Here at CleanTechnica, we regularly cover BYD’s electric buses and its electric cars, so I was excited at the chance to get more detail on its work in the utility-scale storage space and its photovoltaic (PV) solar modules when I attended Solar Power International for CleanTechnica last month.
EVs were represented at the show as well, but not much more than a footnote in the back corner of their booth. That piqued my curiosity, so I sat down with a few BYD experts to get the dirt on their battery products, and even pulled in some exciting updates about their current and future electric vehicle offerings.
First, a quick primer on BYD from its website for those less familiar. BYD is:
“A leading provider of new energy solutions in Solar Power, Energy Storage, Transportation and LED Lighting, our organization is committed to attaining a Zero Emission Energy Ecosystem through its “3 Green Dreams” strategy – an affordable solution combining efficient Solar Power Generation, cutting-edge Energy Storage Solutions and Usage of Renewable Energy chiefly in Electrified Transportation.”
I sat down over a can of Coke with Michael Liu of BYD America to dig into the specifics of their battery business. He shared that BYD not only produces its own branded products but, much like Foxconn, also produces many branded batteries and electronics (what?!) for other companies. For example, BYD makes the HTC One, Nokia Lumia, and some Ryobi power tools. It also makes branded battery products for Amazon Basics, Energizer, and IKEA. In other words, it is not just a battery company with its own products that decided to dip into EVs… but it is truly a powerhouse in the world of electronics worldwide, with a commanding presence in battery storage.
BYD dedicated a good percentage of its booth to a wall display of some of its recent utility-scale battery storage, which isn’t much to look at — as with most utility-scale storage solutions, BYD fills conventional shipping containers with racks on either side of the interior, then loads them with batteries. That makes sense, and it has never been the aesthetics of storage that have been interesting – but rather, the production capacity, chemistry, pricing, and customer orders are what’s most exciting.
BYD has installed 100 MWhs of utility-scale battery storage in 2015 to date, with the majority of that in the northeastern United States, with a total of ~200 MWhs of installed capacity out in the field. Obviously, it is just getting started in this game, but where is it going? How serious is BYD?
Over on the manufacturing side, BYD currently has a total of 10 GWhs of annual battery production capacity, of which 6 GWhs was added in 2015 alone (read: rapid growth). Further, it has plans to add another 6 GWhs of production capacity in 2016. It’s great to see that Tesla isn’t the only big player looking towards the future and building out battery production capacity at volumes that can support significant numbers of EVs and utility-scale storage.
For chemistry, BYD is using a lithium-iron-phosphate (aka Lithium Ferro Phosphata or LFP) chemistry and delivering it at pricing that’s very competitive with the broader bulk storage market. Utility-scale storage might not be the most exciting tech to look at (okay, fine, it’s boring), but it is a critical piece of the puzzle in our journey towards a world powered by renewable energy, and BYD is pushing hard into the space.
BYD Photovoltaic Solar Modules
Being that SPI is all about solar and that BYD always seems to have something new and exciting up its sleeve, it’s no surprise that it was showing off its very own glass-laminate solar PV modules. These modules were good looking, with the wiring coming off the top of the panel, which enables faster connections during installation while at the same time keeping the look nice and clean. I left my Coke behind and jumped over to talk with Matthew Jurjevich of BYD America Corp, who shared that the move to glass-laminate modules has also made a noticeable improvement in “potential induced degradation” (aka PID).
Here’s a bit about PID from Advanced Energy (for the uninitiated):
“Potential Induced Degradation, as the designation implies, occurs when the module’s voltage potential and leakage current drive ion mobility within the module between the semiconductor material and other elements of the module (e.g. glass, mount and frame)…thus causing the module’s power output capacity to degrade.”
BYD currently has 1 GW of PV production capacity, so it obviously has some serious skin in the game. Matt also shed some light on why its PV business might not get as much press as some of the other big players: BYD does not make a big push to sell or advertise its PV modules directly to end users but is focused much more heavily on partnering with larger installers, developers, and service providers to directly source them en masse for larger projects. This allows BYD to produce at high volumes and lock in big deals, all while keeping advertising costs low.
BYD also had a unique off-grid combo PV panel with integrated storage LED streetlights. This seems like a great bolt-on option for areas where lighting is desired but lacking grid connectivity. The light was extremely bright (making it difficult to get good pics) and it was a nice package, though I did not push for pricing details.
Everything You Wanted to Know about BYD’s EVs
I’m saving the best for last here because I’m really excited about what BYD is doing and how it is doing when it comes to its electric vehicle business. Today, for the US market, BYD primarily focuses its EV sales on fleet buyers. It is, in fact, assembling these electric vehicles in Lancaster, California, just 75 miles outside of Los Angeles in sunny Southern California. Given how heavy batteries are, it makes sense to assemble them near where the buses are sold, but it still feels like a significant statement that it is planning to push significant volume of buses in the US. In addition to electric buses, BYD sells its e6 passenger car to fleet buyers for use as taxis.
The most exciting news from BYD came when we started talking about what’s new for the year and what’s coming. Last year, CleanTechnica shared that BYD is already building Class 4-8 electric trucks (think FedEx delivery trucks, garbage trucks) in China and working to bring them to the US, both via direct shipments and the Lancaster plant. This is exciting to me, as this range of trucks has always felt like a great pairing with other EVs given that they are already fairly heavy — meaning the addition of batteries could be absorbed into the overall equation with less loss. Current models typically run on diesel, which has been linked to increased cancer rates in California. With relatively short routes, and very predictable routes, electric versions can be sized accordingly. I’m pushing for more concrete details here, so stay tuned for more on their electric trucks.
BYD also sells electric cars that normal people can buy/drive, but it is focusing its current efforts on fleet sales in the US, meaning you may not see the BYD Qin or the BYD Tang driving next to you in the US this year, but who’s to say what the future holds?
I pushed Matt for details on when they would be bringing cars, service centers, etc, to the US market for consumer sales and he reiterated their policy of only talking about current results – which I respect (chock up another point for BYD!). Maybe next time. 😀
Here’s a neat video covering much of the work BYD is doing in these exciting fields.