Esstalion Technologies, a joint venture between Sony and Hydro-Québec, will soon start testing a storage prototype containing nearly 600 batteries.

"The name is a combination of 'energy storage system' and 'lithium-ion,'" said Karim Zaghib, manager of energy storage and conversion at Hydro-Québec, explaining the origin of Esstalion Technologies' name.

During an interview with Greentech Media, Zaghib also explained the relationship between his company and Sony, and expressed his hopes for the future success of their energy storage systems.

Esstalion, half owned by Sony and half owned by Hydro-Québec, is at an early stage, with just a single product that has not yet undergone testing. That said, Zaghib hopes to complete testing some time in 2016 and plans to commercialize in the following year.

The system is a 1.2-megawatt-hour container consisting of 576 batteries from Sony. The batteries are the 2.1-kilowatt-hour IJ1001M modules, featuring olivine-type phosphate-lithium-ion chemistry. They've been available in their current form since 2011, and Sony says they last more than 10 years.

Zaghib said that battery longevity will be a crucial competitive advantage for Esstalion's prototype.

While the batteries are Sony's, it appears that the chemistry is Hydro-Québec's. According to the press release announcing the new prototype, "the battery modules are manufactured by Sony and use Hydro-Québec's lithium-ion-phosphate technology." Zaghib confirmed that his company has been licensing the battery chemistry to the Japanese giant since 2003.

In fact, the Canadian utility has its own research institute -- IREQ -- a 500-strong team which receives CAN$100 million in funding every year. The lab has been investigating energy storage since 1967.

The team has strong links with the University of Montreal. Both organizations recently signed a deal with Aleees -- one of the world's largest producers of battery materials and a company that has also teamed up with Sony -- in order to produce lithium-ion batteries for EVs. The testing of the Esstalion prototype is scheduled to take place at IREQ's Varennes Research and Testing Laboratories.

What markets will the joint venture be chasing? Although the companies describe the unit as storing enough electricity for 48 Quebec homes, it is aimed squarely at the grid-scale market -- a market that could grow to between 14 and 40 gigawatts, according to various estimates. 

Esstalion's big battery will be designed for integrating renewables into the grid and aiding with frequency regulation.

"The key for the successful growth of Sony's battery business in the future will be the market for large-scale energy storage systems for power grids and, by using Hydro-Québec's wealth of knowledge and technological expertise as well as focusing on research development, I believe we will be able to produce results," said Tomoyuki Suzuki, Sony's executive VP for device solutions.

Zaghib declined to comment on the company's commercial strategy at this stage. However, with a proven battery and Hydro-Québec's considerable R&D experience, Sony's joint venture is surely one to watch.