pv magazine: Which battery storage applications do you think are most relevant to your customers?
Gilles Ramzey, Director of the ESS Business Unit, Socomec: At the start of the business, the greatest demand was for remote microgrids, and we have deployed containerized solutions all over the world. About five years ago our biggest demand was for network storage, mainly in the United States, because it was a very lucrative investment. Today, the most relevant application for our customers is the resilience of the power supply. But we see the demand for the two functions together. From our perspective, we’ve come full circle. Today’s customers want on-grid energy storage for cost-effective returns, and they also want back-up power when the grid may fail.
Besides the economics of the project, there are other important factors. Decarbonization is very important, and energy storage can clearly contribute to this, especially when combined with photovoltaics. Yet economic returns are a part of almost every conversation about energy storage, so it is important to capture multiple value streams such as demand charge management, uptime management, resource payments. capacity, government tax credits and incentives, etc. It’s a long list.
We are also seeing increased interest in energy storage to support the charging of electric vehicles. Here too, it is multiple income streams, the systems should capture as many income streams as possible, while supporting one EV charging facility. As the transformation of green energy continues, there will almost certainly be new applications, and we will do our best to address them as they arise.
Why these particular applications?
Storage systems are expensive assets that can generate substantial savings depending on use. It is therefore necessary to prioritize the deployment of profitable applications, to guarantee owners maximum revenue and a rapid return on investment.
We have therefore targeted three main applications:
- Development of energy storage co-located with photovoltaic production: The energy transition will rapidly accelerate the development of renewables in the years to come, but also create new grid constraints. Energy storage, whether installed behind the meter in order to maximize self-consumption of locally produced energy, or near a solar power plant to smooth the injection of electricity into the grid, is a particularly relevant solution
- Load management on demand: Often, consumption is out of sync with production, in particular with photovoltaic production. New uses, such as recharging electric vehicles, will accentuate this imbalance. Energy storage will make it possible to limit the demand for electricity during these periods of high stress on the network. Some countries with high penetration of PV generation (Germany, California, etc.) have designed financial incentives to reduce demand over certain daily periods, thus creating attractive business models for energy storage.
- Resilience: Power cuts often generate significant economic losses for businesses but can also endanger the population. This is what we have seen in recent years in the United States following extreme weather events (such as the fires in California, or the cold snap in Texas). Electrical resilience, which a storage system can provide, is therefore no longer an option but a real imperative in many situations.
You have developed a new battery energy storage system. How does it integrate the latest trends?
It’s not so much a “trend” as an effort to design the next generation of products to meet what the market is really looking for. Our offer is an outdoor system based on two main cabinets: C-Cab, a converter based on 50kVA power modules; and B-Cab, a 186 kWh battery, both of which are very flexible and can allow a wide variety of configurations.
Obviously, safety must be a top priority. So, we had a non-negotiable requirement at the start that our battery partner had to have a good result on UL’s new large-scale fire test before even entering into business discussions.
Then the system had to provide higher throughput. It’s a common abbreviation in this industry to compare products in dollars per kilowatt-hour of nameplate when what really matters is the lifetime throughput of each of those kilowatt-hours of nameplate. In other words, how many MWh can be delivered over the lifetime of the system?
We also knew we needed a service structure that would allow a commercial and industrial energy storage (C&I) system to freely do the variety of things they really do in the field. Most systems larger than residential sizes are intended for the utility market, where the systems will do much the same thing most of the time. C&I is very different, in that systems can do very different things on different days to capture maximum value, and the system warranty linked to the maintenance offering must allow this wide variety of operation.
Why is it different to use native outdoor systems compared to the containerized systems that Socomec offered previously?
Safety is always the top priority, so it makes sense to do so much assembly in the factory and have a bare minimum of assembly in the field. At the same time, the modules are small enough to be moved around the job site with large forklifts.
Doing more factory assembly allows for faster installation. Battery cabinets, for example, arrive fully assembled. The battery modules are already in their racks and all the wiring inside is already in place. The installation team doesn’t have much to do beyond bolting the cabinet to the pad and routing the DC and communications cables to the converter.
The last difference is flexibility, and we hear it’s even more important than we thought. There is a wide variety of actual projects and the ideal size of the system will vary from project to project as well. Our solution is based on a fully integrated converter cabinet that integrates not only the conversion but also all control, communication, IoT devices for remote access as well as protection devices. Each cabinet can hold up to six power modules of 50 kVA each, so the cabinet can reach up to 300 kVA.
This power can be increased by putting two cabinets in parallel per system. The batteries can also be installed in parallel from one cabinet – 186 kWh – to six cabinets – 1116 kWh per system. After systems can also be installed in parallel. So, we are able to offer our customers dozens of different combinations kilowatts and kilowatt hours, our systems can grow to the perfect size for every project. This saves costs and saves money. It also means that our footprint is often much smaller too.
What is Socomec’s expertise that has enabled it to develop its own storage systems?
We have been in the energy conversion business since the moon landings as we have been building uninterruptible power supplies or inverters since 1969. We are also known for our metering and switching solutions. It’s nice to have people on our team who have been designing and manufacturing them for decades. This experience allowed us to launch into energy storage ten years ago.
We started by building prepackaged microgrids to send to all corners of the world. In some of these places we are the local network – so they just have to be up and running. The experience of building all of these micro-grids permeates everything we do. At the same time, our UPS business provides us with economies of scale, allowing us to manufacture high quality energy storage systems in industrial quantities.
Which storage markets are the most attractive and why?
The North American market is the fastest growing market on the planet right now, so of course we find it quite interesting. All new products are designed to meet the latest North American standards, including additional requirements for larger markets, such as California and Hawaii. But we will always be an international company, which is why we also offer energy storage in IEC configurations for Europe and the rest of the world as well. As the transformation of green energy continues, new markets will open up around the world with new requirements, and we will closely monitor and adapt our products accordingly.
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