By Jack Pearce, CEO of Active Power
Industrial users looking for long-term energy storage solutions have always considered cost, reliability, efficiency and quality. Now with sustainability and ESG (environmental, social and governance) considerations firmly on the agenda, the list also includes: is it clean? Is it green?
ESG is a set of corporate reporting requirements that reflect a company’s impact and efforts to operate sustainably. In the US, the SEC proposal on climate-related disclosure (2022) requires companies to report climate-related metrics in their financial reporting that include greenhouse gas emissions. Similar regulations, such as the EU’s Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive are forthcoming.
In part, what changed the infrastructure investment game was the setting of binding carbon reduction and Green House Gas (GHG) emissions targets through national and international agreements to fixed timelines.
But it is also true that data centre operators, manufacturers, hospitals, airports, process operations and energy companies themselves are motivated by social and economic imperatives. They are not only being moved to act by the threat of stiff regulatory tariffs and penalties.
The social imperative is expressed through more long-term sustainability thinking (decades). While the economic imperatives are, for example, the unforeseen volatility in energy prices and supply.
In energy storage infrastructure terms, companies know that life cycle assessments of total environmental impact and sustainability calculations are no longer nice to have, but instead have become a known requirement.
‘Cradle to Grave’
By now everyone is – to some degree – familiar with Scope 1, 2, and 3 emissions.
Put simply, these GHG Protocol categories cover emissions from owned operations including onsite combustion and the emissions of greenhouse gases, indirect emissions from operations, including those generated by energy and water providers, and indirect emissions from third party supplier upstream and downstream activities.
Scope 3 emissions cover raw materials manufacture, maintenance, replacement and disposal of equipment. This puts the onus on the buyer to assess and evaluate the complete carbon cost of its purchased infrastructure. This is making firms think differently about their energy storage choices through ‘Cradle to Grave’ evaluation.
A full ‘Cradle to Grave’ assessment includes raw material extraction, transportation, processing, and manufacturing, delivery, maintenance, repair, replacements – along with the end-of-life factors including decommissioning, transportation, waste processing, recycling and disposal.
This is focussing the minds of those responsible for industrial scale energy storage needs. All infrastructure offerings are being evaluated through a sustainability lens against the criteria set out above. Inventory analysis and impact assessment of any energy storage solution must be ongoing.
Kinetic and battery
Two of the most established industrial energy storage solutions for critical power protection are flywheel kinetic and chemical battery. When viewed over a lifetime of operation (as more and more customers are doing) the differences between flywheel kinetic energy storage and batteries become stark.
The raw components of any chemical batteries, whether Lead-acid, Lithium-Ion, Flow, Metal-Air, Sodium-Sulphur, Nickel Zinc or Liquid Metal require evaluation. Then come the questions of the life-cycle environmental impact cost estimates for different battery types.
No battery solution is a fit and forget option. Fire risk must be mitigated through monitoring battery stability and thermal behaviour. This requires constant monitoring. Cooling costs (in financial and GHG values) must be calculated and the power assigned.
Finding useful verifiable data on the cost and operational dynamics of large-scale battery deployments over decades of operation is no easy task. Large lithium-ion installations in industry at multi-megawatt scale only began several years ago. For the new battery technologies there is little to no data yet available.
No manufacturing process comes without carbon cost. Precision steel making is energy intensive. Embodied carbon is a sustainability cost factor. However, where Flywheel kinetic energy differs from battery and other energy storage technologies in that the carbon cost is a known sum, the decades of ongoing operation is low carbon and the vast majority of the components are recyclable. Embodied carbon calculations must also factor in the carbon cost of replacement units over the lifetime of operation.
Efficiency is another sustainability consideration that sometimes does not receive the attention it merits when comparing battery UPS with kinetic technology. Efficiency is about lowering losses in the system. Higher losses equal more energy consumption which, in the absence of 100% renewable power sources, often means more carbon emissions.
Avoiding future problems
We know that markets respond well to certainty. Companies require stability.
In uncertain times when energy generation, transportation and storage are going through unprecedented change, companies are seeking confidence that their long-term energy storage technology choices will not leave them facing future problems.