US lead battery usage in ESS falls, but upturn possible

A GTM Research report in September says lead-acid battery energy storage systems deployed in the US took up just 0.5% of the total amount of deployed storage in the country in the second quarter of the year.

Although lithium-ion was by far the leading chemistry, it dipped slightly below 95% for the first time since Q3 2015, and vanadium redox flow batteries held 5% of the market share.

It was the 11th consecutive quarter that lithium-ion should dominate the energy storage market, holding 94.2%. And while most utility-scale projects used the newer chemistry, the behind-the-meter segment also favoured it, and the trend, according to the report, was expected to continue.

Alistair Davidson, director for products and sustainability at the International Lead Association, said this trend was not set in stone.

“There are a growing number of projects using lead batteries,” he said, including ALABC demonstration projects using lead batteries for frequency regulation and microgrids in Canada and the USA.

“In addition, ALABC members have installed a number of projects all over the world in this sector, but more work is needed to communicate the benefits of lead batteries, as we believe that lead batteries provide an excellent option in renewable and utility energy storage applications.”

UK company PowerVault is one example of an increasingly rare breed of firms that makes lead-acid storage systems, and has no plans to stop doing so, but it also makes lithium and has adapted its systems so that consumers can make the change themselves.

Business development manager Caroline Wood said consumers were savvy when it came to choosing which chemistry to go for.

“Lead is much cheaper, so for customers who are impatient to get storage the lead option is for them. But because our system is upgradable they can change to lithium-ion in the future, so when the life of the lead battery is over — between five and seven years later — they hope the price of lithium will have come down, and they can upgrade to that.”

Lithium-ion batteries have a life of between 10 and 15 years, said Wood.

“R&D work of ALABC and its member companies has highlighted the performance strengths of lead batteries in terms of improved shallow cycle performance, cycle life, calendar life and energy density,” said Davidson.

“When you couple this with the 99% end-of-life collection and recycling, unrivalled safety and reliability, these markets provide a significant market for lead batteries in the future.”