Financial Times

FinancialTimes

A company claiming to have made a breakthrough in technology for electricity storage for power grids will on Tuesday announce plans to create thousands of jobs in the US, with contracts to supply customers in China and Turkey.

Alevo, a privately held Swiss company, says it has managed to solve many of the problems usually associated with large-scale batteries, and can transform power grids by providing a cost-effective way to meet demand at peak times with lower pollution than other technologies.

It is spending an initial $350m on its new plant in North Carolina, rising to $1bn-plus by 2016, and hiring 500 people next year, with plans to increase staffing to 2,500 in three years.

Jostein Eikeland, the Norwegian entrepreneur who is Alevo’s chief executive, said production in large volumes was essential to deliver the economies of scale needed for the batteries to be competitive with other sources of electricity.

“We have to look at doing this on a multiple gigawatt scale to get some real benefit for the grid,” he said.

He added that he did not expect to develop the plant as planned without having customers for its output.

“We are crazy, but not that crazy,” he said.

The company has already signed contracts with China-ZK, a company 49 per cent owned by the Chinese government, and with The Sandi Group, a Washington-based management and investment group, to develop and commercialise its business in China and Turkey respectively. It is looking for more customers in the US and around the world.
The difficulty of storing power is one of the energy industry’s greatest challenges, and it is becoming more acute with the rise of varying sources of electricity such as wind and solar.

Power storage for electricity companies is one of the markets being targeted by the “Gigafactory” battery plant being built by Elon Musk’s Tesla Motors in Nevada.

Power grids typically cover variability in demand and supply by using gas-fired “peaking plants”, which are a more expensive source of power than most fossil fuel plants used for baseload electricity, or by varying the output from those baseload plants, which makes them less efficient than if they are run steadily.

Alevo does not plan to sell its batteries, but will install them on power grids where they can be charged at times of low demand and earn fees for supplying electricity to the network during the peaks.

Its technology uses lithium, like most typical rechargeable batteries, but Alevo says it has made a breakthrough in using an inorganic electrolyte, which is non-flammable and removes the risk of overheating.

It expects to deliver power at a lower cost than gas peaking plants, and to make the grid more efficient with lower average costs and lower greenhouse gas emissions.

The batteries are heavy, and would not work for electric cars, but weight is less of an issue for fixed installations on a power grid.

Their greatest advantage, the company says, is that they can be charged and discharged tens of thousands of times without losing capacity, and their performance can be given a warranty for 20 years or longer.


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