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Gerry

What matters: FIFA or ESA….the ball is in your court.

Mon, 06/01/2015 - 11:32 -- Gerry Woolf

So ESA’s annual event is over for another year. It’s no longer an event for battery scientists or even battery vendors but it looks like an excellent networking event for everyone else.  As a conference with formal presentations, forget it.

If you have something to say that adds to the argument, you need to write a paper and to deliver that to an audience, you need to create slides for your power point. And you’ll need to get clearance from your company’s lawyers and PRs.

Too much hassle. So panel discussions predominate. Mumble into your boots and agree with the other guys. Might be good if you knew who was on the panel? It all looks like, and sounds like, a bad TV chat show with C listers as guests.

No hard take home messages with facts. Remember those? Some energised speakers for sure, but sometimes it was hard to tell whether this was a stand up comedy show or a political rally.

Energy storage is not about job creation but it is all about making efficient use of electricity generation assets and reducing the impact of fossil fuels on the climate. It’s also about making money — hence the presence of the bankers. If only there could be another way for accessing capital. Access to prosperity needs money and electricity. Clearly showing my age and my politics here.

Still, for all that, Energy Storage has come of age, led by the progressive US states of California and New York, their utilities, some wise heads and a little tech Viagra this month from Mr Musk. You just have to show it works. I didn’t see too much of that. I wonder what the old guard of Dr Phil Symonds and Brad Roberts would have made of it all?

The rest of the world is way behind America on this and have much catching up to do — that much is clear.

But in a week when global media was more concerned about whether FIFA was corrupt from top to bottom,  did it matter?  If you can’t see the truth about FIFA, I’d suggest you’re half blind. And if you can’t see the benefits of storage, you’re totally blind! The world’s media wasn’t really here.

Being corrupt will probably make you rich…but banking on electricity storage to swell your fortunes is still, sadly, uncertain.

Musk has set the pot boiling

Fri, 05/22/2015 - 10:58 -- Gerry Woolf

It’s funny how us lesser beings can pursue a technical topic till we’re blue in the face and no one seems to take any notice. Electrical Energy Storage is just one such topic.

I feel passionately about this because I was inspired to launch BEST magazine nearly 13 years ago based on what I’d heard from the great and the good from the US Electricity Storage Associations’ meetings at the end of the last century… people like Phil Symonds, Garth Corey, Brad Roberts and others could see the future and it made sense to me as a journalist covering the battery field.

It seems a long time ago and many people have put in huge amounts of effort to achieve… well not as much as we’d hoped for. Then a technology Rock Star like Elon Musk speaks and the world changes. Now every news hack across the globe is writing about energy storage and with luck it won’t go away.

Musk’s announcement is self-serving but it helps all battery makers and all chemistries, including good old lead-acid.

The much-hyped Tesla Giga factory in Nevada needs a rapid ramp up in output if the battery pack cost reductions Musk hopes for in his electric car programme is to happen.

Diversification into domestic electricity storage could help and with a much-mentioned US$800m in orders, well it’s a start.

Of course, it also means a rapid ramp-up for the whole of Tesla’s supply chain— more separator, more electrolyte, more electrode foils— in short, a massive increase in risk for all concerned. It’s what the USA has been good at in the past— in terms of technology— when a goal is set and the resources marshalled accordingly. But lithium-ion is not the only choice. Lead-acid still has a future in this market, if it gets its marketing right and the whole of the supply, installation and finance chain. Musk is doing the battery industry a favour but how many of you will capitalise on it?

We’ll see if that’s happening. I’ll be reporting from the Electricity Storage Association’s event in Dallas this week and more importantly from the Intersolar show in Munich in early June. We’ll be picking up on the best. If you want to tell the world what you’re doing… ESPL is a key route for doing it. Contact me.

Apple Electric Car? B*ll*cks !

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 10:09 -- Gerry Woolf

Short of a definitive announcement from the company, you can take all the stories about Apple coming up with electric car any time soon as total bollocks and a figment of a flaccid and useless mainstream press adding up one and one and making it 27.

