A big next-generation battery will soon be hooked up to a solar system in Hawaii, providing a glimpse into the future of what is possible when it comes to storing energy from the sun. This week startup Aquion Energy announced that it has entered into a deal with a private estate owner to install 1 megawatt hour worth of batteries near a solar system on the Kona coast of the island of Hawaii.
The deal is one of the biggest to date for Aquion Energy, which started shipping its batteries to customers in 2014, but mostly smaller systems in the hundreds of kilowatt hour scale. When I visited their factory in West Pennsylvania last Summer, the company had made and was in the process of shipping to customers, about 2 MWh worth of batteries.
The estate, called the Bakken Hale, will use the solar system and batteries to create its own microgrid and operate independently from the island’s power grid. Hawaii has some of the most expensive electricity in the world, making clean power options like solar and wind and new battery technologies more attractive.
Eight-year-old Aquion makes a battery from a combination of nontoxic materials including salt water, carbon and manganese oxide. The original technology was invented by Carnegie Mellon professor Jay Whitacre, Aquion Energy’s founder and CTO, and funded early on by venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins. The simple production and low cost materials mean Aquion’s battery can start selling its batteries for $500 per kWh (on par with lead acid batteries), eventually dropping that price down to $350 per kWh by the end of 2015 and under $200 per kWh by 2020.
Aquion’s factory is the first of its kind from a startup at this scale. The energy storage market will potentially be worth tens of billions of dollars in the coming years and solar companies are aggressively looking to provide batteries to customers as a new energy option.
Aquion has raised over $100 million to get its batteries to market, including financing from family offices and international investors Tao Invest (the fund of billionaire family the Prizkers, who also own Hyatt hotels), Hong Kong–based fund Yung’s Enterprise and Russian firm Bright Capital, as well as high-profile billionaire and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates.