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Michael McDonald

Michael McDonald

Michael is an assistant professor of finance and a frequent consultant to companies regarding capital structure decisions and investments. He holds a PhD in finance…

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Are Ice Batteries The Future Of Energy Storage?

Call it one of the stranger battery storage systems out there. California municipalities are reportedly placing orders for as much as 1 MW of ice storage batteries from firm Ice Energy.

(Click to enlarge)

Ice Energy's Ice Bear 30 unit. Image: Ice Energy.

The Southern California Public Power Authority (SCPPA), an organization of the municipal utilities of 10 cities and one irrigation district is placing the order with the systems to be installed at consumer’s homes in a pilot program.

The battery storage market is booming – literally growing by several hundred percent annually over the last few years – in large part because traditional utilities are excited about the opportunity to avoid costly investment in new peaker plants. Using home battery storage systems enables these firms to defer that investment.

The ice battery systems are slated to be installed in about 100 homes with each 9.6kW system replacing the outdoor condensing units of homeowners’ air conditioning systems. Ice Energy’ batteries in off-peak (low energy cost) periods use copper coils filled with cold refrigerant to create ice from the homeowner’s regular tap water.

Once the ice is created, the residential Ice Bear 20 can cool a home continuously for four hours, and the company says that can save 95% of associated electricity costs compared with traditional HVAC units. The firm also has a large Ice Bear 30 for commercial customer. The system is particularly beneficial in states with large time of use differences in electricity pricing such as northeastern states like Connecticut and west coast states like California.

Utilities like those in the California alliance benefit from reduced peak load demand thus avoiding the cost of buying peak wholesale power or (eventually) building new peaker plants.

Ice Energy is not the only firm in the market for ice batteries though. Competitor Viking Cold reported last year that a California utility was interest its products to help counter the challenge the “duck curve” of solar energy energy supply and demand.

The ice battery is just one of the new concepts on the market at this point. For instance, Harvard recently announced that one of its faculty members had developed a liquid battery with up to a decade of life.

The new battery reportedly loses only one percent of its capacity every 1,000 charging cycles, and is potentially an alternative to high power short-lived lithium ion batteries which are the de-facto standard in many applications today. Related: Why Sub $50 Oil Is More Likely Than $70 Oil

An electrolytic solution of ferrocene and viologen powers the battery and is dissolved in water making it safe and extremely long-lived.

“Because we were able to dissolve the electrolytes in water, this is a long-lasting battery that you could put in your basement,” said Roy Gordon, professor of chemistry and materials science at Harvard University who co-led the research. “If spilt on the floor, it wouldn’t eat the concrete and since the medium is noncorrosive, you can use cheaper materials to build the components of the batteries, like the tanks and pumps.”

Taken together, the ice battery and liquid battery paint a picture of an evolving storage market developing quickly in response to the need for utilities to avoid the costs and risks associated with endemic problems with traditional methods, most prominently time of use consumption challenges. It’s an exciting time in a market that industry participants across the energy sector should be keeping an eye on.

(Full Disclosure: The author has done consulting work on battery economics with several firms in the battery storage industry.)

By Michael McDonald of Oilprice.com

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  • JHM on February 16 2017 said:
    Hey Michael, I enjoy following your articles. Might I suggest you look into electric buses. They are now economically favorable to both diesel and CNG buses. In the last 5 years, electric buses have gone from 0.2% of the Chinese new bus market in 2011 to 2% in 2014 and now to 20% in 2016. And China wants to export these everywhere. I suspect that electrics will dominate the bus market globally about 5 to 10 years before electrics dominate passenger vehicle markets. So buses and other commercial vehicles become a very good leading edge of the EV market to watch. This will give oil investors insight into how quickly disruption can happen. You can reach me by email if you wish to discuss. Cheers, JHM

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