On Monday, Panasonic announced that it will launch mass production of long-life lithium-ion battery systems that the company has developed especially for European homes. According to Panasonic, every lithium-ion battery module has an estimated lifetime of 5000 load cycles at 80% DOD (depth of discharge) and a capacity of 1.35 kWh. Cranking up its production like this is a big decision that will certainly affect the prices of these systems.
In the press release, Panasonic pointed at Germany as the main market for its energy storage solutions designed for European homes. Germany is “of course” the world’s largest market for photovoltaic power generation and has reached consumer price parity and even grid parity in some cases this year. In accordance with this development, the country’s groundbreaking FiT for solar energy will soon be lowered below electricity prices, a change that puts the struggling solar industry in a difficult situation at the moment as small investors question the profitability of going solar.
But this change also creates huge new opportunities for storage solutions, as solar power becomes a cost saver the more people can use their own power throughout the year. It seems Panasonic has anticipated this development….
Earlier this year, Panasonic introduced a “Smart Energy Storage” system to the Japanese market. This was a development by Sanyo — a (the?) leading Japanese battery maker — which Panasonic bought in 2009 and fully integrated into its corporation as of March 2011. This is clearly a big strategic takeover by the giant Japanese electronics corporation as it focuses its future business strategy on clean tech solutions and restructure its company accordingly.
The entire system consists of a management unit that includes controls that manage energy flows and an inverter that converts direct current (DC) from solar or battery into the AC we all love for powering our gadgets at home. A battery of various sizes is then hooked into the management system to make it work. The size of the battery depends on the number of 1.35-kWh modules, but it’s mainly promoted with a 5.4 kWh capacity (4 x 1.35-kWh modules)
Panasonic at large in Germany
But this announcement is not Panasonic’s entrance into the German market. In fact, it had already partnered with a small German energy storage company that is owned by EWE, a relatively large regional utility and IT company based in northern Germany. Together, they developed the E3/DC power management and storage system, which was announced last year and went on sale earlier this year. Considering EWEs investments in e-mobility and offshore & onshore wind, and its IT background, it seems to be building its own little “smart grid empire” and Panasonic provides the enterprise with cutting-edge lithium-ion battery technology.
The E3/DC system has a usable capacity of 4.05 to 8.10 kWh and is equiped with those Sanyo/Panasonic battery modules that are now about to be mass produced. It has a maximum power output of 4 kW, which is more than enough for an average German household. They are also developing a system that can be used in apartment buildings, a missing link for the “solarization” of cities here in Germany and elsewhere.
How fast will Panasonic’s move to start mass production reduce prices? Only time will tell.
But one thing seems certain, with prices for solar systems at their current lows and big players like Panasonic basing their corporate futures on these kind of clean tech solutions, the power grid and the world are in for a technological revolution that will shake things up even more than the rise of the internet. The only question seems to be when, or should I say how soon, this revolution will start?
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