As companies try to get around the biggest problems hindering the viability of renewable energy, intermittency, it’s raining deals in energy storage technology, including grid-scale stationary storage applications that could emerge as alternatives to lithium-ion batteries. The latest in the series of deals was a Reliance Industries unit announcing a $50-million investment in US-based energy storage startup Ambri.
One possible reason behind the increased activity in the sector could be the Centre’s aim to set up large battery storage systems. In Ladakh region alone, the government is expected to float tenders to set up 13 GWh grid-scale battery storage systems. In addition to this, the Centre is also reportedly planning to set up 4 GWh of battery storage systems at regional load dispatch centres.
Tata Power, which announced on Thursday that it would set up India’s first large-scale 50 MWh battery storage system co-located with a solar PV plant at Leh, had partnered with Swiss firm Energy Vault, which is working on an alternative to traditional gravity-based pumped hydro projects that rely on the power of gravity and the movement of water to store and discharge electricity. The technology combines both potential and kinetic energy with a patented cloud-based software.
Currently, over 95 per cent of the world’s energy storage comes from the pumped hydro technology — a hydro project where excess energy on the grid is used to pump water uphill to an elevated reservoir and when there is energy demand, the water is released, driving a turbine as the water flows into a downstream reservoir. Energy Vault, a gravity based storage company founded in 2017, was inspired by the pumped hydro concept, but, instead of water, uses cranes and wires to move 35 tonne blocks up and down using a system tower crane using excess solar or wind to drive motors and generators to lift and stack the blocks, in a very specific sequence. Then when the power is needed from the grid that same system will lower the blocks and discharge the electricity. The company recently received $110 million in funding from Softbank Vision Fund, and is building a test facility in Italy.
Earlier this month, Amara Raja Batteries (ARBL), one of India’s largest manufacturers of industrial and automotive batteries, invested $5 million to pick up equity in Log 9 Materials, a Bengaluru-headquartered advanced battery-tech and deep-tech start-up. Log 9 has developed Rapid Charging Battery Packs for the 2-3 wheeler EV market and is developing an Aluminum Fuel Cell technology targeted towards long-haul electric mobility and as a zero emission alternative to diesel generators.
Vikramadithya Gourineni, executive director at ARBL said: “This will mark the first in a series of interesting developments that we plan to execute in the future. In this fast-changing technology landscape, we do not believe in a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach and we are convinced that there will be the scope for interplay of multiple technology solutions for various applications…”
RIL’s investment in Ambri also supports its plan to establish a battery manufacturing facility in India — for which the two companies are in discussions. In a statement, RIL’s unit Reliance New Energy Solar Ltd said: “Based on patented technology and designed to last between 4-24 hours, Ambri’s long-duration energy storage systems will break through the cost, longevity and safety barriers associated with lithium-ion batteries used in grid-scale stationary storage applications. They will enable a crucial energy storage solution capable of supporting the increasing amounts of renewable energy being integrated into electric power grids”.
Ambri’s liquid metal battery consists of a liquid calcium alloy anode, a molten salt electrolyte and a cathode comprising solid particles of antimony, enabling the use of low-cost materials and a low number of steps in the cell assembly process.
Experts suggest that the proliferation of battery storage systems will be crucial for the expansion of renewable energy plans given that efficient and large-scale storage of renewable energy would be key to ensuring contiguous supply of electric energy free of bottlenecks associated with the conventional supply systems, particularly in use cases such as electric vehicles and other commercial segments.