Future-Proofing Battery Power


Published Jul 30, 2017 12:16 AM by Brent Perry

When we think about the reasons to switch to battery or hybrid power, the reduction of carbon emissions is one of the most obvious factors. However, as with so many other carbon-reducing technologies, other commercial incentives are needed to accelerate their widespread adoption in a financially challenged industry. Therefore, it is necessary to reframe battery technology in the context of its place within a challenged industry. Seen from this perspective, it may be that part of the value of battery solutions is their ability to reduce uncertainty as much as it is to reduce carbon emissions.

Certainty is a valuable commodity that is in short supply for the maritime industry these days. The price of oil will have an enormous effect on what how shipping will cope with upcoming regulation on several fronts. The price of fuel, for example, is a vital determinant when it comes to deciding how, or indeed whether, vessels will comply with the upcoming sulfur cap. Solutions that can somehow lessen vessels’ dependence on fluctuating bunker prices are invaluable, not just for the savings they provide, but also because they allow owners and operators to plan with more certainty.

Battery or hybrid power allows vessels to exercise closer control over their energy usage, in addition to reducing the amount of fuel used. Because of the value of this increased control and certainty, one of the main focuses of PBES’ research and development has been investigating solutions that can effectively maximize the lifecycle of a battery system, and maintain close control over their performance and power usage.

One crucial part of this comes from the fact that batteries can offer far more flexibility than conventional power systems. PBES’s industry-first CellSwap solution unlocks this potential - allowing lithium cells to be replaced, rather than the entire units. This not only reduces the need for costly recycling and integration of a new battery system, but allows users to capture future developments in energy storage. 

Since PBES launched, it has seen the power of batteries nearly double – going from 8,000 cycles at 80 percent discharge to 15,000 cycles in some cases. There is no reason to believe that this rate of technology acceleration will change – switching allows users to capture the benefits of the next wave of battery technology sooner than they would otherwise. Given the global increase in battery manufacture across all industries – not just marine – it is likely that costs will fall as performance continues to increase, making the benefits of changing out the cells even more attractive to end users. 

Switching in this way also allows users to mitigate effects of the degradation in performance that comes with using a battery for 10 years. Batteries that need to last 10 years must be designed with this in mind – so they are frequently built larger than might otherwise be required to cope with this. CellSwap allows smaller, lighter batteries to be used – which saves battery cost in the first place, as well as costs associated with the extra space and weight requirements of a larger system. Crucially, smaller designs lend themselves to providing more accurate predictions of lifecycle patterns – allowing users to plan more confidently.

This model allows companies such as PBES to sell their batteries using a different model – selling based on kiloWatt Hour (kWh) of performance, rather than the cost of the battery. By locking in costs per kWh for an initial five-year period and then post CellSwap, customers can save a significant proportion of the original cost originally paid, while being able to better predict their costs and future-proof their asset.

Batteries are also diversifying to meet the needs of the market. Many vessels on which batteries are currently installed prioritize speed, power and a small footprint – such as electric tugboats. In this instance, the priority will be a small battery that can operate with deep discharge and high power output, such as PBES’ Power 65 battery. Vessels in more remote locations just as cruise ships and ferries may have to operate independently for longer – in which instance, the Energy 100 (E100) can be used, and is the company’s most cost and weight-efficient battery created so far.

Overall, the future looks bright for battery and hybrid power. As the technology advances, smaller, more powerful and clean charging options continue to emerge (such as onboard fuel cells) that, when combined with high performance energy storage, will make battery power feasible for a wider variety of vessel sizes, types and operating profiles. 

As this trend continues, the main challenges will be for battery and energy storage solution providers to tailor their solutions to the needs of the global fleet, and ensure that they are ready to capture the advances the next wave of battery technology will bring. In doing so, this not only has the potential to mitigate the environmental and health risks that come with using heavy fuel oil, but also to provide much needed stability and certainty.

Brent Perry is CEO of Plan B Energy Storage (PBES).

The opinions expressed herein are the author's and not necessarily those of The Maritime Executive.