Commercial and industrial energy storage: Fresh moves in a slow-moving market segment

 Exro battery storage cabinet on the outside of a commercial building. Image: Exro via Twitter.

A flurry of activity has been observed in commercial and industrial (C&I) energy storage, suggesting that industry players spy market potential in a traditionally underperforming segment of the market.

Commercial and industrial (C&I) energy storage systems are deployed behind-the-meter (BTM) and generally help those with factories, warehouses, offices and other facilities to manage their electricity costs and power quality, often enabling them to increase their use of renewables too.

While that can lead to quite significant reductions in the cost of energy, by letting users ‘peak shave’ the amount of expensive power they draw from the grid during peak demand periods, it has been a relatively hard sell.

In the Q4 2022 edition of the US Energy Storage Monitor published by research group Wood Mackenzie Power & Renewables, it was found that a total of just 26.6MW/56.2MWh of ‘non-residential’ energy storage systems – Wood Mackenzie’s definition of the segment that also includes community, government and other installations – was deployed during the third quarter of last year.

Compared to 1,257MW/4,733MWh of utility-scale energy storage, or even to 161MW/400MWh of residential systems deployed in the three month period under review, it’s fairly clear that C&I energy storage uptake is lagging behind significantly.

However, Wood Mackenzie predicts that along with the other two market segments, non-residential installations are set for growth in the coming years. In the US, that will be helped along by the Inflation Reduction Act’s tax incentives for storage (and renewables), but it appears there is interest in Europe too.

Here are some of the latest announcements we’ve seen:

Generac subsidiary snaps up European C&I energy storage player

Pramac, a power generator manufacturer headquartered in Siena, Italy, in February acquired REFU Storage Systems (REFUStor), a maker of energy storage systems, inverters and energy management system (EMS) technology.

Pramac is itself a subsidiary of US generator manufacturer Generac Power Systems, which has in recent years branched out to add battery storage systems to its suite of offerings.

REFUStor was established in 2021 by power supply, energy storage and power conversion maker REFU Elektronik, to serve the C&I market.
Its products include a range of bidirectional battery inverters from 50kW to 100kW which are AC-coupled for easy integration into solar PV systems, and are compatible with second life batteries. REFUStor also supplies advanced software and platform services for C&I storage systems.

Power control specialist Exro in distribution deal with Greentech Renewables Southwest

Exro Technologies, a US manufacturer of power control technologies, has signed a distribution deal for its C&I battery storage product with Greentech Renewables Southwest.

Through the non-exclusive agreement, Greentech Renewables will take Exro’s Cell Driver Energy Storage System products to C&I customers, as well as customers in the EV charging segment.

Exro claimed Cell Driver’s proprietary Battery Control System manages cells based on their state-of-charge (SOC) and state-of-health (SOH). That means faults can be easily isolated, reducing the risk of thermal runaway that can lead to fires or system failures. The system uses prismatic lithium iron phosphate (LFP) cells.

Its active cell-balancing technology also makes it a good fit for systems made using second life batteries from electric vehicles (EVs), and Exro said it is due to attain UL certification during Q2 2023.

Greentech Renewables Southwest is part of Consolidated Electrical Distributors (CED) Greentech, and is the first distributor in the US to sign up with Exro. Exro said the systems will be marketed primarily in the US southwest, where there is a buoyant market for solar, coupled with the need for C&I entities to secure their energy supplies against the threat of grid blackouts, which are becoming more common.

Dealership agreement for ELM’s plug and play microgrids

Not strictly commercial and industrial only, but the microgrid division of manufacturer ELM has signed up to a dealership agreement with energy storage system integrator and service solutions company Power Storage Solutions.

ELM Microgrids makes standardised, integrated microgrids ranging from 30kW to 20MW, designed for home, industrial and utility applications. What makes them special, the two companies claimed, is that ELM’s systems factory assembled and shipped as complete units, rather than being separate solar PV, battery, inverters and other equipment that are shipped separately and then assembled in the field.

That standardisation will save installers and customers time and money, ELM hopes, and the assembled turnkey units meet UL9540 certification.

UK-headquartered Wattstor acquired by decarbonisation investment firm Ara Partners

A majority stake has been acquired in Wattstor, a provider of energy storage solutions for small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and mid-sized commercial and industrial applications, by private equity investor Ara Partners.

Wattstor was founded in western England in the early 2010s, mainly serving the residential market with a proprietary energy management system (EMS) in its early years.

After janom, a Slovakian equity investment group, acquired a majority stake in 2017, Wattstor began focusing more on the C&I market, and today it is dual-headquartered in the UK and in Czechia, with operational sites in those countries, as well as in Slovakia, Croatia and Poland.

Fresh funding from Ara Partners will be used to roll out the company’s energy-as-a-service (EaaS) offering in Europe, as well as for R&D purposes and hiring new staff, increasing headcount by 50%. Janom will retain a minority stake.

Ara Partners specialises in investing in decarbonisation solutions and Wattstor CEO Stephan Marty said the new owner’s portfolio will help Wattstor “to deliver our simple-yet-sophisticated carbon reduction and cost-saving technology to I&C end-users across new regions as well as to launch a fully financed EaaS solution which will be a game changer for the adoption of behind-the-meter generation plus storage technologies”.
Marty said the energy crisis in Europe and resulting volatility in electricity prices, and the growth of renewable energy will be demand drivers for C&I offerings like Wattstor’s.

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