By Peter Kelly-Detwiler, January 13, 2016
2015 was a very big year for battery storage in the electricity industry. Numerous storage projects were announced, many start-ups expanded their reach, and Tesla unveiled its PowerWall to much pomp and circumstance.
Almost lost in the noise were the statements of some very large and established companies that they were also moving into the storage space. Sharp and Johnson Controls announced their storage ambitions early in the fourth quarter of 2015, and with deep pockets and strong name recognition, each has enormous potential throw-weight in the industry if they make the right moves.
And right at the end of the year in – the middle of the COP 21 meetings in Paris – Schneider Electric introduced its own promising scalable lithium-ion based storage system: EcoBlade.
Like most lithium-ion storage systems for the grid and commercial/industrial customers, the EcoBlade is modular, so that building blocks can be configured to meet specific needs. However, what makes this storage system different is its form factor, size and shape: it is nearly identical to an IT server computer. The design derives from Schneider Electric’s extensive experience serving the IT industry. The EcoBlade system contains ‘blades’ much like those stacked in a server rack. According to Schneider Electric’s press release, each of these blades weighs less than 25 kilograms (approximately 55 pounds) and is similar in shape to a 30” flat screen television.
Image: Schneider Electric – for your home
And while a single blade has the electronics necessary to allow it to serve in standalone mode – in a home, for example – the blades can also be stacked in racks to yield the capacity and energy required for heavy-duty use in datacenters and buildings, or for service to the power grid at substations.
As with any storage system, though, the batteries are simply the repositories for electrons. They don’t know what to do, or when to do it –when to charge and discharge – without a supervisory function overseeing their activity. In Schneider Electric’s case, this intelligence comes in a cloud-based suite of software services called StruxureWare, which integrates multiple information feeds to optimize the EcoBlade’s performance.
That compares very favorably with current estimates for competing technologies. For example, a 10 kWh Tesla Powerwall from Solar City costs $3,500, but if you add in the cost of inverter and labor, with full installation costs you are in the range of $7,100, or $710 per kWh (Solar City also offers its lease or Power Purchase Agreement customers a nine-year contract for $4,000). Schneider Electric’s $500/kWh installed price also compares very favorably with the most recent estimates from Lux Research, at around $800 per kWh. At present, the installed cost of the EcoBlade would be among the lowest in the industry.
In order to better discern the implications of the EcoBlade rollout, and where it fits into Schneider Electric’s thinking I recently lined up discussion with Kially Ruiz, Schneider Electric’s VP of Strategic Intelligence & Analytics. Ruiz is quick to point out that Schneider Electric is not a battery cell or chemical manufacturer. Rather, the company has built a global business focused on delivering solutions that help everyone better manage energy consumption.
"When it comes to the cell chemistries…that’s not our primary area of expertise, but what we are really good at is intelligent battery management on behalf of our customers. Over the past 20 years we have been involved in managing mission critical battery systems that power the Internet, in the data center industry collaborating and innovating with very demanding IT customers."
To that end, Schneider Electric incorporates a battery manufactured to its specifications and then designs, engineers, and assembles it into the systems aimed at serving its customer base. Ruiz notes that the fundamental building block of the EcoBlade technology was developed in its IT division (formerly American Power Conversion – APC). The APC business unit has been providing about a gigawatt (one thousand megawatts – enough to power 1 million homes) of battery systems for the IT industry in data centers and distributed energy sites, traditionally with lead acid batteries.
Image: Schneider Electric – rack ‘em and stack ‘em
However, Ruiz comments that cost-effective lithium-ion batteries have changed the equation, offering a lower cost and longer lasting storage solution.
"With the advent of lithium-ion and other technologies, we now have within Schneider Electric what up until now was the missing link. Lithium-ion enables us to do what we have been wanting to do for many years: stock and de-stock energy on demand tailored to the needs of the user."
Ruiz indicates that the company’s approach to development of a storage solution emanated directly from Schneider Electric’s work in the computer industry, with the storage ‘blades’ following design principles more commonly found in IT devices as opposed to automotive or stationary storage batteries.
