Beyond Affordable Energy Storage – Power Electronics

There is much talk about bringing down the cost of battery systems. Less talked about are the other design factors impacting bankability of an energy storage project. Take power electronics as an important example.

What is often forgotten is that battery systems require power electronics to integrate with existing technologies, they each require warranties compatible with the expectations of the utility industry, and these energy storage systems must attract financing.

Unfortunately, there have been some significant failures of battery system installations that employ novel or custom power electronics. These new power electronics are often required to make use of the new storage capacity. The development of the power electronics to charge battery systems (chargers) and to deliver stored energy (inverters) has lagged that of advanced battery technologies. In practice, this means installing specialized chargers and/or inverters alongside energy storage systems incorporating the advanced batteries. As a result, few battery systems have been deployed beyond the demonstration stage as the performance data does not yet support appropriate allocation of risk. As an example, there is a lack of long-term field data, compounded by the novelty of the power electronics, which necessitates that unforeseen negative performance is factored into revenue projections.

Advanced battery systems that are compatible with existing power electronics will have a distinct advantage if they can pair the long track record of the power electronics with field data demonstrating reliable and predictable performance of the batteries when they are used together.

Compatibility with existing power electronics is a design constraint which I believe battery system developers should consider when aiming for utility-scale energy storage.

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