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Energy storage research & development in Silicon Valley

Harry Hobbs, 
InterContinental of San Francisco, Energy Storage
Harry Hobbs, 
InterContinental of San Francisco, Energy Storage
Michal Lenchner

Investments in advanced energy storage initiatives worldwide have recently reached billions of dollars. Funding has been in furthering Research & Development (R&D) initiatives in this critical emerging market, which produced advancements in batteries for automotive applications and electric vehicle charging, stationary power systems, Lithium-ion battery value chain, technologies exploring “beyond lithium”, and more.

At the Silicon Valley/SEEDZ Energy Storage Symposium in Mountain View, CA, Craig Horne, Chief Strategy Officer and Co-Founder at EnerVault Corp. gave an historical overview of battery development in the San Francisco Bay Area. The 2014 SEEDZ Energy Storage Symposium focused on several key topics: the emerging markets for customer-side energy storage systems, engagement of key stakeholders in the marketplace around the latest developments, the challenges and opportunities for customer-side storage, and how Silicon Valley is advancing innovation and participating in this emerging market. The 5th annual symposium featured presentations from national and state-level experts, high-profile solution providers, on-site energy storage customers, and utility reps.

In the past, most energy storage installations have been implemented by utilities. Due to cost and business case feasibility, customer-side storage system applications were limited. Horne said that in the 2000's more players have moved into the development of such technologies. Grid scale energy storage has been worked on for several decades, however, with advancements in material sciences, more companies started pursuing developments. Some corporations, like Lockheed Martin, looked at storage in the 1980's, but were not able to create a scaleable economic solution.

The main challenge has always been commercialization of battery technologies. The energy density is also a challenge, however the Lithium-ion has shown promising attributes. At the same time, we have been witnessing a significant cost reduction in recent years in deploying renewables, like solar systems and wind projects.

The success of A123 Systems opened a pathway for Li-ion. A123 Systems, founded in 2001, develops and manufactures advanced lithium iron phosphate batteries and energy storage systems, which is built on novel nanoscale materials initially developed at MIT and that have demonstrated excellent performance.

There has been vigorous venture investment in Li-ion and more startups have emerged in the space, where several have focused on long-duration, grid scale energy storage. Others focus on shorter duration applications. Tesla is one of the companies that are working on developing better battery technology for their cars. Recently, mega-companies, like Apple and others in the tech sector, have moved into R&D of batteries. Beyond the materials and chemistry, the field has matured to deal with grid resiliency, with micro grids, reliability challenges, and more. Today, in addition to research, the manufacturing of batteries, development of management & control systems to maximize operational efficiency - energy storage solutions also involve grid security and that is another area of growth in the industry.

EnerVault designs and makes long-duration, scaled energy storage systems based on iron-chromium redox flow battery technology, which was pioneered by NASA. Targeting grid operators and generation asset owners, their systems have the flexibility to both absorb and deliver energy, which allow cost-effective system efficiency management and integration of renewable resources. Based in Silicon Valley, EnerVault is the first company to deploy megawatt-hour scale iron-chromium redox flow battery systems in field operations.

Energy storage systems enable customers to control of rising energy demand rates on their monthly electric bills. Vic Shao, CEO of Green Charge Networks (GCN), spoke about customer-sited energy storage solutions. Founded in 2009, GCN, headquartered in Silicon Valley (Santa Clara, CA) provides intelligent energy storage to commercial and industrial markets. Green Charge Networks’ offering, the GreenStation, complement solar PV, electric vehicle charging, and energy efficiency. The GreenStation was developed in partnership with utilities, the Department of Energy, and key customers. The GreenStation™ is installed behind-the-meter by commercial & industrial businesses to help manage their demand charges through analysis of the facility's load profile during periods of peak demand. GCN’s GridSynergy™ Management System provides business intelligence tools for utilities to manage and optimize operational performance by analyzing data from smart grid assets, including smart meters, electric vehicle chargers and home-based networks.

GCN’s case study profiled the 7-­‐Eleven in New York City, the first retailer to implement the GreenStation, with 100kW / 96kWh configuration. The project resulted in demand reduction by leveling peak loads, where summer peak demand is around $25/kW, avoiding infrastructure upgrades and saving these associated costs.

As new breakthroughs in energy storage systems come to fruition, many solution providers have proven a return of investment of as little as three to about seven years, which is a comparable payback of investments in commercial solar PhotoVoltaic systems’.


1. Joint Venture's "Smart Energy Enterprise Development Zone" (SEEDZ) initiative unites local energy customers, solution providers, municipalities, institutions and utility interests in building the smart energy network of the future – characterized by the highest levels of power reliability, quality, affordability and sustainability.

For more information about SEEDZ, click here.

2. EnerVault -

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3. Green Charge Networks (GCN) -

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