Beleaguered GE Hopes Energy Storage Is Its Next Big Business

03/07/18 06:14 AM EST
By Erin Ailworth 

HOUSTON -- General Electric Co. plans to unveil a new battery platform Wednesday as it seeks to become a leader in the emerging market of storing electricity.

GE is set to announce a giant battery platform called GE Reservoir that can store power generated by wind turbines and solar panels for later use. It can also be used to add jolts of power when needed to stabilize voltage and frequency on the electric grid.

The battery storage market, currently tiny, is expected to grow considerably in the next decade -- and already features big-name competitors including Tesla Inc., which deployed an enormous battery system in Australia last year. Siemens AG paired with AES Corp. last year to launch Fluence Energy LLC, a joint venture that is building what is expected to be the world's largest lithium-ion battery in California.

"Energy storage is like a Swiss Army knife -- there are so many things you can do with it," Eric Gebhardt, vice president and strategic technology officer at GE Power, who is scheduled to talk about batteries at the CERAWeek energy conference here Thursday. The battery being unveiled -- a 1.2 megawatt unit -- is the first in a series GE plans to launch under the Reservoir platform.

This isn't GE's first attempt to turn batteries into a big business. The company tried making battery cells several years ago but abandoned the effort when it couldn't compete with the dominant technology, lithium-ion batteries. GE then turned its attention to selling battery systems via a subsidiary called Current. It recently revamped that business, creating a stand-alone battery unit within the GE Power division.

Success would be a needed boost for the struggling conglomerate, which is in the middle of restructuring and said last week it would overhaul its board. GE is seeking access to a market that Navigant Research predicts will generate tens of billions of dollars in revenue in the next decade or so.

One of GE's biggest challenges will be differentiating its battery products from those offered by competitors like Fluence. Mr. Gebhardt said GE will seek to leverage its vast footprint in electricity to build its battery business.

Battery storage is expected to grow in part because prices have dropped sharply in recent years, as rechargeable batteries have become ubiquitous in products such as laptops and smartphones. Lithium-ion battery packs that cost $1,000 per kilowatt-hour at the start of the decade now cost between $250 to $300 per kilowatt-hour, said Ravi Manghani, director of energy storage at GTM Research.

GTM forecasts that from the end of 2017 through 2023, the amount of storage connected to the power grid will multiply by more than 25 times. It estimates Fluence is the current market leader.

"There's a lot of excitement and hence we are seeing all these companies enter the storage space now," Mr. Manghani said. "The question, of course, is who survives and who doesn't?"


(END) Dow Jones Newswires

March 07, 2018 06:14 ET (11:14 GMT)

Copyright (c) 2018 Dow Jones & Company, Inc.