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‘Nobody says no to storage…but not everybody has said yes yet’

As the Intersolar Europe show gets underway this week in Munich, PV Tech spoke to Bryan Ekus of the International Battery and Energy Storage Alliance (IBESA). The organisation will be presenting the IBESA Pavilion as part of the Electrical Energy Storage exhibition, where the alliance’s members at every level will have the opportunity to exhibit.

PV Tech Storage: Tell us about some of the activities of IBESA so far and what you hope to achieve.
Since the rollout of IBESA, we’ve done a tremendous amount of groundwork in bringing to the attention of the industry the fact that we have to find more of a homogenised type of approach in moving the industry forward. A lot of the things that we find tell us that energy storage is a pretty wide space. The unique aspect of what we’ve created with IBESA is that we’re really focusing much more on battery technologies. We’re trying to find a way to integrate battery manufacturers and PV manufacturers so that we come out with some common solutions and don’t have interconnect problems, companies moving in their own way of specialised manufacturing, so it can be more of a plug-and-play type solution, that would be something that would be much better for the industry and that can certainly help keep the costs down.

PV Tech Storage: So where can IBESA fit into this in a meaningful way to take things further for batteries?
You’ll see in particular in residential or commercial marketplaces that PV systems will certainly be sold with energy storage. There’s no question of that: they will start to be bundled together. So a lot of what IBESA is doing now is trying to keep that dialogue open between the two industries and let’s say ‘harmonise’ as we move forward. No one said it was going be easy but we’re getting people talking now and that’s the important thing. We’re also looking at ways to provide the industry with a lot of information. So our research partner, EuPD, which is also behind IBESA, has been compiling a lot of data so we can share that with the industry, of course we want to get a lot of associations involved, The idea behind that is that we can start helping disseminate information through their channels to start really getting people thinking about energy storage and what are the opportunities – and make them a little bit less painful than other ways of doing things.

PV Tech Storage: What will prove to be the greatest forces for stimulating activity in the marketplace?
It’s going to come down to education and experience. There hasn’t been a lot of experience in integrating renewable energy with energy storage, for example; as we start to see some more success stories – and we’re starting to see quite a number of them now already – that will help drive the market in places like California where they are very bullish on renewable energy and at the same time energy storage, that will be the catalyst that drives the industry forward.

PV Tech: Energy storage seems to be one of those things that it is hard to argue against the theory of. So it feels like a space that everyone’s exciting about getting into, but with tentative steps. Would you agree with that?
I would agree 100%. I don’t know who said it, but when you talk about energy storage, nobody says no…but not everybody has said yes yet! People are still getting used to the fact of what renewable energy is. But we’re starting to get used to the fact that it’s a good idea and when more people realise it’s a good idea to do more of this, it will certainly move a lot faster. We need to get people out there talking about it. We need to raise consumer awareness. It needs to be more of a grass roots project. When people understand it they’ll know it’s a good idea to move forward.

Storage on show at Intersolar Europe 2013. This year, storage will be an even bigger of the event. Image: Solar Promotions GmbH.
PV Tech Storage: You’ve just returned from the SNEC event in China. How much interest did you get over there?
SNEC was absolutely massive. Trying to get around everywhere was difficult just by order of its magnitude! It was great to see that there was so much activity going on, because it then sets the tone for where the rest of the year’s going to be. China being the most important market for PV right now – we could also say for other things like energy storage as well. It makes you very optimistic about what you see there.

You’re starting to see equipment companies coming from China rather than Europe. On one side its troubling, on another it’s kind of what you’d expect. I don’t see too much worry that those Chinese equipment companies will then start to compete on a global level. You might see one or two of them do that – within equipment and materials – they’ll mostly focus within their local market with local content. Then you’ll see other countries like from the EU, US, Japan and Korea, they’ll feed the rest of the world, so to speak.”

PV Tech: Finally, what’s your take on the anti-dumping disputes that are taking place at the moment and do you have a hypothetical solution in mind?
Everybody’s got their way to fix this problem. My way is that if we get into a fight over price, no one’s going to win. However what I’d like to see is that we get into a fight over technology. Look at the hard drive industry or the computer industry and the advancements that they made under Moore’s Law – that every 44 months, the capacity of the hard drive was doubling in that period. Why don’t we start with a roadmap where we try and get efficiency doubled? That would be a hell of a push, but if we can get another 1% every 18 months that would be very interesting – and not lab tested, in the field. If we could compete at that level, that would be great. We could say: if you haven’t met that next level of efficiency your goods will have a tax. So companies would invest more in technologies and levelise cost over the years. I think we all win from a technology battle than a price battle. My feeling is that we can all benefit from getting these new technologies out within that period. The average consumer could ask why they should buy a system now when they could save by buying it in future but a salesman would be able to say that over a year, 1% isn’t really all that big a deal but in technical terms the jump is huge for the manufacturing industry.

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