Energy storage holds huge potential for makers and owners of electric vehicles

energy storageFor those of you following the cleantech business, you’ve probably noticed an emerging market segment in the past year: energy storage. There’s a lot of demand for clean energy to be produced – along with ways to store that energy for when it’s needed through an economically feasible business model. Electric automakers have gotten into that market – and we’re likely to see electric vehicles added to energy storage potential.

California Gov. Jerry Brown called for 50% of California’s electricity to come from renewables by 2030 in his “State of the State” address last week. That’s up from former California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s 20% and his own previous 33% mandate for renewable energy. Utilities in the state – and in several others in the US – have been investing in energy storage to address renewable energy mandates and to better manage their grids. Energy storage has become “a powerful and appealing alternative to upgrading grid infrastructure to solve these challenges,” according to Navigant Research.

Demand and price can swing up and down over a 24-hour period, causing uproar from residential and commercial property owners – and from state regulatory agencies. Utilities are exploring batteries for energy storage as a way to bring stability to peak periods and to move forward on renewable energy mandates.

Solar power companies are getting into the game. In its new study, “The Future of Solar-Plus-Storage in the U.S,” GTM Research reports that four of the nation’s top 10 residential solar installers currently offer “solar plus” energy storage. These four companies, including top installer SolarCity and fifth-ranked NRG Home Solar, installed 38% of all US solar energy in the first three quarters of 2014.

If you look at the first chart in this article, you’ll see three automakers identified as part of the energy storage market: Tesla Motors; Chinese automaker BYD; and the company that used to be known as CODA Automotive that is out of the electric vehicle business, post-bankruptcy, and is now CODA Energy – an energy storage systems company. These automakers have also sold their EV battery technology to other automakers and to clientele in other industries.

There’s a good deal of speculation out there that electric vehicles (EVs) could be viable energy storage containers. That could come from a fleet with 150 EVs parked on its corporate campus for long stretches of time; on average, those EVs might be in motion only one quarter of a 24-hour cycle, bringing huge opportunities for power storage. That could be a revenue stream for company, and a support system for renewable energy and grid stabilization.

Other examples of available parked EVs could come from transit station parking lots, retail stores, and apartment/condo complexes. Lithium and NextGen batteries are still expensive and underutilized – energy storage has great potential for key stakeholders out there.

Carports with solar panels taking off in US and with automakers

Ford solar carportsCarport-mounted photovoltaic solar power panels are taking off in the US, offering a win-win for the solar and electric vehicle communities. It could also help alleviate some of the trade war battle with China as its companies dump low-priced equipment in the US market. US solar carports are taking off – GTM Research reports that it’s a burgeoning market in the non-residential solar market and the US solar industry as a whole. It increased 157 megawatts of energy in 2013; 2014 is expected to be the fourth consecutive year in which greater than 100 MW of solar carport installations will take place.

Detroit-based utility DTE Energy is betting it’s a worthy investment and is working with Ford Motor Co. to build what it calls, “Michigan’s largest solar array.” The project is funded by DTE Energy and will provide 360 covered parking spaces for 30 charging stations at Ford’s headquarters in Dearborn, Mich. The carport is expected to generate 1.038 MW of electricity – enough energy to power 158 average-sized homes. The solar array is expected to offset 794 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions annually and will be well positioned to charge Ford EVs such as the Fusion Energi and C-Max Energi.

A number of automakers have been turning to solar, including General Motors, which has set up a large solar array at its Detroit-Hamtramck Assembly Plant, where it assembles the Chevrolet Volt.  And solar energy is providing a major chunk of the power needed to run Volkswagen’s big assembly plant in Tennessee.

Volkswagen last year solar-powered its 33-acre Chattanooga Solar Park outside its Tennessee assembly facility, which it dubbed “the world’s greenest auto plant.” Honda is using solar power to produce hydrogen for use in its FCX fuel-cell vehicles, and for the new fuel cell car it will begin marketing in Southern California next year. Last year, Honda agreed to invest $65 million into Solar City with the goals of offering customers in 14 states low-cost home solar charging stations for their EVs such as the Honda Fit EV or the Honda Accord Plug-In.