A Swiss company is to invest in a $1bn plant in the US after claiming a major step forward in developing power storage technology.

Alevo says it has managed to solve many of the problems usually associated with large-scale batteries, and can transform power grids by providing a cost-effective way to meet demand at peak times with lower pollution than other technologies.

The announcement could provide a timely boost for renewable power generators.
The company plans to spend an initial $350m on its new plant in North Carolina, rising to $1bn-plus by 2016, and hiring 500 people next year, with plans to increase staffing to 2,500 in three years.

Economies of Scale

Chief executive Jostein Eikeland said production in large volumes was essential to deliver the economies of scale needed for the batteries to be competitive with other sources of electricity.

“We have to look at doing this on a multiple gigawatt scale to get some real benefit for the grid,” he said. He added that the development could allow clean energy to be “produced on a mass scale cost-effectively and efficiently.”

The company has already signed contracts with China-ZK, a company 49 per cent owned by the Chinese government, and with The Sandi Group, a Washington-based management and investment group, to develop and commercialise its business in China and Turkey respectively. It is looking for more customers in the US and around the world.

The difficulty of storing power is one of the energy industry’s greatest challenges, and it is becoming more acute with the rise of varying sources of electricity such as wind and solar.

Power grids typically cover variability in demand and supply by using gas-fired “peaking plants”, which are a more expensive source of power than most fossil fuel plants used for baseload electricity.

Alevo does not plan to sell its batteries, but will install them on power grids where they can be charged at times of low demand and earn fees for supplying electricity to the network during the peaks.

Inorganic Electrolyte the Key

Its technology uses lithium, like most typical rechargeable batteries, but Alevo says it has made a breakthrough in using an inorganic electrolyte, which is non-flammable and removes the risk of overheating.

It expects to deliver power at a lower cost than gas peaking plants, and to make the grid more efficient with lower average costs and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

Their greatest advantage, the company says, is that they can be charged and discharged tens of thousands of times without losing capacity, and their performance can be given a warranty for 20 years or longer.

Implications for Renewables?

If a genuine leap can be made with the technology, it will be of massive benefit to the renewable power sector, much-maligned for its intermittent nature.

Emmet Curley of Mainstream Renewable Power told Power Engineering International, “It has the potential to revolutionise our electricity systems. (Wind and solar power’s) biggest technical challenge is they are only available when the wind blows and the sun shines.

“Interestingly, winds are often highest at night when people are sleeping. Large-scale batteries can store the electricity generated at night and release it onto the system in the morning when people are having their breakfast and demand for electricity spikes.”