'Poaching' a few execs from the once bright hope of A123 Systems is hardly an indicator:  A company whose existence is now so perilously dependent on batteries would be foolish not to beef up its electrochemical knowledge base and the breakthroughs needed are more likely to come in the area of thin film batteries, which are showing the kind of promise needed for electronic 'wearables'.

A company which is still clearly a 'one man band' in the form of the departed Steve Jobs has not come up with anything more remarkable than size variants on the device which he once envisaged— the iPhone.  And make no mistake, here at ESPL, we’re Apple fans, having got this business off the ground on Apple’s desktop computers which are easy to use, easy to customise and downright reliable.

Jobs was bold, but I don’t think even this far sighted soul would have been audacious enough to take on the extremely difficult task of improving battery energy density, life and cost— even with the US$160 billion cash pile Apple currently has.

And I’ve never seen an Apple delegate on the lists of recent battery events (though I did meet a guy from Google (not that they needed to come)).

The apocryphal tales of how Jobs and friends came up with the iPhone concept are well known, and not difficult to imagine. More than a decade ago, they pulled out their keyboard-driven devices from their pockets and collectively thought 'these are crap' —unwieldy interfaces and little extendable functionality (no apps).

One suspects the deceased Jobs and the effete Sir Jonathon Ive would have remarkable respect for today’s auto engineers and designers.  Any fool watching automobile ads in the USA and elsewhere could identify a key theme— more and more safety, which means more and more sensors, more electronics and a role for firms like Apple, Google and though its painful to say— Microsoft—to pull it all together.

But building a new electric drivetrain? The salutary lessons already being learned by the German auto industry should be enough— working on your own does not bring the performance and productivity gains you need to make affordable and saleable electric vehicles to the masses. And a lot of the problem still lays in the electrochemistry— the fundamentals— not the batteries, which are based on applied understanding. Read our write ups of the European AABC meeting in Mainz and the US Nattbat meeting in Phoenix in the Spring issue of BEST and judge for yourself— click here for a paid subscription, it's very affordable battery knowledge you need.

The editor’s take

Mon, 02/02/2015 - 17:17 -- Gerry Woolf

AABC: Lead is far from dead again and nobody else is making money!

There’s a plethora of hybrid, pure electrics and plug in electrics now available from German manufacturers— more than 60 variants but nobody is buying— well not in any serious numbers.

But they’re still buying cars in Europe and a lot of them have stop-start systems in them and the customers don't have a choice on that.

And that, probably, is all you need to know, if you’re thinking about entering the near ‘Kamikazi’ advanced automotive battery market— DON'T!

The reason? You’ll find it hard to get costs down to under US$200/kW by the time you’ve done all your testing and development and built battery pack on your own, which is what the car industry needs.

But strangely enough, when someone has (Elon Musk and Tesla) do the rest of the industry give the man and the company a well deserved pat-on-the-back and an admission of “ maybe you gotta point there” (a battery pack built with  a myriad of 18650 cells works and comes in under budget)? Of course not. This writer thinks battery Guru Anderman alluded to this, slightly but NO, not the German auto industry. No, the build quality of the battery pack was not quite up to German industry build standards— a few spots of dodgy welding here and there, too complicated with so many cells. No not even “it's a good try Elon.”

Very churlish of the Germans, we thought here at BEST.

We feel Robert Goddard, the US pioneer of modern rocketry would have sent Werner Von Braun, the designer of infamous V2 ballistic missile a “well done” in having got the world’s first ballistic missile off the ground! Shame about the purpose though.

Wouldn’t it be really strange if VW and the others actually introduce an electric vehicle in the next two years, buying into Musk’s mega 18650 factory capability?

And that wouldn’t surprise this writer in the least. Because when it comes to battery system development, it seems German production engineering is completely beaten on getting prices down further— unless there’s more standardisation and collaboration— a real German VOLKSWAGEN, if you get my drift. An Audi or BMW on the outside but pretty much the same under the hood. Not good for battery innovation but it might lead to affordable electric cars.

Other Germans were much more encouraging, even toward the ‘ugly duckling’ of lead-acid.

