‘We can’t ignore US market if we want to be a significant player’ in global BESS industry, Saft says


Saft, arguably one of the pioneers of large-scale battery storage in the US, is putting efforts into regaining a presence in that market as it becomes a major hub for the industry’s activities.

Michael Lippert, director of innovations and solutions at the French battery manufacturer and stationary energy storage system integrator, said that 20 years after its very first US battery energy storage system (BESS) project, the US is once again becoming a key region of focus for Saft.

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It now has two projects in Texas’ ERCOT market totalling 250MWh (“which we are deploying right now”), and large-scale projects in Hawaii adding up to a couple of hundred megawatts, Lippert said.

Saft’s first project, which was delivered in 2003 to the city of Fairbanks, Alaska, was included in the Guinness Book of World Records for its 45MWp sizing. That project supported a very remote community’s grid by performing spinning reserve and is, Lippert said, still operational.

While that project used nickel cadmium batteries, today the industry is dominated by lithium-ion, and lithium iron phosphate (LFP) in particular, which Saft is also predominantly working with in the two containerised BESS products in its range.

“We started with lithium-ion in the US back in 2012,” Lippert said, speaking to Energy-Storage.news for an interview at last week’s RE+ solar and storage trade show in Las Vegas, US.

Since then, with early project sizes typically in the range of a couple of megawatts, Saft lost some ground in the market between around 2015 and 2020, as those sizes scaled up significantly.

Mainly Chinese and South Korean manufacturers were instead grabbing market share in that time, but Lippert said Saft – a subsidiary of French energy major TotalEnergies – has “realigned strategy” towards the US. This became evident at the 2022 edition of the RE+ show, when Saft launched its 3MWh high energy solution, Intensium Shift, into the market.

Scale up in project sizes suits evolving Saft strategy

Those larger project sizes which once were a competitive sticking point for Saft are more of a driver than a deterrent today, Lippert claimed. For example, while Saft is a BESS industry major player in its home country today, project sizes in France and most of the rest of Europe today are dwarfed by their US counterparts.

Saft delivered what was the biggest BESS installation in France at the time in late 2021, for its parent company, but at 61MWh that stacks up as being significantly smaller than even average projects in the US’ leading markets like Texas or California.

“I don’t need to tell you (the readers of Energy-Storage.news) that the big projects are in the US. I mean, we do not have anything as sizable in Europe,” Lippert said.

“We do have similar projects in Asia, but not as big, let’s say in the 60MW to 100MW scale. We have several projects in Taiwan, for example, and a 40MW/60MWh project in the Philippines. These are projects that are up and running.”

Of course, something else that likely needs no introduction for our readers is the US Inflation Reduction Act (IRA), which has undoubtedly boosted the appetite for investment in energy storage, from upstream production to downstream deployment.

Yet, Lippert said, while the IRA’s incentives are getting more recent headlines, the US was already becoming one of the most significant markets for BESS providers. Coupled with the IRA’s tailwinds, the US sector is likely to remain that way for some time, he said.

“Even before the IRA, we know and everybody knows that the US is the first and biggest and will remain the first and biggest market for years. So if you want to be a significant player, we cannot afford not to be in the US. Historically, we have been here, so there’s no reason not to be in the US.”

The IRA does “obviously” boost that opportunity, the Saft representative said, but at the same time also throws some more layers of complexity to doing business. For Saft and other manufacturers and integrators, much of that has to do with the competitive advantage to be gained from locating more of the supply chain in the US.

While Saft has not yet revealed plans to relocate its container assembly and own battery cell manufacturing and third-party suppliers within the US, it is coming, Lippert said. The company already has some manufacturing happening in Jacksonville, Florida, so it is likely to be a question of building up from that existing infrastructure, he added.  

The US market and the impact of the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) are the cover story and key content theme in the newest edition of our quarterly journal, PV Tech Power (Vol.36). You can subscribe to the journal here, while subscriptions to Energy-Storage.news Premium also gives access to the entire back catalogue back to 2014.

Our publisher Solar Media is hosting the 10th Solar and Storage Finance USA conference, 7-8 November 2023 at the New Yorker Hotel, New York. Topics ranging from the Inflation Reduction Act to optimising asset revenues, the financing landscape in 2023 and much more will be discussed. See the official site for more details.

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