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Renewable Energy Storage Systems a Market Opportunity for Lithium

This week I suffered through a minor, but still frustrating, inconvenience that plagues most people accustomed to the luxury of modern residential electrification: a power outage. Instead of dropping the kids off at daycare and returning home to plunk away on my PC, I spent the day crawling through a giant indoor jungle gym — in hindsight, not a bad way to spend a Thursday. However, if I lived in the community of North York in Toronto, Ontario I might be sleeping now instead of writing to meet my deadline.

North York is the site of Canada’s first community energy storage (CES) project. The Electricity Storage Association defines CES as utility-owned “modular, distributed energy storage systems … at or near points in the utility distribution system that are close to residential and business end users.” In the case of a power outage, “CES can ‘pick up’ end-user demand and can serve that demand while there is stored energy … function[ing] autonomously to provide ‘back-up’ power.”

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The North York CES project is being implemented by a consortium comprised of battery module manufacturer eCAMION, Toronto Hydro, the University of Toronto and energy storage solutions provider Dow Kokam. The consortium, along with Sustainable Development Technology Canada, put up the funding for the project, which will provide 250 kWh/500kW of storage capacity — enough to power “a typical community centre, a light industrial complex or small residential street,” according to Toronto Hydro’s website.

The aim of the North York CES unit is to “help alleviate stress on the grid during peak times” and to supply energy in the event of a power outage. The batteries in the CES unit are based on Dow Kokam’s Advanced Energy Lithium-Polymer NMC (nickel-manganese-cobalt) cells and cell chemistry.

CES systems can also be useful in integrating renewable technologies — such as rooftop solar panels or wind turbines — into the grid by addressing the challenges associated with these inherently intermittent sources of energy. Reliable, energy efficient and dynamic energy storage systems are the key to making renewable sources of energy a viable alternative to fossil fuels. The growth of such technologies in the utilities industry opens up new markets for lithium-based battery systems.

Solar battery market offers opportunity for lithium-based technology

CES systems are owned and operated by utilities in order to better manage grid systems, but what about energy users looking to produce and store energy “off the grid”? It seems that lithium batteries may have a role to play in this market as well. Earlier this month, a Reuters report identified the solar battery market as a “growing sector [that] could make home-generated power much easier to use and cut customers’ dependence on energy companies dramatically.”

The European Union wants renewable energy to account for 20 percent of its energy mix by 2020 (compared to 12.5 percent in 2010), and “[b]atteries will be crucial in reaching this target,” stated Reuters reporters Christoph Steitz and Stephen Jewkes.

Governments that are seeking to reduce their reliance on fossil fuels while increasing their renewables-based power generation understand the importance of addressing energy storage. For Germany, Europe’s largest energy consumer, advancing economical and effective energy storage solutions is a must if the nation is going to have a shot at reducing its reliance on nuclear power. In 2013, the German Federal Ministry for the Environment will introduce incentives for energy storage aimed at advancing the use solar photovoltaic systems by reducing costs and increasing innovation, reported Clean Energy Authority.
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