A Conversation with One of Fremont’s Energized Local CleanTech Startups, Avalon Battery
The quest for more sustainable, cost-effective energy is deeply ingrained in the City of Fremont’s initiatives, goals, and thriving green business community. To get a closer look into the kinds of pioneering technology that this community is sparking, we sat down with energy storage solution startup Avalon Battery to learn more about how Fremont is a strategic location for their operations, energy storage market trends and predictions, and how the company makes renewable energy reliable.
Q. How did you choose Fremont as the site for your commercial headquarters?
After being introduced to the City of Fremont about four years ago, the Avalon Battery management team was quickly impressed by the level of support available to high tech startups in the battery industry and booming green energy industry cluster. As we continued to grow and began searching for a larger facility, we decided that Fremont was the right place for us to scale our business. Not only did the City have the flexible space we needed, but also business tax exemptions specifically suited for CleanTech companies and a community of engineering talent that we could pull from to add to our own team’s innovative efforts.
Q. What are some of the trends that are driving the energy storage market?
The rising demand for cleaner energy sources — such as wind and solar — stems from their ability to offer clean and increasingly cheaper power than traditional sources. When paired with energy storage, wind and solar can deliver a much smoother, more predicable flow of electricity to the grid to directly combat weather-induced output level changes and the premature aging of network equipment.
In addition, non-utility stakeholders are increasingly influencing the development and operation of the grid. In the past, most decisions affecting the grid, such as quality, type, and location, were driven largely by utilities and their trading partners. Today, advocacy groups such as CALSSA, CESA, SEPA, and others are demonstrating how energy storage provides the same benefits expected from other types of infrastructure upgrades at a fraction of the cost to rate payers. After several high-profile successes, utilities nationwide are now seriously considering “non-wired alternatives.”
Q. How does Avalon Battery’s work influence Fremont’s business and resident energy consumption?
Starting in October, PG&E will modify its time-of-use schedule for the first time in 30 years. This decision is due in part to the increasing production of solar power that has resulted with midday being the cheapest time to purchase energy on the wholesale market, replacing the current “on-peak” hours of noon to 6 p.m. The new TOU schedule will shift the on-peak period to 4 to 9 p.m., mostly outside the hours when solar panels produce energy.
While customers who installed solar panels prior to this year will be protected by “grandfathering” rules that retain the current TOU schedule, everyone else will see much higher prices for energy consumed in the afternoon and evening.
However, by using energy storage solutions such as Avalon Battery, customers with solar panels will be able to store solar energy at midday and draw from it in the evening. This will significantly reduce costs and carbon emissions by reducing the need for traditional power plants (including dirty “peakers”) to fire up during the evening ramp. The savings will be particularly dramatic for customers on rate plans that include heavy so-called “demand charges” based on the highest consumption during any 15-minute period within the on-peak hours of a given billing period.
Q. What are some of the different energy storage solutions available to consumers today?
The diverse selection of energy storage solutions now available to customers includes not only chemical batteries, but also “thermal batteries” that cool (or heat) a thermal storage medium when energy is cheap. They use it to cool or heat your home or business with minimal electricity consumption when prices are high. Energy management systems like those from Extensible Energy turn buildings into batteries by judiciously controlling heating and cooling systems to maintain a comfortable working environment while minimizing electricity consumption when rates are at their highest during peak hour rates.
Avalon Battery’s energy storage system is extremely resilient, lasting 20 years or more, even when “deep cycling” (i.e., charging to full capacity and discharging down to zero), multiple times per day. This capability and its lifespan make it an ideal complement to solar power generators. The volume of liquid electrolyte in each battery also makes it resilient to high daily temperature swings to reduce the need for active cooling, allowing Avalon Batteries to operate more quietly and efficiently, particularly in warm, outdoor environments.
Q. How is the economics of battery storage evolving?
Battery storage will continue to become more valuable as utility peak rate changes occur (i.e., the aforementioned PG&E peak change in October). Utilities and wholesale markets are increasingly willing to earn revenue from “grid services” that they can perform for other utilities and grid operators. For example, a battery owner can register to make their battery available to discharge energy to the grid in response to a signal sent by the utilities or by the grid operator during parts of the year when the grid is likely to experience sudden surges in demand across the entire system. The battery owner receives a “capacity payment” in return for being “on-call” during the allotted times to be available to cover the demand resulting from high loads at other sites in the same area of the grid, plus additional compensation if actually called upon to discharge energy to the grid.
Q. How has Avalon partnered with Bay Area companies to provide sustainable and reliable energy storage?
While there has been much written about the increasing need for backup power to cover periods of short interruption such as emergency scenarios, there is a growing group of customers that seek true energy independence. Take for example our customer, Sandbar Solar. This leading solar installer could not secure a grid connection for its newly built office and warehouse facility in Santa Cruz. To create their own microgrid, Sandbar Solar combined rooftop solar, energy storage from Avalon, a natural gas-powered generator, and a controller from Ageto. Its facility now operates without drawing any power from the larger grid, instead, running almost exclusively on solar power taken directly from the roof or from their battery system. The generator only needs to run for a few hours per year during extended periods of rainy weather.
On the other end of the spectrum, Avalon has also partnered with solar heavyweight NEXTracker – the leading supplier of single-axis tracking systems – to bring more solar energy to customers on the grid. By slowly rotating solar panels throughout the day, NEXTracker’s products allow solar to begin generating power earlier in the morning and later into the afternoon. By placing an Avalon Battery at the end of each tracker row, the NX Flow product can expand the hours of solar production even further, releasing stored solar energy during the evening “ramp” when it is needed most.