Battery Power will Help Build the World's Future

Battery technology is lagging behind battery applications, but there are important changes taking place.

Reuben Gregg Brewer
Reuben Gregg Brewer
Apr 8, 2014 at 11:10AM
Energy, Materials, and Utilities

One of the biggest problems with solar power is that it only works when the sun shines. Once the sun has gone done, you're out of juice. That's why AES's (NYSE:AES) Energy Storage division built AES Advancion, "a complete battery-based grid resource." It's just one example of battery technology being used to support today's advancing clean energy technology. Duke Energy (NYSE:DUK), General Electric (NYSE:GE), and Tesla (NASDAQ:TSLA) are three more companies working hard in the space.

A sunny and windy complement
AES Advancion is basically a giant battery hooked up to the grid. It stores power from periods where there is more electricity than needed for use when there's less power being generated. For example, at night from a solar array. The new offering is specifically made to be paired with solar and wind power.

(Source: Onderwijsgek, via Wikimedia Commons)

It's no surprise that AES is offering Advancion. The company has over 200 megawatts of storage resources already being used, which makes it something of an expert in the space. More noteworthy, however, is that AES Advancion reduces the need for utilities to use older, dirtier base-load generation like coal and natural gas plants. It's definitely a way for green utilities to get even greener.

Another example is Duke Energy, which is using home grown technology to smooth out "...the naturally variable output..." from the utility's 153-MW Notrees Wind Power Project. Commenting on the award-winning project, David Mohler, vice president of Emerging Technology at Duke, said, "It shows that energy storage, as part of the ecosystem for delivering electricity, has an exciting future."

Duke's Notrees Battery Storage Project certainly does show that. Both Duke and AES are worth watching in the utility-scale battery power space.

Underground power
Then there's General Electric. This industrial giant recently introduced the Durathon battery. According to the company, "The battery is 25 percent smaller and 50 percent lighter than traditional batteries..." Not only that, but it provides, " least 40 percent more operating range." Smaller and more powerful is a potent combination, especially since the Durathon has been powering an underground mining scoop at Coal River Energy.

Prescott Logan, general manager of GE Energy Storage, stated that the Durathon allows GE Mining to, "...deliver higher efficiency and productivity to mining customers worldwide while lowering fuel use, emissions and life-cycle cost." And the battery, "contains no lead acid materials. This eliminates the release of gases when charging, removes explosive fuel sources underground and reduces mineworker exposure to diesel particulate matter..."

The Durathon is a technology win/win all around for the mining industry. And it helps explain why Komatsu (NASDAQOTH:KMTUF) recently inked a 50/50 joint venture with GE to build underground mining equipment.

Above ground speed
And don't forget Tesla, which sees so much promise in battery technology that it recently announced plans to build a giant $5 billion battery plant with more production capacity than there were batteries produced in 2013. Tesla will invest about $2 billion, with project partners making up the balance.

(Source: Steve Jurvetson, via Wikimedia Commons)

Tesla's goal is to reduce the cost of batteries by more than 30% by producing mass quantities in one location. That, in turn, would bring down the cost of electric vehicles like the ones Tesla sells, thus making them more desirable to customers. The factory isn't slated to open until 2020, so Tesla's aggressive plans could still fall apart or be displaced by better technology, but clearly this all-electric auto maker is thinking ahead in the battery space.

No perfect solution, yet
There's no perfect solution with regard to batteries just yet. But companies across various industries are working hard to improve this laggard technology. AES, Duke, GE, and Tesla are all names to watch. And while it may take some time, human ingenuity will eventually bring energy storage technology into line with the way we use power today. The companies that figure it out will be inline to make investors a lot of money.