half an hour.

Shockingly the winning projects priced their bids at an eye-wateringly low level – with the lowest at £7/MW/week.  Industry analysts are still trying to work out how many of the winning projects were able to draw on ‘special’ sites that had very low or sunk connection costs.  Some have suggested that such a low figure was down to the way the tender was specified – and that this was a special situation – but the real point is that a benchmark has now been laid down for the industry to price against.

And earlier this year the world of photovoltaics had a similar experience when a tendered auction for a PV installation in Dubai produced a winner at ¢3/kWh.  At the time, this was greeted with widespread disbelief, but already this week we see that suppliers are moving beyond anger and denial to acceptance – and this benchmark was smashed with Marubeni’s project in Abu Dhabi coming in at ¢2.4/kWh.  The supply chain is now determinedly reworking its business models, its technologies, its production processes, and many other incremental gains to further lower the bar.

Lithium ion batteries seem to be easily the most preferred technology for the very short term back up for transmission system operators, but there are plenty of early signs that the technology has the potential to move into more widespread grid storage level applications as well as being deployed “behind the meter” where it can optimise on-site generation, or further enhance flexible power demand.

In combination with lowering cost PV systems, the potential market place for batteries can grow even further.

And yes, there is a third part of this story that is beginning to play out – there is a natural symbiosis between the static batteries used in power systems and houses, and the mobile ones used in cars.  By ‘recycling’ batteries to static facilities after their useful life on the road, and giving them a few more years of useful life, the entire business model could dramatically lower costs.

So the current ‘world records’ don’t look like they will stand for very long – and we should now be expecting batteries to move centre stage.