On the Scene: We went to the Eaton Experience Center to see the grid’s future

Eaton Xperience center

Eaton is one of those companies that does everything without you realizing it, with innovations for industries as diverse as aviation, data centers, food and beverage, rail and, of course, utilities, just to name a few. The company recently expanded its Experience Center in Pittsburgh to show the latest advances in electrical power quality, energy management and safety in a real-world, hands-on setting for interested customers, electrical contractors, consultants and builders in need of training.

In other words, it is a playground for engineers. Everything around the building, except maybe the coffee maker, is labeled, which isn’t just useful for novices like me.

eaton experience center“We’ve had engineers come in here and we’ve asked them to identify a transformer, and they couldn’t do it. They could easily point to the symbol on a design, but they don’t always see them in real life,” noted Dan Carnovale, Power Systems Experience Center manager for Eaton, which again shows the practicality and importance of the Experience Center.

The Solar Builder team stopped by to take it all in, and believe me, it was a lot to take in. Full disclosure: I was showed a lot of stuff and took a lot of notes as fast as I could. That notepad contains in-depth info on super capacitors that aid in solar smoothing, substation vs. pad-mounted transformers, balancing voltage regulation on a larger scale, aggregating string inverters in larger applications and more. The formula for cold fusion might be in there somewhere, but we will never know because they are illegible and incoherent. But that’s OK because the Experience Center isn’t about relaying those details, it’s about the experience, duh.

chris crowell at eatonExperiencing the Experience

The facility includes a functioning microgrid demonstration. There is a 24-kW solar canopy in the parking lot, 86 panels on the roof, 30 kWh in battery storage and a 100-kW generator, all of which are controlled by Eaton’s Power Xpert Energy Optimizer controller. The intersection of all those assets and optimizing their usage is at the core of advancing energy resiliency, so that Eaton’s Experience Center can operate even when the local utility grid may be impacted by an outage.

The standout display plays out two fault scenarios on a small grid that involves three local controllers and one master controller: You enter into an artificial neighborhood, complete with fake squirrels in fake trees. Suddenly, the room gets dark, a thunder rumble is heard and lightning strikes a tree that topples into an electric pole.

Scenario one plays out with no automation. The fault is triggered and the recloser fires and keeps closing, but power won’t be restored until a truck is rolled. Scenario two plays out with automation and is able to isolate the fault and restore power to the critical loads on the microgrid downstream.

Trust me, it was cool.

Animatronic show aside, it feels like we are looking at the future of the grid, not just in terms of the technology, but the mindset needed for deploying and managing distributed energy resources in ways that are much more efficient and economical than how things are done today.

— Solar Builder magazine

Gridential energy storage: New CEO, new vision for 48-volt battery in solar plus storage

Gridential battery

You may not have heard of Gridtential yet, but you will soon because the company’s new executives have plans for the solar plus storage market.

New leadership

Those new execs are: New CEO John Barton, formerly President of Global Asset Management for SunEdison; and new Technical Advisory Board member Bob Gruenstern, formerly Johnson Controls Global Vice President for Product and Advanced Engineering. Both Barton and Gruenstern bring decades of critical operations and product development expertise as Gridtential accelerates plans for the commercialization of its patented Silicon Joule battery technology.

New investment

On the heels of its recent $11 million Series B financing round, coming from four strategic partners and 1955 Capital, Gridtential is eyeing the global energy storage market opportunities and new applications in 48-volt electric-hybrid vehicle applications but also pursuing backup power and grid solutions.

Three keys for reducing commercial demand charges with solar-plus-storage systems

New vision

Gruenstein emphasized: “Gridtential’s architecture breakthrough leverages new material advances that simply didn’t exist until now, and that positions it, along with its growing roster of lead battery manufacturers, to satisfy the market pull we’re seeing for high voltage applications like electric-hybrid vehicles. These types of technology are a substantial extension of lead, giving it new capabilities to compete with lithium batteries on performance, while retaining key advantages in safety, recyclability and cost.”

