07 February 2016

Why EV batteries are like Star Wars™

I'm one of the very few people that I know who hasn't ever watched a Star Wars film (I see this as a badge of honour).  Arguably therefore, I'm not the best person to reflect on the parallels between Star Wars and Electric Vehicle (EV) batteries.  So I won't, other than to say that in the same way Star Wars has its sequel and prequel, business models are emerging which give EV batteries the same accolade.

The original - Batteries used in EVs and hybrids

We're all familiar now with batteries in a vehicle's powertrain.  There are a variety of different approaches - conventional hybrids, plug-in hybrids and electric vehicles.  Due to ever-tightening tailpipe regulations and tax incentives for drivers, almost all manufacturers have at least one of these in their model range, and I expect by 2020, almost every model from every manufacturer will have a hybrid/electric option.

Toyota Prius 2016 - Conventional Hybrid

BMW 740e -Plug-in Hybrid

Nissan Leaf - Electric Vehicle
In all of these cases, it's expected that the battery lasts as long as the vehicle itself.  Obviously, as a relatively new technology, time will tell, however, there is some very encouraging news from Nissan, showing a 99.99% reliability after 5 years (only 3 problems with 35,000 sales in Europe) - a much better reliability record than cars with a conventional engine.

One of the perceived drawbacks of an electric vehicle is the time taken to charge the battery.  Although the growth of rapid chargers makes this a reduced issue, an alternative is to be able to 'swap-out' the batteries.  Popularised by Israeli start-up Better Place, now Elon Musk's Tesla is trialling a similar approach to compliment its fast charger network:

Eventually though, EV/hybrid batteries will reach the end of their life in a car, but that doesn't mean the battery cannot be used in another form... Time for a sequel...

The sequel - the EV/hybrid battery secondary market

To minimise the carbon footprint of a battery, and extend its use phase for as long possible, manufacturers are starting to look at partnerships where their batteries can be re-used in another form.

Renault have announced a partnership with Connected Energy, where their E-STOR proposition uses batteries from Renault cars to support storage from intermittent renewable sources, or for EV charging solutions.

Connected Energy's collaboration with Renault
And in the US, Nissan are partnering with Green Charge Networks with a similar proposition.
Nissan's US partnership with Green Charge Networks

Finally, in the US, BMW are running an innovative V2G demand response programme, BMW i Charge Forward, allowing 100 BMW i3 drivers to earn extra income from demand response requests from their utility PG&E. In parallel to this, some additional static storage is being provided by used Mini E batteries.

So that's the sequel understood.  But a prequel...?

The Prequel - a living parts store

Earlier in this article, news from Nissan gave us confidence that batteries in vehicles are more reliable than sceptics assumed.  But of course, there are situations where batteries will need to be replaced... and manufacturers need to have spares available.  In an innovative partnership with enercity, Daimler will create a 15MWh storage facility, using batteries which are yet to be used in a car - they call it a 'living parts store'.  Its energy storage will be marketed in the German primary balancing power market, helping provide a lower-carbon mechanism to flatten/shift grid peaks.  And incredibly, managed charging and discharging is exactly what a battery benefits from, rather than a 'deep discharge' if it's just sat on a shelf.

Daimler's Energy Storage facility
The spin-offs

Obviously lithium-ion batteries don't need to have a direct use-case around vehicles, and car manufacturers are very aware of that.  Telsa is making an impact in the domestic energy storage market with its Tesla Powerwall (the first UK installation was made in a home in Wales last week). 

Tesla Powerwall

They are also making the technology available at the utility level, with the Powerpack. Their Gigafactory will be churning-out large numbers of batteries (it's ahead of schedule) - I wonder if they are exploring the 'living parts store' option too...

And, as I wrote in an earlier article, Daimler are actively working in the same way, partnering with EnBW AG for private customers.

Daimler Energy Storage Solution

As car manufacturers introduce lithium-ion batteries into powertrains, the driver benefits from improved fuel consumption, tailpipe emissions are reduced/eliminated, and they may even be able to use their car battery to provide energy to their home (V2H) or the grid (V2G).  But as we've seen above, the associated business models mean the potential for car batteries to provide an even greater contribution to our energy ecosystem are really exciting.

So, a tenuous link to Star Wars I admit, but with the humble lithium-ion battery making futuristic transformations to our energy system today, who needs fantasy action adventure films? 

End Credits

All images © respective manufacturers unless otherwise stated.

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