Sandia LabNews

Battert system finds market niche

Battery-based energy storage system grows into multimillion-dollar industry

Garth Corey (6251) feels somewhat like a proud parent. His child — a battery-based energy storage system he helped develop in the mid-1990s — has grown into a multimillion-dollar industry.

Today he watches as large semiconductor wafer manufacturing plants, pharmaceutical companies, power utilities, and credit card companies around the world adopt the technology.

The system, originally called PQ2000 Power Quality Supply System and now sold as the PureWave Uninterruptible Power System (UPS) by S&C Electric Co. in East Troy, Wis., is made up of hundreds of ordinary lead acid truck batteries that store energy. It also has a sensing device that monitors a power line for voltage sags, swells, or momentary interruptions.

When the system senses something amiss, it transfers the load in less than four milliseconds to stored battery energy. This acts as a high-power voltage source for a minimum of 30 seconds before returning the equipment to normal power service as the momentary disturbance passes. If the interruption continues, a diesel generator or other backup power source will kick in.

"This technology is of particular interest to industries that can’t afford to have power disturbances of any sort," Garth says. "For example, a utility power voltage sag can cause hundreds of thousands of dollars of loss in the blink of an eye for semiconductor wafer manufacturers."

Some of the world’s leading wafer manufacturers are purchasing PureWave for their fabrication units, including one in Rio Rancho, N.M.; STMicroelectronics, which has fabrication installations in Europe, North America, and Asia; and Tower Semiconductor in Israel. Other industries — a major pharmaceutical company in Puerto Rico; Discover Card; American Electric Power; and a Sears Teleserve data center in Mobile, Ala. — are all using the technology.

The PureWave system is a modular design that can be combined for large systems. The system in Rio Rancho is 16 megawatts while one at STMicroelectronics in Phoenix is 10 megawatts.

The system is seen as a way of correcting voltage sags and short outages caused by utility equipment malfunctions, lightning, fallen poles, and tree or animal contact with lines. Power outages and other power quality disturbances cost the US economy more than $119 billion annually, according to a recently released study sponsored by the Electric Power Research Institute Consortium for Electric Infrastructure to Support a Digital Society (CEIDS).

Garth says PQ2000, now PureWave, started out as an idea following an industrial meeting in 1994. He and several others in the energy storage business sat around a coffee table in a hotel lobby and had a vision.

"We came up with the concept of combining a sensing device with battery-based energy storage," Garth recalls. "It had never been done successfully before."

DOE provided $470,000 for initial research. Garth was involved in the early design efforts, working closely with Omnion Power, AC Battery Corp. (East Troy, Wis.), Electric Power Research Institute (Palo Alto, Calif.), Oglethorpe Power Corp. (Tucker, Ga.), and Pacific Gas and Electric Co. (San Ramon, Calif.). The research efforts earned Garth and the external team an R&D 100 award in 1997.

"We wanted to do the research and development fast so we could quickly have a product," Garth says. "DOE provided the base funding to start the work. Without the startup money, the project probably never would have gotten off the ground and there would never have been a new industry created."

Currently S&C Electric Co. is the only company in the world manufacturing and selling this type of system.

In the short time the battery-based energy storage system has been commercialized, it has survived several corporate restructurings. Omnion Power Engineering, with assistance by Garth, did the original design of the PQ2000. General Motors Delphi Division invested in the product’s development because the company’s batteries were used in the system. General Motors then bought the product line and formed a new company, AC Battery, to finish the commercialization and take it to market. In 1997 General Motors sold the product line back to Omnion, which launched a marketing and sales program to sell the product directly to utilities and users. Omnion formed a marketing relationship with S&C Electric in 1998. One year later S&C Electric acquired Omnion and formed the S&C Power Electronics Division.