Battery chemistry matters: What to know before installing solar + storage systems

battery

The days when a residential or commercial solar installer did not need to know the difference in performance between lead-acid and lithium-based batteries are over. Battery storage has emerged as an unavoidable complement to solar, slashing peak charges and outwitting utility time-of-use charge games, not to mention saving microgrids from outages.

Recommending battery chemistry to a customer is no less complicated than recommending a particular solar array solution. Depending on customer goals of low initial cost, ease of maintenance, frequency of use, depth of discharge, source of recharge energy, longevity and warranty, however, choices narrow down rapidly. Lowest life-cycle cost, or total cost of ownership calculations, performed for site-specific use, also help customers understand the variations in side-by-side options.

“There are some applications where lead-acid still presents the lowest cost of ownership, so if you are just doing peak shaving or off-grid backup, you can use lead-acid as long as your usage is tightly controlled and meets the requirements of a lead-acid system,” says Jason Zerbe, the systems marketing manager at Enersys. “In other cases the most important function of the battery is that it has 100 percent up-time. There, lithium starts to make sense because it can do more in a partial state of charge and because it is not necessary to fully recharge the battery periodically without affecting the lifetime of the battery, unlike with lead-acid.”

Historic leader: Lead-acid

Lead-acid battery solutions are far from antiquated, still capturing over a third of the global battery market. While it is true that lead-acid batteries are heavier than alternatives, charge more slowly and generate hydrogen gas as they age, lead-acid still provides a solid value at a low cost, and can disprove criticism of poor longevity in some configurations.

Deep-cycle lead-acid batteries can last as long as a solar array, with designed use. Trojan Battery recently branded a line of batteries specifically for the solar industry to prove this point. At the high end, Trojan’s Industrial grade lead-acid batteries can last up to 17 years, delivering 3,600 charge/discharge cycles at an average 50 percent depth of discharge (DOD). In comparison, Trojan’s solar absorbed glass mat (AGM) lead-acid battery lasts eight years, delivering 1,700 cycles at a 50 percent DOD.

Top 5 battery installation issues for solar installers

You need to consider how much your customer wants to participate in the storage process. Less-expensive flooded lead-acid batteries — costing from $100/kWh to $200/kWh — provide between 600 and 1,200 cycles and require water refilling maintenance, but AGM or gel chemistry lead-acid batteries, which are 20 percent more expensive, can provide about 1,700 cycles without requiring the extra maintenance, according to Erguen Oezcan, senior sales director for renewable energy at Trojan Battery.

The safety and environmental story of lead-acid is tricky. On the one hand, flooded batteries carry the extra costs of a venting system needed to draw off the hydrogen gas that is formed over time as well as a containment basin to guard against spills (a code requirement). But, on the plus-side, lead-acid batteries are 99 percent recycled — one of the most recycled products in industry today. Lithium batteries are not yet recyclable.

There are some relatively new additions to basic lead-acid chemistry to consider. Carbon-enhanced anodes limit the formation of sulfate deposits, which hamper performance and decrease battery life. Other innovations include the use of metallic agents to enhance the electrolyte, layered insulating wrappings for AGM mesh and so-called moss shields that limit internal shorts.

JLM Energy

JLM Energy recently installed more than a dozen residential Phazr MicroStorage plus solar projects in locations throughout the greater Phoenix metropolitan area to shave peaks when demand spikes.

Up and comer: Lithium-iron phosphate

When lithium-ion batteries came into common use, they seemed destined to capture the bulk of the battery market. But high prices — which thankfully are falling rapidly — combined with fire concerns have encouraged manufacturers to experiment with a variety of other lithium chemistry variations. One that’s emerging is lithium-iron phosphate (LiFePO4 or LFP), which exhibits fast discharge, long life and greater operating safety than other variations.

LFP is a nontoxic, thermally stable material and is much safer — from fires and explosions — than the standard cobalt-containing lithium-ion (LiCoO2) chemistry. The difference in chemistry also makes the LFP less expensive than the lithium-ion battery.

The cost of LFP batteries is down to about $400 per MWh and should drop further as more large-scale production comes onto the market. “LFP battery costs have dropped 25 to 30 percent over the last two years,” says Catherine Von Burg, the CEO of SimpliPhi.

Still, commercial and industrial customers are seeing a return on investment for LFP in four years or less, when targeting problems like peak shaving, says Von Burg. Her company routinely installs LFP battery banks on C&I rooftops.

A host of local regulations have arisen to mitigate the fire risk from lithium-ion, which adds cost to both residential and commercial applications installed indoors. This is where LFP’s chemistry can make a difference — at the point of installation completion.

LFP performance can beat lithium-ion, with LFP batteries generally providing about 2,000 charge/discharge cycles, compared to about 1,000 for lithium-ion batteries, according to one industry source.

Because of its safety, rooftop battery solution provider JLM Energy also uses LFP in its Phazr battery system, which is mounted underneath each panel in a rooftop solar array.

