Socomec on capturing multiple energy storage value streams, resilience in power supply

pv magazine: Which battery storage applications do you think are the most relevant for your customers?

Gilles Ramzeyer, ESS Business Unit Director, Socomec: In the early stages of the business, the greatest demand was for remote microgrids, and we deployed containerized solutions all over the globe. About five years ago, our biggest demand was for on-grid storage, mostly in the U.S., because it represented a very lucrative investment. Today, the most relevant application for our customers is resilience in power supply. But we see demand for both functions together. From our perspective, we’ve come full circle. Today, customers want on-grid energy storage for economic returns, and they also want backup power when the grid may go down.

There are other important factors besides project economics. Decarbonization is very important, and energy storage can clearly help with that, especially when paired with photovoltaics. Still, economic returns are part of almost every conversation about energy storage, so it’s important to capture multiple value streams like Demand Charge Management, Time of Use Management, Capacity Resource payments, Tax credits, and state incentives, etc. It’s a long list.

We are also seeing increased interest in energy storage to support electric vehicle charging. Here also, it’s a question of multiple revenue streams, the systems need to capture as many revenue streams as possible, while they support an EV charging installation. As the green energy transformation continues, there will almost certainly be new applications, and we will do our best to address them as they arise.

Why these particular applications?

Storage systems are expensive assets that can generate substantial savings depending on usage. It is, therefore, necessary to prioritize deployment for profitable applications, to guarantee owners a maximization of revenues and a fast return on investment.

We have thus targeted three main applications:

  • Development of energy storage co-located with PV production: The energy transition will quickly accelerate the development of renewables in the coming years, but also create new grid constraints. Energy storage, whether installed behind the meter with the aim to maximize self-consumption of locally produced energy, or near a solar plant to smooth power injection into the grid, is a particularly relevant solution
  • Demand charge management: Often, consumption is out of sync with production, in particular with PV production. New usages, such as electric vehicle charging, will increase this imbalance. Energy storage will help to limit the demand for electricity during these periods of high constrain on the grid. Some countries with a high penetration of PV production (Germany, California, etc.) have designed financial incentives to reduce demand over some daily periods, creating attractive business models for energy storage.
  • Resilience: Power shutoffs often generate significant economic losses for companies but can also endanger the population. This is what we have seen in recent years in the United States following extreme weather events (like the fires in California, or cold snap in Texas). Electrical resilience, which a storage system can provide, is therefore no longer an option but a real must in many situations.

You have developed a new battery energy storage system. How does it incorporate the latest trends?

It’s not so much about “trendy”, as it is an effort to design the next generation of products to address what the market is really looking for. Our offer is an outdoor system based on two main cabinets: C-Cab, a converter based on 50kVA power modules; and B-Cab, a 186kWh battery – both of which are really flexible and can allow a high variety of configurations.

Clearly, safety must be a top priority. So, we had a non-negotiable requirement at the beginning that our battery partner had to have a strong result on the UL’s new large-scale fire test before we would even begin commercial discussions.

The next thing is that the system had to deliver superior throughput. It’s a common shorthand in this industry to compare products on dollars per nameplate kilowatt-hour basis when what really matters is the lifetime throughput of each of those nameplate kilowatt-hours. In other words, how many MWh can be delivered over the life of the system?

We also knew that we needed a service structure that would allow a commercial & industrial (C&I) energy storage system to freely do the variety of things they really do in the field. Most systems bigger than residential sizes are for the utility market, where the systems will do mostly the same thing, on most days. C&I is very different, in that the systems may do very different things on different days to capture the maximum value, and the system warranty linked to the maintenance offer has to allow for this great variety in operation.

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Why does it make a difference to use native outdoor systems compared to the containerized systems Socomec offered previously?

Safety is always the top priority, so it makes sense to do as much of the assembly in the factory and have a bare minimum of assembly in the field. At the same time, the modules are small enough to be moved about the job site with large forklifts.

Doing more of the assembly in the factory makes for a more rapid installation. The battery cabinets, for example, arrive fully assembled. The battery modules are already in their racks, and all the wiring inside is already in place. The install crew has little to do beyond bolting the cabinet to the pad and running the DC and comms cables to the converter.

The last difference is flexibility, and we’re hearing this is even more important than we’d thought. There’s a great variety of real-world projects, and the ideal system size also varies from project to project. Our solution is based on a fully-integrated conversion cabinet that integrates not only conversion but also all the control, communication, IoT devices for remote access as well as protection devices. Each cabinet can be filled with up to six power modules of 50kVA each, so the cabinet can reach up to 300kVA.

This power can be increased by putting two cabinets in parallel per system. The batteries can also be installed in parallel from one cabinet – 186kWh – to six cabinets – 1116kWh per system. After systems can be installed in parallel as well. So, we are able to offer our customers dozens of different combinations of kilowatts and kilowatt-hours, our systems being able to reach the ideal size for each project.  That keeps costs down, and savings up.  It also means that our footprint is often much smaller too.

What expertise does Socomec have which allowed it to develop its own storage systems?

We’ve been in the power conversion business since the moon landings, as we’ve been building uninterruptable power supplies or UPSs, since 1969. We are also known for our measuring and switching solutions. It’s good to have people on our team that have been designing and manufacturing these for decades. That experience enabled us to branch into energy storage about a decade ago.

We started out building pre-packaged microgrids, to be sent to the far corners of the globe. In some of these places, we are the local grid – so these simply must work. The experience of building all those microgrids permeates all we do. At the same time, our UPS business gives us economies of scale, allowing us to manufacture energy storage systems of high quality, in industrial quantities.

Which storage markets are most interesting and why?

The North American market is the most dynamic market on the planet right now, so of course, we find it to be quite interesting. All the new products are designed to meet the latest North American standards, including the additional requirements for the biggest markets, like California and Hawaii. But we will always be an international company, so we also offer energy storage in IEC configurations for Europe and the rest of the world too. As the green energy transformation continues, there will be new markets opening around the world with new requirements, and we will be watching closely, and adapting our products accordingly.

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