“After my two decades of product development, high-volume manufacturing and solar, I believe we’re seeing the same intersection of technology advances, increases in performance, and cost reductions in energy storage that catapulted those industries to the next level,” said John Barton, CEO of Gridtential. “This convergence is already transforming existing markets and enabling new ones, like the shift from 12-volt to 48-volt in hybrid cars, and with the leverage of an existing world-class global supply chain, Gridtential is setting new cost and performance standards for high voltage energy storage.”

— Solar Builder magazine

DNV GL develops tool to verify lithium-ion battery life, predict degradation

DNV GL, a resource of independent energy experts and certification body, has created Battery XT, the first testing-based verification of battery lifetime for Li-on batteries. The independent verification tool compiles battery life cycle data and predicts battery degradation under different conditions and duty cycles, providing renewables stakeholders with an objective way to compare the value and reliability of types and brands of energy storage technology.

BatteryXT_Image

The service incorporates the experience of ten years of research and development in energy storage and has been developed in cooperation with industry stakeholders.

“As energy storage deployment reaches the gigawatt scale, the market is still challenged to overcome the self-certification approaches of the past,” said Davion M. Hill, Ph.D., DNV GL’s energy storage leader, Americas. “No two markets have the same duty cycle and no two batteries have the same performance. This bottlenecks project development because every project requires a unique verification of lifetime. To solve this, we calibrated legacy automotive life prediction models with a minimum dataset. Once tested, batteries can be sized to any duty cycle and developers can scale without waiting on data from suppliers. We have built the world’s only independently created database of Li-on battery performance to help the market deploy faster.”

Battery XT offers an independent third-party testing and verification of product warrantees and performance guarantees before making a purchasing decision.

When is the solar-plus-storage era going to get here?

Battery XT, which can also provide consulting on battery size and chemistry selection, aims to reduce risk and inform purchases and planning for energy storage asset management. The independent verification enables the industry to test at the lowest cost possible, helping stakeholders save time and money by eliminating the need to address individual, customized testing protocols for each vendor.

DNV GL offers an interactive online demo to illustrate the way Battery XT works. Viewers can try three scenarios—fast charge electric ferry, hybrid genset and solar+frequency—by entering sample information such as system size, temperature and initial state of change, and then running a simulator to show how the factors apply. The full service offered on a per project basis is able to tailor even the most complex duty cycle to the customer and their battery.

“As the storage market continues to expand, the ability to manage risk at the point of purchase is becoming increasingly important,” said Rich Barnes, executive vice president and regional manager for DNV GL Energy in North America. “Battery XT will empower stakeholders to make better purchasing decisions based on objective, third-party testing.”

— Solar Builder magazine

Pika Energy expands energy storage capacity of Harbor Smart Battery line

Pika Energy Inc.’s Harbor Smart Battery product line, which sold out during its beta production run, now features expanded energy storage capacities and reduced pricing, the U.S.-based manufacturer announced at Solar Power International.

The Harbor Smart Battery, co-developed with Panasonic, is now available in two configurations: Harbor Plus, with 15.9 kWh of usable capacity, and the Harbor Flex, with 10.6 kWh of usable capacity that can be expanded to 15.9 kWh at a later time. Both models were recently certified to UL 9540 and are available to order now.

“With these optimizations to usable stored energy capacity and product pricing, we’re focusing the Harbor Smart Battery product line on two key segments of the solar-plus-storage market: Buyers who want serious backup power and more stored energy will choose the Harbor Plus, while buyers seeking a battery at a competitively-priced entry point with future-forward scalability will choose Harbor Flex,” said Rob Smart, Pika Energy’s Director of Strategic Partnerships.

pika solar storage

Both the Harbor Plus and Harbor Flex are DC-coupled as part of the Pika Energy Island for seamless solar-plus-storage with high efficiency and simple installation. The solar-ready Harbor Smart Battery combines Panasonic’s DCB-105 lithium ion battery modules with Pika Energy’s REbus power electronics in a slim, floor-standing, wall-mounted enclosure. The Harbor Smart Battery is assembled onsite using Pika Energy’s SwiftRack installation process for plug-and-play setup of lithium ion battery modules, requiring no lifts or large teams of installers.

