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Power tech to combat climate change

Posted: 07 Dec 2015     Print Version  Bookmark and Share

Keywords:climate change  lithium ion  grid  renewable energy  battery 

Batteries don't matter

Many other choices among grid-level batteries are available now and being developed to be available soon, but the bottom line is that the battery is just not the most important part of building a grid level storage system. After all what do you expect a grid-battery to do? The utilities want them to bolster their existing infrastructure so they can continue their mega-monopoly on supplying power and sending those monthly bills to everyone, business and non-profit. The only reason that they are incorporating renewable energy sources into their grid at all is because government mandates are forcing them too. Even so, utilities will profit by storing renewable energy—from solar arrays and wind farms—which are variable sources at best and need batteries to buffer them from the grid, allowing it to draw from them as necessary such as during peak times and store their energy when it's not needed.

For the rest of us, the advantage of storage batteries is to cut those monthly grid bills and to go green, lower our carbon footprints, stay up and running even during grid outages, and generally feel good as a friend to the planet instead of a pillager.

Green Charge Networks may not be unique, but their business plan is almost irresistible. They will come onto your premises, measure your daily energy usage, review the last year of your energy usage patterns and run it through a software algorithm that calculates the optimal-sized battery backup system for your venue. And get this. They'll install that system for free.


Green Charge's installation at Los Altos High School cost the school nothing to install but lowers its electric bill each month by taking care of peaks "behind-the-meter." (Source: Green Charge Networks)

"We believe that it's not the battery technology that really makes the system, but your software algorithms," Vic Shao, CEO of Green Charge Networks told EE Times in an exclusive interview.

Indeed, Green Charge Networks uses Li-ion battery banks today, because they are the most reliable, but will switch to any other battery that proves itself better just by slightly tweaking their algorithms. On site, a computer monitors energy usage and follows the plan made by the historical analysis program, releasing energy during peak draws—to notch down your energy bill from the "peak demand" calculations the utility company uses to maximise its charges to you.

"For the average business consuming 100KW, our system typically saves about $4,000 per month," Shao told EE Times.

Green Charge Networks' system

A graph shows when Green Charge Networks' system is operating and how it handles the peaks that would otherwise boost the school into a higher rate category, thus increasing its electric bill every month. (Source:Green Charge Networks)

And that's without adding renewable energy sources, which Green Charge Networks also supports and encourages users to add. All this takes place on the customer premises "behind the meter" to keep that meter running slower than it ever did before.

"It's analogous to data storage caching—we relieve the grid infrastructure from supplying peaks, using software algorithms that make it more economical to cache energy locally," Shao told us.

But how does the company make any money? By sharing the saving and paying off the equipment financing over a 10-year period. The payments are variable too, so that payments to Green Charge Networks are only made in accordance with how much savings is realised each month.

"We are not playing a zero-sum game with our customers—we only get paid a percentage of what they save each month—we both profit together," Shao told us.

Green Charge Networks is just one of many companies getting into the game by putting the technology to use rather than inventing it themselves. They use Samsung Li-ion batteries in banks of 30KWh, 250KWh and 1MWh. To those they add inverters, a climate controlled cabinet and a weather-proofing for outside installation.

The five-year old company now has 190,000 hours of data accumulated that has honed fine its algorithms using angel investors, landing its first round of funding this year ($56 million).

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