Eckhard Karden, Ford Eurorpe’s battery wizz, had only good things to say about the first generation stop-start technology— lead-acid. And it means it will still be there in the next generation too, well beyond 2025. But it won’t be alone. Quite what lead-acid will be sharing its bed with will be part of this author’s AABC write up in the Spring issue of BEST. To guarantee receiving a copy, click here and subscribe. It’s a tiny fraction of $1500.00! 

Musk was right… now make it happen

Mon, 11/03/2014 - 09:28 -- Gerry Woolf
Elon Musk

What’s your definition of good engineering? Mine would include making use of the stuff that’s already there, cannibalising (if necessary) existing kit to make what I need or want to try. That’s what I learned as a kid messing around with electronics half a century ago and I’m glad to say it's a philosophy that rings true with some of the best minds out there today.

When I met the battery team behind the Tesla, some years back, I was wowed by the fact that they had taken the same view, using what’s out there to make a product – the 18650 cell design. Because it was already there in large numbers, it had a good safety case and the computer industry has done much to cover the costs of performance enhancements.

But Tesla has stood alone in its thinking – not that that has done it any harm.

Now someone with considerably more battery kudos than myself – one Menahem Anderman, battery guru to the auto industry, has crunched the numbers – and what do you know?

Tesla has the patents, the know-how and the experience to build battery packs with very large numbers of cells and against all the so-called ‘sensible manufacturing thinking’, they do OK. And……

Mr Elon Musk and friends were on the right lines all along – if you are prepared to take the risk and build a stonking great lithium-ion plant and ramp up production over the next ten years, which they plan to do.

But what if a few other automakers got smart and decided to share Tesla’s battery vision?

Well the risk would be shared and costs reduced but the up-shot is affordable, pure electric cars with half decent range could be available almost tomorrow because they’d be using a common platform – not too different, conceptually, from the common IC platforms you see being used by GM and VW to name two, across their auto ranges.

Everything else is just styling and marketing.

Directing the auto industry to do something different is a tough game and only something as large as the European Union can do that from the outside. Musk could just be, from almost out of nowhere, as influential on automotive manufacture as Jobs was to the mobile phone market, because before the iPhone (and its imitators), mobile phones were rubbish.

If Musk is right, there will be plenty of winners, right across the battery industry. Buying Dr A’s report confirms the obvious, but your financial people ought to see the charts.

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Seriously missing Google

Mon, 06/30/2014 - 09:27 -- Gerry Woolf

My friends ask me what I miss about home when I’m working in China. These days, instant messaging and Skype make contact with friends, family and the office in the UK easy enough.

Sadly my dogs cannot email, but thing I really miss is Google.

It’s only the absence of Google that makes you realise just how dependent we’ve become on it and how valuable it is, from doing that quick bit of rough and ready research to acting as the antidote to perhaps the early stages of Alzheimer’s —“ I just can’t remember when that happened so I’ll look it up on Google”.

All other search engines pall into insignificance. The Chinese have Waibu but I’m afraid I can read Chinese script yet and the western offerings like Yahoo and Bing are, in my humble opinion, not in the same league.

Google’s withdrawal from China, now almost in its fourth year, is regrettable on both sides. It goes further than the search engine.  Travel on any train in China, go into any gathering place and you will see young Chinese totally heads down and engaged with their smart phone or tablet device.

A good many are Apple devices, but an equally large number are Android and it’s the latter group who are disadvantaged. Build an app for both systems and you can test functionality.  And while the Android version will download in China, it will not work there.  Android devices can only obtain their apps in China for a limited number of Government regulated stores. Not surprisingly the numbers of Apps are limited a few games but not much more.

In launching our Apple-based app for Chinese BEST,  ESPL went through an extraordinarily drawn-out approval process. And not surprisingly. Chinese BEST is a publication. It could be a source of potentially seditious material — or porn. It’s neither.

Apple, rigorous, compliant and mindful of the importance of the Chinese market’s power does its absolute best not to offend. Google Play isn’t so favoured.

Considerable effort is expended by young tech savvy Chinese in breaking through the great Chinese firewall to access Twitter and proscribed web sites. And some I meet complain about the lack of democracy. But a one-party system that lifts half a billion out of poverty in a generation has a lot going for it, I respond. 

