BYD Continues To Deliver At SPI 2015 (CleanTechnica Exclusive)

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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.

Energy 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 Storage Farm. Image courtesy: BYD

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.

This one makes me smile :). Image courtesy: BYD

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.”

Image courtesy: BYD

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.

BYD Solar Street Light Installation. Image courtesy: BYD

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.

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Kyle Field

I'm a tech geek passionately in search of actionable ways to reduce the negative impact my life has on the planet, save money and reduce stress. Live intentionally, make conscious decisions, love more, act responsibly, play. The more you know, the less you need. As an activist investor, Kyle owns long term holdings in Tesla, Lightning eMotors, Arcimoto, and SolarEdge.

Kyle Field has 1638 posts and counting. See all posts by Kyle Field

31 thoughts on “BYD Continues To Deliver At SPI 2015 (CleanTechnica Exclusive)

  • um… where’s the video mentioned in your last sentence?

      • Thanks, Kyle. I appreciate authors checking in on the comments on their articles.

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        • We pulled Kyle from the comments. 😀 Or he volunteered — I forget. Probably the best way to go, I think.

      • That’s an impressive video. Is there another company who is going as ‘big’ as BYD? If they can keep quality high BYD will be a world force.

        • Elon Musk, Inc 🙂

          • Elon will need to work hard to try to get to the size of BYD, especially since they not only are quite a bit larger already but hold a higher pace too. It’s a big world and huge potential markets so both these two and lots more companies will be needed to make the change.
            Thank you for a good, interesting and correct article. Only one small thing for improvement, there is no “s” on the units like MWh, GWh, kWh, kW etc. =)

          • My guess is that over the next few years BYD will move into the group of largest global car manufacturers, more than 5 million cars per year. They’ve got scale already in several products and they have “privileged access” into what will shape up to be the world’s largest market. BYD is already over 500,000/yr.

            Tesla is likely to move into the size group that includes BMW, Mazda, Daimler, Suzuki. Roughly 1 to 2 million per year.

          • This is one of things I love about BYD…they have the scale to make a sizable impact, have a great vision and are executing well against it. I’m pushing them for more details as I really want to learn more about the work they’re doing and to share their exciting work here 🙂

          • Thanks for the correction. I’ll work on this in future pieces 🙂

          • One reason I love Kyle. Is great at taking feedback and improving. What I think CleanTechnica is all about, but hard to find people like that.

        • I really want to see BYD try to get its top electric cars to the US. Qin & Tang.

          • I agree. If I can get you a Tang in FL, would that take top position over the i3 and Model S? 😀

          • I think that is *way* down on their priority list. Meeting persnickety US test standards is not what they want to spend their time on — it took them long enough to do it for the buses, and that was a market where there was a large opening. And as you noted in the solar panel area, they prefer fleet sales.

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      • Thanks Kyle – great video.

      • Thanks, Kyle. And sorry, not sure what happened to that. Added again now.

        • No worries and thanks for the update 🙂

  • The truck class ratings you cite are peculiar to the USA (link). Class 4 is ca. 6 tonnes gross weight, Class 8 is the giant 18-wheelers. So BYD are working on the full truck range.

    • Thanks for that information!
      Very glad they are working on the big ones. Those are the most important to switch to electric.

      • What’s the distribution by total milage? The big rigs do more per day, but there are far more of the smaller ones. Besides, health is an objective as well as cutting carbon emissions, and it’s the smaller trucks and vans that contribute most to urban air pollution.

        • Furthermore, the benefits of electric are highest on start-stop duty cycles.

          Diesels are actually relatively efficient for a long highway run… they’re just awful for start-stop traffic. Financially and environmentally, it makes sense to take out the low-hanging fruit first, and that’s the local trucks which start and stop a lot.

  • where are TESLA electric busses

    • I think they’re just getting started with cars, but I don’t know if they want to go that way or to the Powerwall. They’re tiny compared to BYD though.

      • Other companies are going to have the bus market sewn up well before Tesla considers getting into it. The same is probably true of the larger truck classes.

        On the other hand, there’s a huge gap in the market: pickup trucks. I think Tesla might be able to make a serious move into electric pickup trucks before any other manufacturer gets there.

  • Commercial EVs (trucks for this discussion) have a tremendous potential to change our energy use picture. Cars are important of course, but truck mileage far overshadows personal vehicle miles.

    Have tried to research what commercial EV prospects look like, but am coming up rather discouraged. Coke seems to be going EV a bit, some delivery trucks in the New York area but not much other info out there. Anyone have some other sources of info?

    • UPS, FedEX and the Post Office are running some battery powered and hybrid delivery vehicles. As is Pepsi, I believe. The CEO had high praise for the potential of electric trucks.

      There are a number of electric trucks at work in shipping yards, moving containers to and from the ship loading cranes.

      Here are some things I copied down some time back…

      This is 2011 –

      “Last November, office supply giant Staples, Inc., of Framingham, Mass., added 41 new all-electric Class 6 Smith Newton delivery trucks to its fleet of 2,000 vehicles in North America.”

      “UPS said in 2011 that it was acquiring 100 battery-electric delivery trucks for its

      California operations and has now put the proverbial rubber to the road.

      The delivery-service giant has deployed those 100 electric vehicles in the Sacramento, San Bernardino, Bakersfield and Fresno areas. All told, the vehicles, which have a 75-mile single-charge range, should help UPS cut diesel-fuel use by about 126,000 gallons a year. UPS operates more than 2,500 alt-fuel vehicles in the US and acquired these from Stockton, CA-based Electric Vehicles International.

      UPS isn’t the only company that is putting plugs on delivery vans. Amp recently began testing a medium duty van because, as Amp CEO told Autoblog Green, getting the diesel out of the delivery can be an effective way to cut fuel use because of those vehicles’ high mileage use and city-driving patterns. Last year, UPS competitor FedEx said it was more than doubling its all-electric fleet to 43 vehicles from 19”

      Teva Trucks

      FedEX Electric Trucks

      Fred Smith, CEO of FedEX during NPR interview…

      “An all-electric pickup and delivery van will operate at a 75 percent less per-mile cost than an internal combustion engine variant,” he says. “Now, I didn’t say 7 1/2 percent — [I said] 75 percent. These are big numbers.”

      Smith points out that the vehicles would be charged in off-peak hours, minimizing the need for additional power plants. Battery life and cost remain a challenge, but Smith is optimistic.

      “I think in three or four years you will have a battery vehicle with a range that’s probably double what it has today — a couple of hundred miles versus a hundred miles — and it’ll probably be 25 percent to 40 percent cheaper than [it] currently is.”

  • China’s racing ahead of us technologically.

    That’s OK, just as it was OK for Britain when the US raced ahead of it. Sometimes being conservative is better. It’s just worth being aware of, since many people have a knee-jerk “USA #1” reaction.

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