One forward-looking advantage of using LFP battery systems is the growth of community solar, microgrids and other aggregated forms of distributed energy resources. As utilities become more capable of interacting with these DER systems, more smart, fast battery systems will be called upon to support the grid, if not also enabling some form of private-sector energy arbitrage, suggests Von Burg.

New standards

Comparing battery lifetime has become more standardized with the advent of the International Electrotechnical Commission’s (IEC) standard 61427 test, which provides performance criteria that all batteries for PV applications should be measured against. It offers a common, internationally accepted platform to compare and contrast batteries from different manufacturers.

Warranties are also widely variable, so trust in solid companies unless a reliable third-party warranty policy has been issued on the product. “There is a trend among battery companies with a limited reputation to give unbelievable warranty terms. Then the owner has to prove a lot of things to collect on the warranty, which is really tricky and in-transparent,” Oezcan says.

Battery showcase: Four solar + storage solutions for your next project

To aid in the information battle, independent energy certification body DNV GL just developed Battery XT, the first testing-based verification of battery lifetime for lithium-ion batteries. The independent verification tool compiles battery lifecycle 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 as well as provide consulting on battery size and chemistry selection.

“As the storage market continues to expand, the ability to manage risk at the point of purchase is becoming increasingly important,” says 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.”

This section was featured in the January/February 2018 issue of Solar Builder magazine. Sign up for a FREE subscription here.

 

— Solar Builder magazine

How JLM Energy’s Phazr microstorage system helps combat California utility rates

JLM Energy Phazr

California’s new utility rates undercut the value of rooftop solar. To help customers combat this dynamic, JLM Energy has deployed more than 2,000 Phazr MicroStorage units and is successfully managing residential time-of-use charges for customers in all three major utility territories from San Diego to the Oregon border. Time-of-use rates are designed to charge a premium for electricity during late afternoon and evening when the utility grid is stressed by heavy use.

Phazr is a distributed energy storage platform that uses the unique concept of ‘microstorage.’ It pairs a single solar panel with a battery pack in a one-on-one ratio. Its plug-and-play design eliminates the need for skilled installation, driving costs down. Phazr charges directly from the renewable energy generated by the solar panel so it completely qualifies for the Federal Investment Tax Credit.

Erin Clark, JLM Energy’s chief operating officer said, “By storing solar energy in batteries until the evening when it is needed most, homeowners can save money and create efficiencies. The combination of solar plus storage future-proofs the customers’ investment as tariff rates are changed by the utilities.”

New guide shows strategies for pairing community solar with storage

William Cotter of SunStor, a Solar installer in PG&E territory said, “JLM’s Phazr gives us a competitive advantage. It is a streamlined, adaptable and smart solution that provides solar customers with peace of mind, enhanced efficiency and guaranteed savings on their utility bill.”

Phazr uses JLM Energy’s patent-pending Symmetric DC Regulation, the only technology available that enables a solar panel to charge a battery and send power into the home simultaneously. Excess energy from the solar panel is stored in Phazr for use later in the day to achieve time-of-use shifting, or solar self-supply in the evening. Because Phazr only charges from solar, it qualifies for the 30 percent federal investment tax credit.

By taking this module-level approach, JLM’s Phazr is advancing DC coupled storage applications and spurring widespread adoption of storage. Phazr maximizes solar generation to provide the most optimized solution, ensuring the customer achieves the highest possible savings and a rapid return on investment.

— Solar Builder magazine

JLM Energy is going with Ideal Power for power converters in 750-kW purchase order

JLM Energy Phazr MicroStorage

JLM Energy’s Phazr MicroStorage mounts easily on solar racking and plugs into the microinverter and solar panel with MC4 connectors, virtually eliminating design and installation costs. Phazr comes in 7 sizes to pair directly with the solar panel wattage. Two Phazr’s can go behind each panel for up to 5 hours energy storage. Phazr has no single point of failure and provides the lowest total cost of ownership for energy storage on the market today. Works for Residential & Commercial applications. (PRNewsfoto/JLM Energy)

JLM Energy is big into commercial and industrial (C&I) energy storage systems for ‘behind the meter’ peak shaving solutions in the California market. The company just announced it will be incorporating Ideal Power Inc‘s 30-kW Stabiliti power conversion technology as part of a $750,000 purchase order.

The latest JLM purchase order is for 25 30-kW dual-port Stabiliti series power conversion systems, to primarily provide ‘behind the meter’ peak shaving solutions to California manufacturing and industrial companies. The units are currently scheduled for delivery in March 2018.

JLM Energy’s primary customers are companies that operate printing, food processing, metal fabrication and finishing, plastic and foil converting and coating businesses where manufacturing equipment and processes often require large surges in electrical power. JLM’s Gridz commercial energy storage systems effectively provide the necessary peak surges without drawing electricity demand from the grid and electric utility, reducing electrical demand charges and utility expenses considerably.

