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A123 scores battery deal for wind power in China

Lithium ion battery maker A123 Systems will have grid storage system coupled with wind turbine installed for tests in China.

An artist's rendering of A123 Systems' grid storage system to be tested with a wind turbine in China.
A123 Systems

Lithium ion battery maker A123 Systems today said it will supply an energy storage system attached to a wind turbine in a test that could lead to further grid business in China.

Power equipment manufacturer Dongfang Electric will install a 500-kilowatt battery bank attached to a 1.5-megawatt wind turbine and diesel generator to evaluate how well the batteries can smooth out dips in power production from wind. The system, which can store 125 kilowatt-hours, is scheduled to be installed by the end of the year.

Wind power has boomed in China over the past few years, driven by government targets for renewable energy. Adding large amounts of wind to the grid can complicate grid operation since output varies with the wind, which can cause instability.

In China, many turbines were installed without sufficient transmission lines to transport power--it's estimated that almost 25 percent of the total wind power capacity installed is inactive. Battery storage has the potential to have wind power better integrated onto the grid, Dongfang Electric said in a statement.

A123 Systems has auto battery manufacturing operations in China, but the grid storage system will be its first to be installed in China. Grid storage projects typically cost between $1,000 and $1,200 a kilowatt but the bigger significance is that the test with Dongfang can lead to similar projects, said Robert Johnson, vice president of A123 Systems' Energy Solutions Group.

Dongfang Electric decided to work with A123 Systems because of its expertise in building a full-featured grid storage system.

"As you look at energy storage, it's more than providing a battery cell. You need the ability to integrate inverters, battery (packs), the software algorithms to connect to the grid--it's pulling together systems," Johnson said.

The design of A123 energy storage systems are similar to data center racks where battery modules are stacked and wired together. Those racks are placed into shipping container-size units and placed inside or outside.

One of the problems with wind in China is that voltage dips cause wind mills to be disconnected from the grid and then slowly reconnected, according to A123. Its storage systems are able to provide the power to more smoothly bring wind power back online after a voltage dip, the company says.

Lithium ion batteries are best at delivering quick bursts of power but aren't used for storing several hours of energy because of costs. But A123 Systems has had a number of its container-size units installed in conjunction with wind turbines, including a planned project in West Virginia. Although they still are a relatively expensive source of power, they can perform multiple applications, such as smoothing out renewable energy, back-up power, and maintaining a steady grid frequency, Johnson said.