“Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle” - Often attributed to Plato but likely from Ian McLaren (pseudonym of Reverend John Watson)

Monday, October 26, 2015

LightSail yet again

Image courtesy of LighSail Energy
This will be a short one. LightSail Energy, a startup with innovations in compressed air energy storage, has already appeared in my writing twice, the most recent being after co-founder Danielle Fong was generous enough with her time to take me on a tour of their facility in Berkeley. In the first article I mentioned that I'd delve deeper into the thermodynamics of their process. After the second Ms. Fong mentioned that, in general, she felt that I'd been fair and accurate but that my skepticism regarding LightSail's ability to manufacture systems in the facility I visited was unfounded. Hmm... "uncalled for" is the actual quote. I'd like to take a look at both, but first the manufacturing capacity.
Image courtesy of LightSail Energy

As it happened, it turned out that I hadn't seen the whole facility. Further conversation with Ms. Fong revealed that LightSail's existing Berkeley facility does have some manufacturing capabilities and, in fact, has production runs of tanks in particular. It should be noted (and I've seen Fong tout this publicly in some of the amazingly large number of video presentations in which she's featured) that LightSail states that they have designed, prototyped, tested, and produced tanks with unprecedentedly high merit indices. These tanks can be sold for uses other than compressed air energy storage.

Further, LightSail is able to assemble, commission, and sell their compressor expanders out of their R&D facility. Thus, while LightSail is unlikely to be able to meet full scale production of their storage units at the Berkeley facility in the event that their compressed air energy storage technology takes off at the scale that the Company envisions, it's clear that they do, in fact, have significant manufacturing capabilities there. I stand corrected.


Anonymous said...

I am fascinated by the idea of compressed air energy storage. I hope they succeed. They have an impressive list of investors.

It makes no sense for Lightsail to get upset at your skepticism. It would be better for them to simply manufacture a few systems and prove you wrong.

Based on my experience in startup companies, I guess the main obstacle to their manufacturing plans would be that some parts of their technology are not yet ready. I'll believe they are ready when they start publishing numbers like round trip efficiency, cost per kWh, etc etc.

Rob Ryan said...
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Rob Ryan said...

They've published some such numbers. They have a pilot installation going in next year in Liverpool, Nova Scotia. I intend, time allowing, to dive into the thermodynamics of their innovation. I don't think that I'll come up with anything new to them but I may enlighten myself and it's good practice. That's down the road a bit though. I need to finish with my analysis of storage in general and what it costs and can contribute. I also think that the "rocks on rails" system has significant promise. I'm concerned, though, about my beloved Mojave/Sonoran/Great Basin deserts turning into vast tracts of solar arrays, wind turbines, and storage mechanisms. I kind of look at those deserts (where I've spent a great number of days exploring and nights sleeping on the ground looking at the stars) as kind of my own back yard, so I guess it's a bit of a NIMBY reaction. Sigh...

Anonymous said...

I found some numbers at http://www.lightsail.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/LightSail-Storage-Week-2014-Presentation-Final.pdf

These numbers are almost 2 years old, and $600/kWh. At that price Lightsail will really struggle to compete with battery based systems, such as Tesla Powerwall.

I hope they can get their costs down.

Another development that I hope succeeds is Hydrostor, which uses underwater storage. I think this can be more efficient because the pressure is constant.

Rob Ryan said...

In some correspondence with Danielle Fong, I mentioned that number and she told me that they're already considerably below that, on the order of $475/kWh in one application. It's also the case that storage applications not involving batteries (including LightSail and also ARES, the rocks on rails folks) have an advantage over batteries in that batteries have a seriously limited cycle lifetime (at least with current electrochemistry). I don't know what technology will win in the long run or whether a role for each will be found where particular characteristics best suit an application. Lots of smart money is behind LightSail but that doesn't guarantee a win.

I appreciate the fact that Ms. Fong took time out of her ludicrously packed schedule that takes her, literally, around the world to show me around LightSail's facility. I also respect that she will answer questions posed to her on LightSail's blog and elsewhere in a straightforward fashion. It makes me feel that they have strongly ethical core values and I respect that.

But, may the best tech(s) win!