Monday 8 December 2008

GreenSmith launches backup battery for grid

Washington D.C.-based GreenSmith Energy Management Systems unveiled technology it says can solve the peak demand problems of U.S. utilities.

CEO Rodney Smith said the company has designed a battery control and management system that, when paired with lithium ion battery GreenSmith acquired from a manufacturer overseas, can store 20 kilowatt-hours at a time and provide between 3,000 and 4,000 full-discharge cycles.

The idea is that utilities could charge the battery when it's cheaper to produce energy, such as in the middle of the night, and could discharge that energy onto the grid when it's most expensive to produce power.

Smith said ideal circumstances would be to use the battery during peak demand instead of firing up a peak power plant, which is more expensive to run. The unit could help reduce the need for additional power plants and prevent utilities from losing excess power generated.

"Utilities are far more receptive to distributed storage technologies than they are to smart grid, and for a reason," Smith told the Cleantech Group. "Grid replacement is like trying to replace the air traffic control system. You have to put a lot of money into it before you see any rewards from it. With our technology, you get the benefit right away."

The technology can be paired with intermittent renewable energy sources, such as wind and solar, to better align power supply with power demand, Smith said.

That field is also being targeted by companies such as ZBB Energy, which has contracted with the Australian government to accelerate development of the company's zinc-bromine storage systems for renewable energy projects (see ZBB gets Australian contract for renewable energy storage and ZBB, Zest in energy storage deal).

Tyngsboro, Mass.-based Beacon Power (Nasdaq: BCON) is promoting its multiple-flywheel systems to supply or absorb electricity, giving extra stability to a grid that's experiencing demand or supply peaks (see Beacon slows flywheel storage plans).

According to the Carnegie Mellon Electricity Industry Center, there is a strong economic case for flywheel installations to improve grid stability, as evidenced by the New York Independent System Operator and the PJM Interconnection.

Last year, Windsor, Colo.-based Ice Energy revealed a device to shift up to 95 percent of air-conditioning load to off-peak hours while providing full cooling performance (see Ice Energy cools down power demand).

Other technology is attempting to use molten salt for energy storage (see Concentrated solar gets salty and Cleantech Group picks winners and losers in concentrated solar thermal).

GreenSmith's systems are designed to be managed from a central location, either programmed to optimize cheap energy price or manually controlled. Utilities, regional transmission agencies and co-ops in the U.S. are the current market, but GreenSmith eventually plans to target global markets, especially those with intermittent access to the electric grid.

Consumers aren't the target for GreenSmith, although Smith said the devices could be modified for home use.

GreenSmith is in talks with several utilities and expects a pilot project with a utility to begin operating in about two months. The company plans to produce commercially by mid-2009, with tens of thousands of units sold that year.

After that, GreenSmith expects to sell hundreds of thousands of units to utilities a year. A large utility would probably use about 3,000 units in a pilot test and as many as a million units in full deployment, whereas a small utility might seek between 100 and 1,000 for a pilot, Smith said.

Each unit would cost about $10,000, minus volume discounts, which Smith said produces an energy cost of less than 10 cents per kilowatt hour.

GreenSmith has raised an undisclosed amount in angel funding from private investors. The company is currently raising a Series A round led by Blue Lagoon Capital, but Smith declined to reveal the size of the round, saying that reports of a $20 million round were incorrect.

The company, which Smith said has a "handful" of employees, originally pursued smart grid technology when it was founded in 2007 as an offshoot of think-tank Intelligent Power Unit. Smith decided energy storage presented a more lucrative business model because it was faster to market.

"We thought, what if instead of trying to fight peak you could shift peak?" Smith said. "So we decided to focus on storage."

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