ENERGY WATCH #2 - December 13, 2018
By breaking up Tesla-style battery farms into large mobile battery units, a continuous, positive loop can be achieved. This will serve multiple markets and support the grid, paving the way for more renewable energy sources and replacement of internal combustion engines. If the logistics and fairer fuel incentives can be established, we can expect a revolution down at the docks.
Last year, Elon Musk made a bold proposal, betting he could deliver a 129 MWh battery to South Australia within a hundred days. As well as giving the Tesla entrepreneur a lot of publicity, it showed everyone how quickly solutions can be implemented to stabilize the grid. Australia now uses the batteries to buffer wind and solar parks and makes money from trading on the frequency and the ancillary services market. The return according to a report by Neoen, preparing for an IPO, showed a staggering 14% return in just 6 months.
Batteries-for-grid-balancing is a growing market with huge potential.
The business case will be even stronger considering battery prices are expected to be slashed in half by 2030 according to a BCG report.
More renewable energy sources (RES) are being hooked up to the grid causing the supply of electricity to be less predictable. But, because batteries have the capability to charge and discharge, they act as the guardians of the grid’s frequency, counterbalancing uncertainty in supply.
With the role of the battery established, you can start to explore innovative adaptations to the set-up. Imagine, for example, if these huge stationary battery packs, comprising enormous numbers of penlite cells, were divided into 1MWh mobile container units. These units could then be used as a replacement for diesel generators, helping festivals and building sites to get greener. They can even be used to propel inland diesel electric ships, turning them into green vessels overnight. With the energy coming from wind and solar, as these electric storage facilities enable green energy sources, the future starts to become a whole lot cleaner, a relief for citizens all over the world living around big city harbours.
Large mobile batteries could signal a significant reduction in GHG emissions
Most of the energy extracted from fossil fuel is wasted as heat. Internal combustion engines (ICEs) can reach efficiencies of 25% to 40%, but in practice it is hard to reach the higher end of the efficiency range because ICE’s are only optimal at certain speeds. An electric engine is far more efficient. Some of these engines only waste 5 to 10%, leaving at least 90% of the energy providing real work. Given the fact that modern batteries lose little energy charging and discharging, the combination of battery and electromotor is a double gain; far superior in efficiency. Furthermore, electromotors are silent and need far less maintenance compared to ICE’s.
These advantages are certainly needed to compete with cheap fossil fuels
Users of fossil fuel can easily afford to ‘throw away’ the majority of the energy content into the air, especially because marine diesel oil is not taxed following the Mannheim convention. In contrast, electricity from renewable electricity sources is taxed.
So why don’t we just do it and start to build a pool of large mobile batteries?
There are a few practical issues waiting to be solved:
- Very large mobile batteries of 1MWH, may only contain 100 euros worth of wholesale electricity and typically weigh over 10 tons.
- They cost hundreds of thousand euros. The good news is that batteries will become significantly cheaper. Ironically, that is also a reason to postpone investments in batteries.
- The recycling of the materials in batteries after they have been used is another challenge. Recycling lithium-based batteries is a difficult issue that must be dealt with. By asking Finland to coordinate research into recycling batteries, the European Commission is trying to address this issue, capitalising on their experience but also helping them become leaders in battery recycling expertise.
Another issue may be solving the fairly complicated business model puzzle. The fastest way for this transition to come about is by focusing on the fact that batteries must always be busy earning their money. Highly likely, they will have to serve one market or another almost continuously in order to make up for the interest and depreciation. These things are just too expensive to sit still.
Bearing this in mind and accepting that these types of batteries will have more than one owner, the deployment of batteries needs to be highly coordinated. Incentives for owners have to be crystal clear about when to charge, when to balance the net and when to propel ships or provide peak shaving on a festival.
How can we coordinate the network?
The network needs to be designed in such a way that a number of individual mobile batteries will act as a single pool of energy storage. The logistics of how these batteries can be charged quickly enough with a capacity of 500 MW and how they’ll be transported need to be worked out.
It may not be possible to charge a ship in the open ocean, but it can certainly be done along the rivers and in harbours. The very large battery containers can be trans-shipped like cargo. Many inland ships already enjoy the comfort and silence of an electromotor in combination with a diesel generator. ‘A typical 110m vessel like the M.S. Borelli needs several MWh for a 250 km trip’, says owner and maritime entrepreneur Patrick Hut. In order to shut down his diesel generators, he would need to employ several battery containers to be trans-shipped in order to make a green round-trip.
Entrepreneur Hut is ready to pilot the idea with a mobile battery in the very near future. A large container with battery packs will be trans-shipped as cargo, connected directly to the ships grid, replacing the diesel generator for a period of time. That’s just the start of his own journey towards emission free shipping. Let’s hope many more will follow.
Before all of this can happen the price ratio between electricity and diesel needs to change. Taxes need to be treated equally and battery prices need to come down further. But in the meantime, electric shipping needs to launch pilot schemes to kick-start the transition to new ways of using electricity for propelling vessels. It’s an attractive vision that’s for sure. City harbors stimulating electric shipping because they want (or have) to offer their people a breath of fresh air. Hybrid ships benefitting from techniques (already available!) to leave the harbour on electric storage units before firing up the long distance engines further out to sea…
What may be just mild relief to begin with can become a revolution – just like the one we witnessed in Australia. We need more people, daring to make 100-day bets.