Beware of Energy Storage Packagers!Back to Top
With Halloween approaching, utilities not only should beware of spooks, ghosts, and goblins, but they also should watch out for packagers disguised as experienced integrators hungering for their energy storage projects.
Many suppliers are specialists in certain parts of an energy storage system, such as software, batteries, or inverters. Customers typically want a whole system, though. When these suppliers spot a need in the energy storage market, they partner with other suppliers to cobble together a system. These suppliers are known as “packagers.” You want to avoid them just like you want to avoid “B-rated” horror movies.
Choosing a packager introduces risk to a utility’s operation because packagers cannot deliver on the eight essential energy storage competencies. These competencies might look obvious, but packagers usually miss four of the eight. Yes, they may get these four: the battery system, the power conversion system; an energy management system; and engineering, procurement and construction (EPC). However, they usually will miss the other four: power system engineering and analysis, switching and protection, full system testing, and post-installation support.
One example of this was a software company that got into the energy storage system market. It provided an energy storage system with a main enclosure that only had one exit, which was on the other side of the batteries. That’s problematic if someone is working on an inverter at the back of the enclosure and the batteries catch fire. The individual would be trapped between the wall and the fire with no way out. Obviously, this is a huge liability. This packager was a software provider. It knows software, but it doesn’t know the safety issues specific to energy storage systems.
Even choosing one of the trendiest names in this space can leave a utility in the dark. One utility’s energy storage specification called for photovoltaic (PV) smoothing. It turned out the supplier’s solution (again, acting as a packager) had a delay in responding to incoming PV signals, resulting in a resonating output. Not only could this patchwork system NOT smooth the PV output, but the delay made the situation worse because the energy storage system was responding to a situation that no longer existed on the power network. The packager’s support personnel tried, and failed, to deliver this PV-smoothing feature in the field. Obviously, the full system was not tested to the customer specification before shipment, something a real integrator would most certainly do before it shipped from the factory. We don’t want any tricks showing up in the field – only treats.
Once all the design work is done and the thousands of components of an energy storage system are in place, full system testing is an absolute must. This is another energy storage competency that seems obvious, but packagers typically don’t have this capability. They routinely do testing onsite once everything shows up on your dime.
Imagine a car manufacturer not starting a car before it leaves the factory. No one wants a lemon for Halloween.
It’s time to take that costume off the packagers and see them for what they really are: experts at components, not systems. I’d be interested in learning your thoughts on what you see as being important when choosing an energy storage partner.
October 25, 2017