Gigafactory schmigafactory: $1BN "stealth" energy storage start-up moves to NC tobacco plant

Gridbank photo
Screen capture Alevo

Tesla's plans for a $5bn "gigafactory" battery manufacturing plant have been making headline news for some time now. Alongside the positive potential to drive down costs for energy storage, the $1.3bn in incentives the company will receive from Nevada have raised eyebrows in some quarters.

So its interesting, then, that Alevo—a new energy storage start-up backed up by $1bn from anonymous Swiss investors—has sought no state incentives for moving to a former Philip Morris plant in Concord, NC. Alevo says it will be producing hundreds of its "Gridbank" utility-scale energy storage and analytics units within a year, and is planning on creating up to 2,500 jobs within the first three years.

As Christine's report on a successful megabattery demonstration in Germany shows, there is huge interest in developing viable energy storage solutions to both ease the introduction of intermittent wind and solar onto the grid, decrease the need for coal plants to cycle their production inefficiently and improve overall grid resilience. In fact Alevo says it could help grid operators save as much as 30% of the energy that is currently wasted.

Alevo, however, appears to be somewhat of a dark horse. Reading through the many press reports on the new factory, it's clear that until recently, it was not even on the radar of most clean tech wonks. Its founder and CEO, Jostein Eikeland—who made his money in the dot com boom, before losing much of it in various business ventures—told Reuters there was a deliberate strategy to develop in stealth mode before launching on a very ambitious scale.

Each "Gridbank" consists of lithium ferrophosphate and graphite batteries with 1MWh of storage capacity in each container, combined with an analytics system designed to offer efficient, safe and robust charging that Alevo says it has been developing for ten years. Alevo claims the battery arrays can run 24/7, be recharged within 30 minutes, have a lifespan of 40,000 charges, and have a a lower fire risk than lithium ion batteries.

Of course the clean tech world is no stranger to bold claims and failed dreams. (Remember Solyndra?) But if this venture proves to be viable, Eikeland's claims that it is a gamechanger would seem perfectly justified.

Tags: Batteries | Electricity | Renewable Energy | Utilities


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