Zhejiang Narada Power Source Co., an under-the-radar Chinese energy storage giant, is gearing up for international expansion after emerging from the shadows last month.
The January announcement of China’s first commercial energy storage project -- a 1.5-megawatt, 12-megawatt-hour battery project for GCL Silicon, a solar-cell polysilicon maker -- was the first time many international observers had heard of Narada.
Despite being relatively unknown outside China, Hangzhou-based Narada claims to have almost 306 megawatt-hours of storage deployed worldwide and 800 megawatt-hours in its contract pipeline.
China is by far Narada’s largest market, accounting for 300 megawatt-hours of capacity installed so far. Elsewhere, the company has installed 4 megawatt-hours in Canada, 1 megawatt-hour in India, 400 kilowatt-hours in Pakistan, and 300 megawatt-hours in Singapore.
“This is only for the pure energy storage market in the power sector,” said Jimmy Zhang, Narada’s assistant director of energy storage system business overseas markets.
This year Narada is targeting 1.5 gigawatt-hours of storage projects in China, along with between 50 megawatt-hours and 100 megawatt-hours of frequency regulation projects elsewhere, and 20 megawatt-hours to 40 megawatt-hours of off-grid or microgrid work.
The frequency regulation projects are slated for North America and Europe, with a focus on Germany. For off-grid and microgrid projects, Narada is looking to Southeast Asia and African markets, Zhang said.
In its latest financial report, from the third quarter of 2016, the Shenzhen stock exchange-listed manufacturer and developer filed a third-quarter net profit of $13.4 million on revenues of $287 million.
Revenues and profit for the first three quarters of 2016 stood at $716 million and $35.8 million, respectively.
Ravi Manghani, director of energy storage at GTM Research, said the reason the company has so far had a low profile globally was likely because for most of its 23-year history it had focused on local uninterruptible power supply (UPS) and electric vehicle (EV) markets.
“Narada Power comes from the automotive and UPS batteries business, but over the years it has moved to lithium-ion batteries for e-bikes and EVs,” he said. “It’s fair to say that over 90 percent of Narada's business is in China, and mostly in traditional auto, UPS, telecom, EVs and e-bikes.”
The company has also been gradually building up a presence in the large-scale energy storage market. In 2010 it supplied the battery systems for what it claimed was China’s first large-scale island microgrid, on Dongfushan, in Zhejiang province.
Today the company’s website advertises fuel cells, anti-theft kits and battery management modules, as well as lead-carbon, lithium-iron, lithium-cobalt-oxide, absorbent glass mat gel, high-temperature, valve-regulated lead-acid, tubular flooded and tubular gel batteries.
Lead-carbon technology remains the mainstay of the business, Zhang said. Narada’s annual lead-based battery production capacity is 23.2 gigawatt-hours, he said. It also has a production capacity of 1.5 gigawatt-hours for lithium-ion products.
In the last few years the business has been quietly expanding into foreign markets, with an early focus on Australia. It now has sales offices in Argentina, Singapore, the U.K. and the U.S., but has only really started to gain a significant international profile in the last few months.
In November last year, news wires covered a Narada investment in Swiss stock exchange-listed battery maker Leclanché.
The backing was ostensibly to allow Narada to make and sell Leclanché’s lithium-titanate and graphite-nickel-manganese-cobalt battery technologies in the Chinese market. Narada’s president, Bo Chen, also hinted at wider growth plans.
“Through our equity investment, Leclanché becomes Narada's strategic systems integration partner...well placed to enhance our ability to offer integrated energy storage solutions worldwide,” he said in a press note.
The Leclanché deal was practically the first time Narada saw press exposure outside of China.
The company gained wider coverage with the GCL Silicon announcement, where the company also revealed it was working on a 15-megawatt, 120 megawatt-hour project that will be China’s biggest energy storage system.
Despite recent headlines, Narada still has a way to go before it becomes a well-known brand on the global energy storage scene, and particularly in the U.S.
“The U.S. storage market is competitive and getting more crowded by the day,” noted Wendy Prabhu, president of communications at Mercom Capital Group, a clean energy research and communications firm. “If they can show cost and technology advantages and establish name recognition in this market with a good marketing and communications strategy, they may be able to gain some traction."
However, one American energy storage executive interviewed for this story said he had never heard of the company. “If they are in the U.S., they’re certainly not plugged into the industry.”