"It’s no accident we call this a blade – it’s because we have been developing systems for IT companies for many years. All of the major technology companies in the computing industry with blade servers buy from or have alliances with us. We have taken everything we have learned for power conversion for IT systems, and we are replicating it using lithium ion and an IT software suite as well…Instead of storing gigabytes, it stores energy for you. This is simply revolutionary, a real breakthough, at least in terms of a smart battery which was not possible until now."
As far as markets go, the commercial built space looks extremely attractive to Ruiz, and with the Paris COP21 agreement in place, he believes there will be a continuing focus on mitigating carbon related to buildings’ energy use.
"The heart of the matter, when it comes to addressing climate change, is how you manage energy production and consumption in commercial and industrial buildings. If you really want to solve this climate problem it starts with population growth, which is primarily in cities. And most energy in cities is consumed in buildings. It is logical to start there and branch out to other applications."
The StruxureWare software suite will help reduce building electricity costs, since it ‘knows’ how energy is consumed throughout the day, and is smart enough to optimize its behavior to mitigate utility demand charges or respond to a demand response event. So in addition to providing critical back-up power, the EcoBlade can harvest multiple value streams in the marketplace.
Schneider Electric’s website depicts multiple EcoBlade configurations. A single wall-mounted residential module provides up to five kilowatt-hours of energy storage. In datacenters or buildings, each rack of blades (about the size of a typical household refrigerator) can provide 100 kWh. The specially engineered and ready to install ‘pod’ for communities or utilities (consisting of ten refrigerator-sized units) yields up to 3.2 megawatts of capacity and one megawatt-hour of energy. Ruiz points out that these are designed to be compact plug-and-play units with quick assembly turn-around, something that utilities such as Southern California Edison have been demanding.
What about that ambitious price of $500 per kWh for systems delivered in 2016? Ruiz indicates the price figure is very real and it is also necessary in order to create any meaningful market.
"Ultimately, we are trying to create a new market where anyone from individuals to businesses and communities can store their own energy. We have to remember that, above all, the solution has to be affordable. The cost-benefit analysis has to make sense for the customer and that happens at or below $500 per kwh. At $1000/kWh we don’t think you have much of a market…"
At $500/kWh, though, the market is potentially enormous, so where does Schneider Electric begin? Ruiz notes that “the first place to start is with the commercial and industrial building, whether in rich economies or the developing world.” This is a market Schneider Electric estimates at roughly $20 billion.
Schneider Electric will also focus globally on the IT industry, which consumes as much electricity as a country somewhere in size between Italy and Spain. Ruiz notes “With information growing at rates of 30-40% per year, if you look at that industry which is essential to our modern lifestyle, the quintessential 21st century technology, we need to get the Internet to be green.”
Back-up storage will not only help with integration of renewable energy sources into the IT industry, but will be critically important to datacenters for economic reasons. In fact, in a 2013 survey of IT professionals, fully 85% indicated a loss of primary utility electricity supply within the previous 24 months, with 16% reporting more than six outages annually. Unfortunately, 91% of those who lost utility supply suffered an unplanned data center outage. The economic impact of those outages can easily run into the hundreds of thousands – and in some cases, millions – of dollars. Back-up energy storage is essential, so why not make it intelligent and capable of harvesting economic value at the same time it performs the critical back-up function?
Ruiz expects the IT market alone to be quite substantial.
"It’s very difficult to put numbers on what’s going to happen. If you look at energy storage projects being developed today, there is about $2 billion a year market for storage already…in the IT industry alone there is probably about $20 billion more of power and backup generation – either diesel or natural gas generators that we are aiming to replace."
Other markets are also quite considerable, including grid substation solutions, which could also be in the billions of dollars annually.
"Our goal over the next five to ten years is to credibly reduce carbon emissions by about 10% in each of those markets (IT, buildings and utility substations). 10% gets you pretty close to meeting many of the commitments in COP21. That’s a pretty huge market that we are aiming to play in."
Finally, the developing countries comprise another solid market, especially where avoided costs of self-generation with diesel are high, between $.50 and $1.00 per kWh. In that case, relying on the grid is always cheaper if you can be fairly confident you will have back-up power when you need it for critical tasks.
You often have rolling blackouts in developing countries which affect business operations. You may say, why not use renewables, store the energy during the day when the sun is shining or at night when the wind is blowing. So the value of having energy storage in those cases is tremendous.
