U.S. Nuclear Operator Pivots to Energy Storage as ‘Next Big Frontier’
Exelon Corporation, the biggest nuclear operator and utility holding company in the United States, has launched a new venture to push past lithium-ion battery storage and build “the utility of the future,” according to President and CEO Chris Crane.
“We call it ‘life beyond lithium-ion,’” Crane told Bloomberg News.
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“The energy sector is undergoing a transformation,” he added in a statement. “We must help lead the nation through this change by investing in the next big innovations that provide the best commercial and customer solutions.”
Crane said Exelon joined with Charlotte, NC-based lithium supplier Albemarle Corporation to launch and invest in Volta Energy Technologies of Napierville, IL “because we operate at the forefront of energy innovation, and energy storage represents an important next frontier”.
Exelon “owns and operates utilities which provide electric and gas service to millions of customers in the Midwest and eastern U.S.,” notes the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis, in a post republished from Power Engineering. “Units include Commonwealth Edison, Baltimore Gas & Electric, and PECO, among others.”
Exelon is not the only utility to look at a new way of operating. “Power companies are increasingly focused on energy storage, spurred in part by regulators demanding that the technology be added to the grid,” Bloomberg notes. “American Electric Power Co. is adding an energy storage system at two hydroelectric dams and invested in a U.S. storage developer. Duke Energy Corporation, meanwhile, is installing batteries as it trims coal capacity.”
Volta’s mission is to find promising new storage technologies, evaluate them, then test them under an agreement with Argonne National Laboratory, to reduce “the likelihood of a blind alley or a technology that won’t bear out,” said Argonne Director Paul Kearns.
“The innovation landscape—the pipeline of innovations—is dense with opportunity and ideas and, as a result, chaotic,” added Volta CEO and ex-Argonne chemist Jeff Chamberlain. The new venture is “considering materials that enable advanced lithium-ion, sodium ion, vanadium flow, sulphur batteries, solid state batteries, and others, including possibly lithium metal batteries.”
That kind of talk points to what might be the unique feature in the Volta deal. “Traditional venture capital funds often lack the expertise and patience required to advance innovations from lab to market, and public research institutions are not charged with commercializing their work,” IEEFA notes. “Volta’s model bridges these gaps and offers a solution.”
Bloomberg notes that lithium-ion battery packs are selling at an average of US$209 per kilowatt-hour, down 24% from 2016 and 80% since 2010. Last week, GTM Research reported a 46% increase in U.S. energy storage deployments in the third quarter of this year, compared to the same period in 2016.