So many electric vehicles, so many batteries with so much life left to give.
Even if that’s not the case today, it could be in coming years if and when electric vehicles ride into the mainstream. To find a greener pasture for the lithium-ion batteries, General Motors teamed up with ABB last year to find some solutions.
The 16-kWh lithium-ion battery from the Chevy Volt will have up to 70 percent of life remaining after its useful days inside of a car. GM and ABB took those batteries and combined them with a grid-tied electric power inverter to create an energy storage system that can store renewable energy to be used during peak usage or during outages.
The storage systems uses Volt battery cells and ABB’s existing power quality filter inverter to create a prototype that offers 25-kilowatt/50-kWh applications, which would power about five U.S. homes. Besides being used for peak load, or to store renewables, the battery systems could also be used for power control and protection -- always a bonus in areas that have high penetration of renewables.
"Our tests so far have shown the viability of the GM-ABB solution in the laboratory, and they have provided valuable experience to overcome the technical challenges," said Pablo Rosenfeld, ABB's program manager for Distributed Energy Storage Medium Voltage Power Products. "We’re providing an energy solution that goes beyond the road.”
The solution, however, is still in very early stages. The prototypes are currently being tested in the lab and will likely be put into small utility pilots in 2012. The Electric Power Research Institute will help the companies design the studies and find the best utilities. Rosenfeld said they’ve already had interest from various utilities.
GM and ABB are not the only two companies working on using EV batteries for energy storage.
Starting next month, American Electric Power and S&C will begin a Department of Energy-funded community energy storage pilot using 25 kWh lithium-ion battery packs that will be put in communities next to transformers that feed into three to five houses. Thomas Weaver, the manager of distribution systems planning for AEP, said that the specifications for the project were open source because, “In the deregulation days, we didn’t talk to each other, but that’s changing. By getting more folks to do the same thing, we can help drive down cost.”
Overall, there will be 80 25-kW units on one circuit, which will look like about 2 MW to the system. Like GM and ABB, AEP said the driver to test this technology is peak shaving, although there could be opportunities for ancillary services or islanding. Weaver said community battery storage could help to pay for itself mostly in transmission and distribution deferral, assuming that they can get about 75 kWh into one system.
With GM’s announcement of its first phase of testing, the company wouldn’t say what sort of prices they wanted to resell the batteries for. Instead, executives noted that customers were concerned about the lifecycle of their battery, adding, “It’s for societal benefits.”
Societal benefits aside, more research and development is sorely needed to bring down the cost of community energy storage using EV batteries. Weaver noted that currently, peaker plants are still cheaper than storage overall and that energy density needs to improve for batteries.
GM noted that there is time to solve some of these issues. The first wave of batteries won’t be coming out of cars for a decade, at the earliest, so there is ample time for research and pilots. “This is a realm of new storage solutions,” said Pablo Valencia, GM senior manager for Battery Lifecycle Management. “We’re providing an energy solution that goes beyond the road.”