The real lack of freedom is a freedom of access to information and ideas Premier Li Keqiang must address, and soon.

 

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Energy storage: It’s been a long time coming

Fri, 06/06/2014 - 13:07 -- Gerry Woolf

It’s been a long time coming: this ‘energy storage’ malarkey. But visitors to this year’s Intersolar in Munich were in for a treat— a whole hall dedicated to the stuff. The Germans have been big on solar (in all its forms) for years, but lets be honest: None of the PV power coming out of the inverters on any German roof has been despatchable and the same is true for the Brits who’ve been coerced into taking a subsidy from the state to put solar on their roofs as well. It's electricity nobody can use.

Some smarter folk with money and technical know-how have managed to lash up their own residential storage with lead acid batteries and primitive control systems, raising two fingers to greedy, complacent utilities who hold them to ransom with ever steeper energy charges.

Germans, with their “Green” principles and mothballed nuclear plants, pay some of the highest costs for electricity in the world. But thanks to the Government driven 'Energiewende' programme and €30m of grants, quite a few German firms have come up with a complete solution.

One Belgian company (Leclanche) has completely re-invented itself on the back of the idea — a scalable battery system, battery management box and a purpose made tie-in that enable the user to intergrate their wind, solar and (God forbid) grid-connected supplies. Cost of ownership? Maybe just €8,000 if you’ve got solar on your roof already. Over 20 years and increasing electricity costs, it’s a decent payback.

Of course buying such a system may not be as easy as say, buying a hybrid car because the players are still building installer networks, but some players looked ahead of the game.

This writer was completely awed by Samsung, whose exhibition stand was so customer focused, a five year old would have understood the message — lead is dead (sorry guys), lithium-ion is so much better and we can offer you a beautiful slimline storage system you can hang on your wall. And you can control with an App no doubt, from your Galaxy phone?

Now when it’s got this much styling, you can safely say domestic energy storage has come of age. And if we see Apple here next year, you’ll know I’m right!

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Online, on-digital and on-target— are you?

Wed, 05/21/2014 - 15:08 -- Gerry Woolf

Phone directories. When was the last time you used one?  I remember the time you could find one in the drawer just under the TV in the Marriott but we threw them out at home years ago— a bit like conference proceedings— remember the days of telephone directory conference proceedings? And the same is true of trade directories.
 
These days we look online— for everything. Plumbers, restaurants and even separator manufacturers and battery machine makers. And that’s why ESPL has created an online battery industry directory.
 
The beauty of it is that it is never out of date… If you’re in it then you have the means to update it, change your phone numbers, sales reps, logos and anything else you can think of. To learn more click on this link which takes you straight through to the directory. It’s all part of the growing digitisation of publishing. Which is why, here at ESPL, we’re investing very heavily in digital.
 
We’re already producing three newsletters: BEST Battery Briefing, Chinese BEST Battery Briefing and Critical Power Briefing. From July the Battery Briefings goes weekly… that’s 20,000 named and opted-in contacts reading our news and information every week (and maybe seeing your advertisement?) straight to your eMail inbox.
 
This month our Chinese readers get an even better deal: they can read Chinese BEST via an App on both Android and Apple devices. No waiting around for the mail to deliver.

If you think tablets are for spoiled kids, think again!
I just bought one from another US giant (other than Apple) that does everything an iPad can do at a fraction of the price. Think how much cheaper it will be next year. Things have come a long way since Compuserve…
 
Gerry Woolf
Publisher

The curse of the ABC

Wed, 09/11/2013 - 09:24 -- Gerry Woolf
Skyline of Singapore, safe from the curse of ABC

The curse of ABC has failed to arrive: On the anniversary of 9/11

This year: no breaking news disasters; No terrorism (9/11 - Bali 2001)

No dead Royals (Diana - Bangkok 1997)

No Asian financial crash 

And no missiles anywhere. Instead, record numbers of delegates and the encouraging news that we knew already — the lead industry is pretty much in rude health and that 2/3's of the market is here in Asia. And Brian Wilson got the International Lead Medal — but not for eating cabbage fritters. Confused?  Read the BEST Battery Briefing next week to find out more as our new Editor Tim Probert brings a fresh take on the industry.

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