At the end of the day, Ruiz observes that the ultimate global market size for storage will be determined by how much further the costs of batteries, balance of system, and installation continue to fall. He believes there is still plenty of room there for future cost efficiencies.
"If you look at the platform we introduced in EcoBlade, we used to sell backup power systems at $20/watt and now we sell at less then $5/watt ,and we have done that in the last five years. If we apply the same level of knowledge and technology to energy storage, we think the market is going to take off and EcoBlade is the first step in that journey."
ABC: The Best of the Consumer Electronics Show (Video)
January 19, 2016
Check out the video, featuring the APC by Schneider Electric Back-UPS connect.
Giz Wiz Biz: Useful and Unique gadgets the Giz Wiz found at CES 2016
By Dick Debartolo, January 17, 2016
APC Back-UPS Connect BGE50ML is the industry's first combination UPS and Lithium-Ion mobile power pack. Designed to power wireless networks for hours during storms and blackouts, the BGE50ML's battery (M12USWH) is also a mobile power pack which can be removed to charge tablets and smartphones on the go. The Mobile Power Pack provides approximately 5 full charges to a smart phone without needing to be recharged, an excellent solution for heavy mobile users. When the mobile power pack is docked, the UPS (50 watts capacity) provides 2.5 hours of backup power to a home or small business network. Connect to the internet during outages and power your mobile devices on the go with the Back-UPS Connect BGE50ML.Under $140. Best Buy, BH Photo, Newegg. It's also here on Amazon for under $139 as of 1/17/16.
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Datacenter Dynamics: DCD at CeBIT takes the data center to the edge
January 15, 2016
IT infrastructure experts come together on 14-18 March in Hannover, Germany to map out the road towards disaggregated infrastructures in order to tackle the needs of the IoT.
The whole data center ecosystem, North and South of the rack, will connect at DatacenterDynamics at CeBIT in Hall 12, where the infrastructure requirements of the digital economy will be debated and defined.
A key focus in 2016 revolves around the proliferation of the Internet of Things and how the underlying infrastructure can support the advancement of IoT with edge computing.
“The need to serve locally has become critical in tackling the IoT tsunami. The concept of the edge is to move nodes closer to the end user via disaggregated infrastructures. The decentralised data center has brought forward edge and micro data centers in support of these edge architectures.” says George Rockett, CEO & Co-Founder of DatacenterDynamics.
Whilst 2015 has been largely hailed as the year of the cloud, 2016 could very much be the year of the edge, creating opportunities for a wide range of segments, including CDNs, network and data center operators and carriers, who are looking to deliver the seemingly endless demand for broadband wireless capacity for data intense content.
The rise of content delivery networks
Content Delivery Networks, which are responsible for moving content over the internet, have been storing content on servers in many different places, shifting it closer to the end users. With the proliferation of IoT, CDNs are pushing for more data center space everywhere. Whilst well-known CDNs such as Akamai, Limelight and Level 3 have been largely dominating the CDN space, Google, Microsoft and AWS are following suit and building their own CDNs.
“CDNs and internet companies need places to locate their caching servers closer to the end-user. This is ultimately driving demand for more data centers in underserved locations to transmit, collect and store data in order to provide quicker processing and decision-making capabilities” says Armin Graefe, Global IT and infrastructure - Data center systems operations at Adidas Group, who will be speaking at DCD at CeBIT. “Data center and network locations are today dictated by the end-users, who demand a seamless experience whether it is in London, Hannover or Istanbul”.
The industry is increasingly reassessing the distribution of infrastructure across the stack. The likes of Schneider Electric and Rittal have built out micro data centers for edge computing applications, whilst the newly formed Intel and HP alliance is set to launch purpose-built IoT systems tackling edge networking. Whilst the edge will undoubtedly become a vital part in the advancement of IoT, the technology requirements however are complex, and current solutions are still in the early stages.
“Everyone is connecting back to the data center and the core, which is creating data storage and connectivity challenges. The edge is still in its infancy and a lot of work needs to be done for the industry to collectively come up with a solution. DCD at CeBIT is a unique place for the entire ecosystem to come together and debate the best way forward in unlocking the full potential of the edge” adds Rockett.
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