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AI backed to play central role in new battery technology

Artificial intelligence (AI) will play an increasingly central role in the way new battery technologies work, a specialist in energy storage technologies has said.12 Feb 2018

Lindsay Edwards of Pinsent Masons, the law firm behind Out-Law.com, said advances in battery technology are changing the dynamic of the energy market and spurring new consumer products and services.

Edwards was commenting after two recent announcements highlighted developments in battery technology.

Sustainable energy systems developer Arenko Cleantech announced that it had invested in a major new energy storage facility in the Midlands in England.

The new energy storage system, a 41MW battery storage project supplied by General Electric, will provide affordable, on-demand power equivalent to the needs to 100,000 UK homes. Pinsent Masons worked to negotiate the strategic alliance between Arenko and GE.

In addition, UK smart home battery business Moixa recently agreed a deal with ITOCHU Corporation in Japan which will see its technology made available to Japanese consumers.

Moixa's 'GridShare' platform links customers' home batteries to the electricity grid and enables the battery to both draw power from the grid and supply back any excess energy stored. The technology also "uses artificial intelligence to optimise battery performance based on patterns of behaviour, weather conditions and market prices", according to funding agency Innovate UK that publicised the Moixa and ITOCHU agreement.

"These announcements serve to highlight that the lines between energy and technology are starting to blur," Edwards said. "The energy market was notoriously lacking in customer-facing tech a decade ago. Now, technology is playing an ever greater role in the supply of electricity –in Moixa's case, we're seeing AI being used to optimise battery behaviour. This is a trend that we would expect to increase."

According to Edwards, effective battery technology has been "the ‘missing piece’ in the energy market to date". Its absence has "limited the ability of distributed energy sources to make a real impact when compared to electricity generated from centralised power plants," she said. 

However, advancements in battery technology, allied to the fact batteries are starting to become affordable, means that is changing, she said.

"The combination of battery technology means that distributed generation will start to have a more meaningful impact on the energy market as individual householders, businesses, local authorities can both generate and store electricity – for their own benefit but also increasing the flexibility of the system as a whole," Edwards said.

"This trend is only going to increase as electric vehicles start to become more mainstream – this will undoubtedly put increased pressure on the electricity system, but it will also offer opportunities for companies that can develop storage solutions on the basis that each electric vehicle once plugged in will in essence be another battery that could be used to balance the grid," she said.

Battery businesses can expand their offering through the aggregation of different storage systems, said James Mashhadi of Pinsent Masons. By operating 'virtual powerplants' to manage these systems, the companies can "trade larger volumes of electricity and offer greater capacity to the grid in terms of balancing".

"Aggregation of the systems means they’ll have larger capacities to play with and therefore the ability to have more influence over the markets without the need for very large grid scale batteries needing to be designed, constructed and deployed, and funded as a single lump sum, as they’ll have modular systems providing more and more capacity as time goes on," Mashhadi said.

Much of the inherent value in battery storage is in the software used to manage the physical assets rather than in the assets themselves, as well the data which is generated through their use, Mashhadi said.

"From a battery business' perspective, the data will help them identify household electricity usage trends which they can then use to develop further products and services, in addition to enabling them to see the bigger picture of how the market is developing," Mashhadi said.

Energy storage systems provide flexibility in the electricity network too, he said.

"They can be used in the home in their most basic form to provide electricity, they can be used to potentially integrate into electric vehicles, and they have the ability to allow homeowners to earn revenue by using electricity in more innovative ways," Mashhadi said.

This could be achieved by incentivising homeowners to take electricity from the grid at certain times of day, or to plug in their electric vehicles in at prescribed times for greater reward, he said.