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The Green Triple Play: Solar, Batteries, Electric Cars

A pilot project at a Ford factory that combines a small solar PV installation, a block of energy storage, and a handful of electric car batteries, has been turned on in Michigan — think about it as the triple play for clean power. The project is courtesy of Ford, solar company DTE Energy and energy storage startup Xtreme Power.

The solar panels (just 500 kilowatts) were installed by DTE Enery at Ford’s Michigan assembly plant and the solar electricity will help power the factory, which will be manufacturing Ford’s new Focus Electric and other plug-in cars (see our video of the Ford Fit EV below).

The more unusual part of the set up is Xtreme Power’s battery installation, which will provide 750-kilowatts of energy storage, and which will be combined with the company’s dynamic energy storage management system. Part of the energy storage system will also be used to test out how Ford can reuse electric vehicle batteries for grid energy storage. That’s one of the first times I’ve heard about a car company actually moving forward on testing this out.

Xtreme Power is a 7-year-old company with a grand plan to building clumps of batteries connected to clean power projects, and then supply its management system to control the storage use. One of Xtreme’s biggest contracts is to build a 10-megawatt storage system meant to back up a 30-megawatt wind farm planned for the Hawaiian island of Oahu. The developer of the wind project, First Wind, recently received a $117 million Department of Energy loan guarantee, and Xtreme Power says it will be managing not only its battery, but the entire wind farm’s output via its own smart grid network.

Xtreme describes its PowerCell battery chemistry as a “chemical capacitor” that can beat lithium ion batteries in terms of energy storage, efficiency, cycle life and cost. The technology was born out of a 1990?s joint venture between Ford Aerospace and defense contractor Tracor that was shelved after its target market — California’s zero-emissions vehicle fleet — collapsed in the wake of the state’s decision to back off its ZEV mandate.

Xtreme bought the technology in 2004 and put its first 500-kilowatt PowerCell in place at the South Pole Telescope, an extreme environment to be sure, in 2007. Since then, it has also tested a 1.5-megawatt PowerCell at another 30-megawatt wind project on the island of Maui, and has been working with the transmission hub project called Tres Amigas.

Xtreme is already backed by over $40 million from investors including Sail Venture Partners and the state-run Texas Emerging Technology Fund. The company told us last year that it’s been seeking financing for a $425 million plant that would roll out an eventual 2 gigawatts of batteries per year to be used to provide energy storage for the power grid.

Xtreme is quieter on how much its battery tech costs, but Sam Jaffe, analyst at IDC Energy Insights, told us that Xtreme has been targeting around $500 per kilowatt-hour as a profitable price point for grid storage systems, though he expects the Hawaii project to exceed that, given its novelty.

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