JLM Energy’s solar+storage now automated with Hawaii tariff data to manage usage

“The supply partnership with Ideal Power expands fulfillment capacity and improves support of a growing fleet of JLM’s commercial energy management and microgrid systems, including our Gridz and Measurz offerings,” said Bob Montano, vice president of operations for JLM Energy. “We’re a technology-driven, customer focused com-pany, and we’re excited to continue working with Ideal Power to optimize energy use and maximize savings through safe and reliable solutions for our customers.”

“We are thrilled to provide JLM Energy with our latest power conversion technology to enable cost effective, flexible and efficient systems,” said Ideal Power CEO Dan Brdar. “We’re confident that Ideal Power’s UL 1741 SA certified 30 kW Stabiliti series products can help serve JLM’s pipeline of commercial storage projects.”

— Solar Builder magazine

JLM Energy is going with Ideal Power for power converters in 750-kW purchase order

JLM Energy Phazr MicroStorage

JLM Energy’s Phazr MicroStorage mounts easily on solar racking and plugs into the microinverter and solar panel with MC4 connectors, virtually eliminating design and installation costs. Phazr comes in 7 sizes to pair directly with the solar panel wattage. Two Phazr’s can go behind each panel for up to 5 hours energy storage. Phazr has no single point of failure and provides the lowest total cost of ownership for energy storage on the market today. Works for Residential & Commercial applications. (PRNewsfoto/JLM Energy)

JLM Energy is big into commercial and industrial (C&I) energy storage systems for ‘behind the meter’ peak shaving solutions in the California market. The company just announced it will be incorporating Ideal Power Inc‘s 30-kW Stabiliti power conversion technology as part of a $750,000 purchase order.

The latest JLM purchase order is for 25 30-kW dual-port Stabiliti series power conversion systems, to primarily provide ‘behind the meter’ peak shaving solutions to California manufacturing and industrial companies. The units are currently scheduled for delivery in March 2018.

JLM Energy’s primary customers are companies that operate printing, food processing, metal fabrication and finishing, plastic and foil converting and coating businesses where manufacturing equipment and processes often require large surges in electrical power. JLM’s Gridz commercial energy storage systems effectively provide the necessary peak surges without drawing electricity demand from the grid and electric utility, reducing electrical demand charges and utility expenses considerably.

JLM Energy’s solar+storage now automated with Hawaii tariff data to manage usage

“The supply partnership with Ideal Power expands fulfillment capacity and improves support of a growing fleet of JLM’s commercial energy management and microgrid systems, including our Gridz and Measurz offerings,” said Bob Montano, vice president of operations for JLM Energy. “We’re a technology-driven, customer focused com-pany, and we’re excited to continue working with Ideal Power to optimize energy use and maximize savings through safe and reliable solutions for our customers.”

“We are thrilled to provide JLM Energy with our latest power conversion technology to enable cost effective, flexible and efficient systems,” said Ideal Power CEO Dan Brdar. “We’re confident that Ideal Power’s UL 1741 SA certified 30 kW Stabiliti series products can help serve JLM’s pipeline of commercial storage projects.”

— Solar Builder magazine

Arizona Public Services territory sees a bunch of Phazr MicroStorage installs to shave peak demand charges

JLM Energy Phazr MicroStorage

JLM Energy’s Phazr MicroStorage mounts easily on solar racking and plugs into the microinverter and solar panel with MC4 connectors, virtually eliminating design and installation costs. Phazr comes in 7 sizes to pair directly with the solar panel wattage. Two Phazr’s can go behind each panel for up to 5 hours energy storage. Phazr has no single point of failure and provides the lowest total cost of ownership for energy storage on the market today. Works for Residential & Commercial applications. (PRNewsfoto/JLM Energy)

JLM Energy has installed and commissioned more than a dozen residential Phazr MicroStorage plus solar projects in locations throughout the greater Phoenix metropolitan area in both Salt River Project (SRP) and Arizona Public Service (APS) territories.

In SRP territory, customers can avoid peak demand charges by using energy storage to shave peaks when demand spikes. Demand charges are calculated on the most intense 30-minute period of energy use during the monthly billing cycle. In APS territory, the challenge is time-of-use charges. APS charges more for energy used during peak hours of the late afternoon and evening, when people are at home relying on the grid. These customers use energy storage for what is called, “consumer self-supply.”

This solar+storage case study shows 96 percent reduction in grid-buy

No matter what the strategy, JLM Energy’s software Measurz optimizes and controls when the solar energy should go into the batteries, directly into the home for immediate use, or back to the grid for net metering credit. The algorithms in the software are set to make the best deal for the customer based on their energy use profile and utility tariff structure. The user-friendly interface makes it easy for customers to track their energy use, savings and expenditures with second-by-second data.

“We are extremely pleased that Phazr is performing well in Phoenix,” said Farid Dibachi, CEO and Founder of JLM Energy. “Phazr optimizes solar production by discharging power at the most valuable time. Not only can customers save money, they can protect their investment with the ability to adjust to any future rate change the utility makes.”

“We are absolutely focused on the satisfaction of our early customers and ensuring that they have a positive customer experience with JLM,” said Dibachi.

 

— Solar Builder magazine