Top 5 Energy Storage Trends of the Year

Energy storage has been the hot topic in solar and e-mobility over the last couple years, and it’s only getting hotter. Last year, energy storage installations in the U.S. totaled 311 MW and 777 MWh, up from next to nothing six years prior, and this is just the beginning. Wood Mackenzie and Energy Storage Association analysts predict that total MWh deployed will grow nearly 14 times in the next five years.

To ensure solar, e-mobility, and energy storage professionals have the knowledge and insight to make important business decisions in the new year, Intersolar North America teamed up with NAATBatt International—an association of companies and research institutions commercializing advanced electrochemical energy storage technology for emerging applications—to understand the top five trends shaping the market as it continues to grow into the next decade and beyond.

Plummeting Lithium-Ion Costs

The declining cost of lithium-ion battery technology is the primary trend driving market growth for the energy storage industry this year. Since 2013, prices have dropped by nearly 73%; in the first quarter of 2019, the market achieved a record-breaking 232% growth.

The downward price trajectory of lithium-ion technology continues to confound many projections that forecast the price to plateau or even reverse. Instead, experts now expect the cost reductions to continue as lithium prices fall an expected 45% by 2021. Bloomberg New Energy Finance has observed an 18% reduction in price for each doubling of cumulative volume, meaning that an average battery pack could be only $94/kWh by 2024 and $62/kWh by 2030.

Using batteries to do things like power vehicles and store electric energy on the grid were once thought to be completely uneconomic propositions. Today, because of falling costs across the battery industry, using batteries to perform these functions is not only possible, but can also offer advantages over the incumbent technologies of fossil fuel generation and internal combustion. As technology prices continue to fall, the economic benefits of energy storage applications will only see larger margins.

Utilities Making Moves at Scale

Utility adoption of energy storage and associated grid management technologies is another trend the industry is watching closely. As utility-scale solar maintains and gains popularity, utility asset owners are now looking to storage to help smooth peak demand curves and provide back-up power.

Declining battery costs coupled with an increase in state renewable energy targets are speeding the adoption of utility-scale energy storage. In fact, as of June 2019, five states had established energy storage targets. In March of this year, the Hawaii Public Utilities Commission approved six solar-plus-storage projects totaling 253 MW of solar and 1 GWh of energy storage; a few months later, Pacific Gas and Electric received approval for four energy storage projects totaling 2.27 GWh of storage to replace three gas-fired power plants.

This trend has been strengthened by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC)’s  Order No. 841, which was issued in February last year and calls on grid operators to establish energy storage infrastructure. We expect that in the years to come, regulation in support of energy storage will expand and lead to a continued steady uptick in utility adoption of both storage systems and grid management platforms.

Steps Forward for Safety

As a growing number of states, utilities, and corporations make storage a cornerstone of energy planning, safety is at the forefront of industry leaders’ hearts and minds. Recently, the explosion at an Arizona Public Services (APS) facility solidified the urgency for standardized safety regulations for storage technology integration and monitoring.

While the industry is still waiting for the results of the investigation of the APS fire, the incident presents an opportunity to review best practices for safety in energy storage and lithium-ion batteries. Experts anticipate that the investigation will give rise to a standardized approach to safety at stationary storage systems, which is frequently talked about but hasn’t yet been approached in a systematic way.

In response to safety concerns, the New York Fire Department (NYFD) is expected to issue regulations for the deployment of stationary energy storage systems in New York City (NYC) within the next few months. It will be the first municipality in a dense urban area to examine, study, and determine how energy storage can be placed and used in a city. Industry leaders predict that these regulations will be highly influential on the market as a whole and provide insight into the direction of the industry over the next year or two. Hopefully, they will also guide how the industry will address some of the safety concerns that continue to challenge lithium-ion battery technology. Should new technologies be required to meet more-stringent regulations, we may see additional safety-focused complementary technologies come to market.

Alternative Battery Technologies

Innovation in energy storage technology is continuing to saturate the market. Companies, such as Power Electronics and others, are innovating dual solar-inverter-plus-storage products, and Victron Energy is expanding its solar charging offering. When it comes to battery technology, lithium-ion alternatives such as zinc technology are on the rise, especially in fire-sensitive areas where lithium-ion batteries are still seen as somewhat risky.

Experts are also watching the NYFD regulations closely to see if the new guidelines will favor non-lithium technologies at the expense of lithium-ion batteries. The outcome of these pending decisions and regulations will determine what type of energy storage technology will continue to proliferate in NYC and other dense metropolitan areas––lithium-ion or a new, alternative battery technology.

While battery technology innovation continues, new applications of alternative technologies are emerging in tandem. With help from a few leaders, such as Eos Energy Storage (a rare non-lithium-ion grid-scale battery supplier that recently announced it is gearing up for multi-gigawatt manufacturing) and NantEnergy (which announced the largest global deployment of zinc-air rechargeable batteries last year), the alternative battery technology market is quickly gaining speed.

Integration with E-Mobility and Solar

Finally, it is becoming increasingly common––if not the new normal––to see energy storage on the agenda or the expo floor of major solar and e-mobility conferences. That exposure reflects a shift in the industry as storage increasingly intersects the two verticals—an integration that is only accelerated by growing public concerns for the environmental and financial instability of costly fossil fuel resources.

CleanTechnica’s Carolyn Fortuna wrote, “Analysts are finding consensus—a green future of an electric vehicle in every garage, a solar array on every roof, and a battery in every basement is now more pragmatic than romantic.”

And that integration is happening at scale. For example, Florida Power and Light announced plans to build the Manatee Energy Storage Center in Florida: a 409-MW, 900-MWh battery storage system that will be interconnected to an existing solar farm in the state. And corporations such as Apple, Amazon, and Google are increasingly requesting that storage be integrated into renewable energy proposals.

Where Intersolar North America Fits In

The team at Intersolar North America is watching these trends closely. As the solar, storage, and e-mobility industries continue to intersect, it is increasingly important that the thought leaders, decision-makers, marketers, developers, and boots on the ground have access to the leading conversations and providers that are shaping this growth.

Intersolar North America 2020 will incorporate energy storage content into its exhibit hall and conference program more than ever before. In fact, stationary electrical storage solution manufacturers, suppliers, battery production technologies, distributors, and end-users now account for the fastest growing exhibitor base at the 2020 event, and the showrunners continue to welcome new energy storage and advanced battery systems solution providers to the show. Join us in San Diego to explore these trends with the industry leaders shaping the industry!

Wes Doane is event director with Intersolar North America and Jim Greenberger is executive director of NAATBatt International.