Jamal Burki is president of IHI Terrasun, a company that provides energy storage systems, including standalone systems and also those paired with solar power installations. Burki, who has spent just short of two years in his current role and has been with the company since 2015, recently provided POWER with insight into the energy storage market, including trends in the industry, workforce challenges, and how the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) will impact the market and also his group.
POWER: The current decade has been called “The Decade of Energy Storage” – we’re now three years in; do you think growth in energy storage will continue, and if so, at what pace? If you think growth will slow, why?
Burki: Energy storage has shown its value for backup power, peak shifting, frequency, and power stabilization – and its growth will continue. The IRA and the global instability in energy costs and supply have also supercharged the speed of transition to renewable energy–a shift that cannot be achieved without large-scale energy storage.
The increase in energy storage development and deployment will continue assuming there is enough supply of batteries and Power Conditioning Systems (PCS) available to meet the increase in demand. If there are other supply chain disruptions, such as those caused by pandemics, raw materials shortages, or distribution problems, storage installations will slow down over this decade. Impact on the rate of growth and expansion of the energy storage market will be determined by the availability of components, not worldwide demand, which will stay strong.
Growth and trajectory of the energy storage market will also be affected by emergence of new technologies such as sodium, zinc, or iron-based electrochemical energy storage systems, with a focus towards long duration energy storage.
POWER: Could you provide details (name, location, capacity, etc.) of any energy storage projects to think are noteworthy?
Burki: Gemini Solar + Storage project in Clark County, Nevada, 690 MWac solar + 380 MW/1.4GWh battery energy storage (www.primergygemini.com) – commissioning in 2023, DC-coupled solar and storage system. Primergy Solar is the developer and IHI Terrasun is providing the integration, full power plant control software with proprietary DC-Coupled control algorithm, and 25 years of services for the project, which will supply electricity to the Nevada power grid. The project is noteworthy not only for its incredible size – it is one of the largest in the world – but also because of the innovative technology and controls that make it one of the most sophisticated clean energy projects ever developed.
POWER: What are the current major challenges for the energy storage sector?
Burki: Two big challenges face the energy storage market: availability of integral system components and the nationwide skilled labor shortage.
Energy storage consists of three essential parts: batteries, Power Conditioning Systems (PCSs), and controllers. Over the last two to three years, we’ve seen both an expansion of the manufacturing capacity for these components and a simultaneous increase in demand for systems that has outpaced the supply. In 2022, many manufacturers announced plans to add factories in the U.S., spurred by the incentives in the IRA. 2023 will tell whether these plans result in factories that are producing batteries for the U.S. market in the US and whether the supply will therefore increase. Similar trends are likely for PCSs.
The second challenge that has plagued the industry is the shortage of skilled workers. Every year, more electricians retire or leave the profession than enter it on a national level. This is a huge issue for the industry that is building giga-scale projects with millions of solar panels and thousands of batteries – all of which require skilled electrical workers to connect, solder, and bring into operation. This issue is not isolated to electrical fields: most trades are seeing the same pattern from HVAC to builders trained to operate sophisticated machinery. Proactive outreach, recruiting, and training work is already being done on this front, but it must increase 10-fold for the nation to meet its 2030 climate goals and beyond.
POWER: Are there new storage technologies being developed that will support the industry?
Burki: We have witnessed promising development of non-lithium technologies such as sodium and zinc-based energy storage systems, which also hold promise for diversifying the supply chain and providing an alternative to lithium-based products.
On the PCS front, string inverters, as compared to their central counterparts, will further permeate the market. String inverters, while more expensive to install and purchase up front because of the increase in the number of individual units required, offer greater availability during operation and easier maintenance. We expect that more projects will consider this technology as the focus shifts primarily from CAPEX to build the project to the OPEX of maintaining it for years post commissioning.
POWER: How important is the siting of energy storage projects? Should they be installed at substations, and/or at various points along the power grid?
Burki: Substations are an obvious location for an energy storage project because of the interconnection opportunity and the presence of other electrical equipment already in the area. The Byrd Ranch Storage project is an example of an energy storage project located next to a substation.
Medium-sized storage projects strategically located near load zones, i.e., population centers, can also offer tremendous opportunity to create resilient and reliable energy grids by storing electricity where it’s needed most.
Another great opportunity for storage projects to be located is near solar installations, creating an integrated, dispatchable, and renewable asset that can produce a steadier stream of electricity than solar alone.
POWER: Will there be rapid growth in energy storage for residential, and for commercial & industrial sites?
Burki: IHI Terrasun is currently focused on the large utility scale projects; however, with the passage of IRA law in 2022, there are significant incentives that will drive growth in retrofitting of solar installations with energy storage systems. For the first time, the law also incentivizes standalone energy storage in residential and C&I applications. This is important because previously, energy storage deployments in these segments were difficult to pencil out.
POWER: Will utilities drive growth in energy storage, or will more growth come from private (or governmental) investment in storage projects?
Burki: Future growth will come from many sectors of the electricity economy, as incentives and decarbonization requirements drive positive change. Utilities will become important players in the energy storage market as large-scale projects become lower risk and more routine, while private developers will continue to operate in the cutting-edge, developing space of integrating new technologies and taking on the risks of difficult projects.
—Darrell Proctor is a senior associate editor for POWER (@POWERmagazine).