PCS is a small portion of cost but of high value to battery storage system integrators

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Power conversion system (PCS) expertise allows battery storage system integrators an important degree of control over project design and costs, according to representatives of Powin Energy and LS Energy Solutions.

Powin has just acquired Spanish inverter and energy management system (EMS)/power plant controller maker EKS Energy to add capabilities in-house.

Meanwhile, LS Energy Solutions is a system integrator that began in the market as a power electronics player. The company launched after South Korean conglomerate LS Group acquired the grid-tied business of Parker-Hannifin in 2018, putting its first ‘all-in-one’ energy storage products onto the market in late 2020 and announcing its first US deployments a few months later.

The value and importance of PCS has been highlighted in recent weeks by the acquisition of two other US manufacturers: EPC Power was acquired by investors Goldman Sachs and Cleanhill Partners, while Dynapower was bought by industrial sensor manufacturer Sensata for US$580 million.

Energy-Storage.news spoke with Powin’s senior VP Danny Lu and LS Energy Solutions director of strategy and market analytics Ravi Manghani at last week’s RE+ 2022 solar PV and energy storage tradeshow in Anaheim, California.

Both said that while power electronics equipment represents only a small portion of a battery project’s overall cost, it’s often responsible for many of the issues which arise in operation. At the same time, owning their own PCS company means their companies can circumvent some of the supply chain issues around getting third party equipment onsite on time, they said.

To date, Powin has procured PCS equipment from “almost all of the Tier 1 suppliers in the energy storage space,” Danny Lu said.

“What we’ve experienced is that, when you’re dependent on third parties to do critical aspects of the system, you expect them to perform, be responsible for their scope, deliver everything on time, commission everything on time, and get it to the point where we can reliably operate the system.”

Powin realised that although the PCS might only represent 15% of a project’s total cost at most – and usually less than that – it can cause almost all of the issues that can happen during operation. The company is therefore “holding a lot of risk” by depending on third parties for such a critical aspect of its systems.

PCS: ‘Small portion of the cost, but a big portion of the headache’

Therefore, a major part of the rationale for acquiring Seville-headquartered EKS, considered a pioneer in the fields of renewable energy inverters, is that it will give Powin more control over project execution, delivery and commissioning.

Many of the Oregon battery energy storage system (BESS) manufacturer’s projects also have availability guarantees and the acquisition will further bolster its ability to deliver on long-term service agreements around those too, Lu said.

“For the portion of a system that makes up such a small cost, but makes up a large portion of the headache, we need to be able to control that service strategy and the service capability.”

LS Energy Solutions’ (LS ES) Ravi Manghani is a former head of industry research for what was GTM Research (now part of Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables). He noted that inverters are probably more complex than batteries and sit at the heart of a system and in many ways dictates what a BESS can do.

There is a “lot more IP that goes into power electronics than people realise,” Manghani said, but it still only forms a small portion of the cost stack of a complete system. As a PCS provider itself, LS ES was providing hardware critical to the success of a project but only reaping that small portion of the financial benefit.

Coming from more than a decade and a half of experience making and testing inverters then seeing them operate in the field also means the company is well positioned to be able to integrate PCS and batteries together into an “optimised product that is capable of providing different use cases, with the help of the relevant software, EMS, battery management system (BMS) etc,” Manghani said.

“Coming from the power electronics side gives us a much more sort of hands-on understanding of how to interface with the grid and what kind of signals that we can use and how to provide microgrid capabilities, for instance, using the grid forming features that our inverter has.”

One of the main topics of discussion at last week’s RE+ event was battery storage supply chain constraints. While those are often talked about in terms of battery cell procurement – certainly the most impacted area – supply chain disruptions are present across other components too, including PCS.  

For both LS Energy Solution and Powin, having more control over that aspect of project delivery will help them to manage project timelines and ultimately add to customer satisfaction, Manghani and Lu both said.

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