Storage is an absolute necessity in a grid supplied by renewables, but there are many types to choose from and many tasks to fulfil. Today we have pumped hydro and lithium-ion batteries as the two main contenders but tomorrow the menu will include hydrogen, compressed air and who knows what else.

“They will all form part of our energy solution,” says Mark Chilcote, managing director of Australian lithium-ion battery-maker Energy Renaissance. “There isn’t any one technology that is going to suit the whole suite.”

The falling cost of lithium-ion technology has seen it emerge as a contender to offset spinning reserve and diesel, Chilcote says, “but there is a massive need coming for storage to aid grid stability.”

As the energy density of lithium-ion batteries goes up, and the price per kilowatt falls, they will more frequently pop up on residential and commercial solar systems, he says.

To help set it on its way to supply ballooning demand for batteries Renaissance Energy in early August attracted a co-funding grant from the Advanced Manufacturing Growth Centre, an industry-led not-for-profit organisation established through the Australian Government’s Industry Growth Centres Initiative.

The grant includes matched financial contributions from the AMGC of $246,625 towards product development and design of an automated production line as Renaissance Energy works towards establishing an Australian manufacturing base.

Mark Chilcote says the grid of tomorrow will be tempered by a diverse menu of storage solutions.

Hot competition

Storage is hotly competitive and Chilcote outlines Energy Renaissance’s point of difference as a cell solution that can’t suffer thermal runaway, the rare but catastrophic event whereby a short circuit within a cell leads to it overheating and catching fire.

The company’s superStorage battery technology can manage higher temperatures because the cells are contained in a ceramic housing, with units enclosed in an aluminium casing. It is the ceramic casing, Chilcote says, that will isolate any thermal runaway events. The entire battery is protected by a fuse that is activated by an increase in pressure and another fuse that is activated by a sharp change in current. If one cell goes, the others are protected.

Most large-scale lithium-ion batteries used in hot climates are air-conditioned, he says, with up to 30% of energy required for cooling, whereas the Energy Renaissance technology requires “significantly less parasitical load” for cooling. “We can operate in hotter climates with a smaller battery for the same amount of output,” he says.

Many of the company’s competitors, he says, need to be transported to site using refrigerated transport, which is a drag on project cost.

Competitive advantages for a brand that delivers lower capital and operating costs are “a really big deal when you get into the outback,” he says. These advantages are also transferable to what the battery-maker hopes will be its key markets: South-East Asia, Middle East, Africa and South America – although the technology is equally suited to moderate climates, he says.

Production of the cell is currently outsourced to a supplier in the United States as the company pushes forward with plans to manufacture complete battery solutions in Australia by the middle of next year. The firm is sourcing manufacturing equipment and consulting with designers in China, and local production of complete batteries is expected to start around 60MW a year and ramp up to 5.3GW over six years.

Energy Renaissance has supplied prototypes to the Department of Defence and its partner Cadenza Innovation has delivered prototypes into an electric vehicle, some static battery projects and the New York Electricity Commission.

The company is planning to enter the market with utility-scale storage solutions and shift into commercial and microgrid applications, then special purpose vehicles used in mining and industry, and mobility solutions used in defence. Chilcote sees big potential in the defence sector, where lithium-ion has an advantage over lead-acid and diesel for simple supply security. “Wherever you look there are uses for lithium-ion batteries,” he says.