GE has released a containerized energy storage product with a competitive advantage for installation time.
The 1.2-megawatt, 4-megawatt-hour Reservoir system marks a new entry into the standardized, large-scale battery market. It reflects a strategic shift at GE’s storage practice, which recently reorganized after an initial foray into battery manufacturing and a detour in commercial and industrial energy services.
Reservoir sounds like many other containerized battery solutions already available from companies like Fluence, BYD, Mitsubishi, LG, Samsung and others. The goal is to lower costs to developers by standardizing the product and factory-testing the enclosures for quality control.
What GE does differently is ship the containers fully loaded.
“We will fully assemble and test the equipment in a controlled environment and drop ship to the site fully assembled,” said Eric Gebhardt, vice president and strategic technology officer at GE Power.
Typically, containerized battery systems ship without the battery cells inside, due to weight, safety or quality concerns. GE bucked the trend by designing a box that can travel with batteries in place but disconnected. A technician with a hot stick can flip a switch onsite to reconnect the electrical circuit and get the system operational again.
That could cut installation time in half, Gebhardt said, because it eliminates time-intensive battery installation onsite.
This appears to be the first large-scale battery design with this capability.
The 50 percent cut to installation time "seems plausible and realistic," said Ravi Manghani, energy storage director at GTM Research. That still leaves other tasks like putting in a transformer, wiring different containers together and connecting to the broader grid.
"These assets can come online and start making money faster than another system that has to be assembled onsite," Manghani noted.
This approach doesn't make the work of installing batteries disappear; it shifts it to GE's assembly facilities. This saves time for the developer or EPC, and could let GE capture a higher margin for delivering a system that's closer to completion.
As it enters an increasingly crowded vendor landscape, GE hopes to differentiate itself through the cross-cutting expertise of its Power Division.
The development of Reservoir drew on research at the company's Global Research Center in New York, which provided battery testing and high-tech additions like silicon carbide inverters. Going forward, the storage team can tap expertise elsewhere in GE for projects that deal with the finer points of grid interconnection, black start capability and wind generation, Gebhardt said.
“It’s a full time [storage] team, and we pull in other capabilities across the rest of the organization as needed,” he said. “Reservoir is based on our knowledge and experience working across other fields of electricity.”
Situated within GE Power, the storage sales effort can leverage deep relationships with utility customers all over the world. That's a departure from the previous strategy of selling through the C&I channel at GE Current, which also handled solar, efficient lighting and energy management.
GE has made collaborations with other Power businesses explicit, by pioneering a hybrid power plant that combines grid batteries with gas generation. While other storage vendors pitch themselves as ending the era of gas for peak capacity, GE is selling storage as a tool that makes gas plants more efficient and longer lasting.
The Reservoir line launched with a hefty order already in place: 20 megawatts/80 megawatt-hours. The brand will serve as an umbrella for upcoming products optimized for particular functions. The first entry is tuned to energy applications and designed to play well with renewable generation, but future iterations will toggle the ratio of power and duration to address different use cases.
Despite recent challenges, GE's longevity and balance sheet are crucially important to a customer buying a storage asset for 15 or 20 years.
If anything, GE is trying to prove that its latest storage effort is the real deal.
"It would be very easy for a small but growing market like storage to get de-emphasized within the broader GE corporate structure," Manghani pointed out.
Though the storage market is growing with dizzying speed, the business offers a tiny bit of income relative to GE's legacy businesses. It remains to be seen whether the newly configured storage unit can maintain the resources it needs to fully realize its vision. The history of jumping between different storage business models doesn't help in that regard.
That said, the market has come along way since the early days of the Durathon manufacturing play. A number of large players see money to be made supplying massive batteries for the grid, and GE has already brought new use cases to market with its hybrid plants.
"Does GE have the potential to be treated with more respect than these other players? Definitely it does," Manghani said. "The question is, can it deliver on that potential?"
For Gebhardt, rolling out a standardized storage product line is evidence of the company's seriousness in delivering on the promise of storage.
“It shows how much we’re committing in this area,” he said.
It's notable that the vice president who oversees technology for all of GE Power is taking the time to work on storage in particular.