Harbor Plus provides 6.7 kW of continuous power through the transformerless Pika X7600 Islanding Inverter, and can surge at 10 kW to start essential residential loads, such as well pumps and HVAC equipment. Harbor Flex offers a competitively-priced smart battery solution with more usable power capacity than other DC-coupled systems in its size class. Both models can be used for clean backup power, self-supply and other solar-plus-storage applications.

For system integrators, the simplicity and price-performance of the Harbor Smart Battery set it apart from other grid-tied battery systems, said Ben Polito, Pika Energy’s President and Co-Founder.

“A single person can install and commission a Harbor Smart Battery in less than an hour,” Polito said. “Harbor is assembled on-site, with a modular design enabled by our SwiftRack installation process. Combined with our transformerless inverter, we’re offering a vast improvement over heavy wall-mounted battery systems and outdated multiple-inverter configurations that suffer from low efficiency, extraneous hardware and complex installations.”

— Solar Builder magazine

Case study: New solar, storage-powered air conditioning unit installed in Hawaii school

Waialua School Sign

Students at Hawaii’s Waialua High and Intermediate, on the island of O’ahu, are returning to school this year to solar PV and energy storage-powered air conditioned classrooms from project partners SimpliPhi Power, Ameresco Solar and Haleakala Solar. As part of the statewide Heat Abatement Program, schools in Hawaii can receive hybrid solar air conditioning units and implement other cooling strategies to bring relief to students currently enduring sweltering educational environments that can reach up to 100 degrees Fahrenheit and make learning a challenge. The solution of classroom AC powered by solar and energy storage helps to control energy costs for schools, which until now has been a major barrier to adding AC to classrooms.

Waialua Energy Storage Cabinet open front

“Bringing sustainable cooling relief to students in Hawaii was a problem we knew required innovation on several levels, including how to manage the up front and long-term costs of these systems and how to work with the limited electrical infrastructure on these campuses,” said Richard Dean, senior account executive for Ameresco Solar, a leading independent provider of comprehensive energy efficiency and renewable energy solutions. “We designed a modular cabinet and energy production system housing power generation and storage technologies to be located right next to the electrical load, with one to two classrooms running off one cabinet. This is a major cost advantage over a centralized system, as is the power system’s ability to expand as future energy needs change. Using non-toxic SimpliPhi energy storage is essential as we can simply add more batteries in the system without duplicating other aspects, unlike with the other storage options available on the market.”

Waialua Energy Storage Cabinet interior

Each cabinet is built to house seven or 10 SimpliPhi PHI 3.4kWh batteries as part of a hybrid, solar powered off-grid system for two or four ton air conditioners, respectively. Ameresco designed the systems to hold up to 16 batteries to streamline future expansion.

“With solar saturation on Hawaii’s electrical grid, integrating energy storage is essential to getting these systems online faster for these students in need,” said Jim Whitcomb, CEO of Haleakala Solar, a major solar integrator in Hawaii with over 14,000 solar systems installed on the Islands. “Our decades of experience have shown us that not all batteries are created equal. Indoor real estate at these schools to house batteries is next-to-none, so we absolutely needed a battery that is proven to be reliable and safe from fire when installed outdoors in the full Hawaiian sun – without the hassle of adding separate AC or cooling mitigation. The SimpliPhi batteries surpass all these requirements and more.”

SimpliPhi CEO Catherine Von Burg added, “Our batteries are deployed in some of the harshest environments on the planet, such as the rugged front lines with the Department of Defense, and we have a zero failure rate due to overheating, thermal runaway and fires. This is even more critical when we are talking about systems that are installed within five feet of the closest student. Safety is paramount and should not be negotiable for anyone; especially our children.”

Waialua Energy Storage Cabinet closed

In addition to this first project to be installed in Waialua, the companies have another 1.4 MWh of SimpliPhi storage lined up for school AC projects across Hawaii.

— Solar Builder magazine