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That customer interaction has led Vivint to plot some interesting linkages between its solar business and its home automation line, Serra said. For example, “Right now, we use the homeowners’ broadband to monitor the panels and the power produced,” he said. “Every month, we send the homeowners a bill for the amount of solar power they use … and we monitor in real-time to make sure the array is working.”

Just how much energy storage California will need to achieve its goal of getting a third of its energy from renewable sources by 2020 is a matter of some debate. The vast majority of that renewable power will come in the form of wind and solar, which are both intermittent in nature.

As these technologies grow into double-digit penetration on the grid, they’re expected to need careful management by utilities seeking to balance them. While weather and load forecasting, smart inverters, demand response and other smart grid-enabled technologies can handle some of the intermittency, much of it must be backed up with real power, either with natural gas-fired peaker plants or with energy storage.

An analyst at Stifel Nicolaus has estimated that A123 will need to raise $75 million by the fourth quarter of 2012 and another $200 million in 2013 to fund its ongoing operations. While the $50 million debt deal helps satisfy the company’s short-term cash needs, it could also cause longer-term harm to the company’s share price due to the terms of the deal, according to John Anderson, writing at Seeking Alpha.

The company has also faced questions from U.S. Senators Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and John Thune, R-SD, as to whether it should continue to maintain access to its $249 million Department of Energy loan guarantee in the face of its recall and uncertain financial position. A123 has about $120 million left of the $249.1 million grant, and in April received a two-year extension on its deadline to spend the money.

In June, at Intersolar Europe, Shyam Mehta observed an increasing trend of solar products paired with energy storage technologies from vendors such as SolarWorld, Samsung, BYD, Aleo Solar, centrosolar, Bosch/Voltwerk, and Kyocera. Most vendors were focusing on the battery management system, as well as the batteries themselves. Non-Chinese suppliers in high-cost regions were attempting to counter the ongoing commoditization of “plain-vanilla” solar with something, anything, that provides differentiation.

Solar balancing via energy storage is being attempted in the tens of megawatts scale around the globe, but it’s all in pilot projects, backed by the likes of the Department of Energy’s SunShot program, aimed at bringing total solar costs to  $1 per watt by decade’s end. Companies like General Electric, A123, Saft, LG Chem, Kokam, AltairNano, Xtreme Power and Greensmith are doing solar-storage projects tracked by DOE’s SEGIS program, and similar government-utility partnerships are driving solar storage in China, Japan and Europe.

I talked to Baxter, Minn.-based Silent Power in 2009, when CEO Todd Headlee described a plan to give utilities control over lots of batteries connected to residential solar systems for grid balancing. Silent Power was piloting the concept at the time, Headlee said, though he remained silent about which battery and solar companies it might partner with to get to market.

When you look at the details, it turns out that the only thing worth losing any sleep over is lithium. Here I was slightly concerned, as it’s one material that’s not already used in huge quantities. A USGS estimate puts lithium reserves at 10 million tons.

That’d be a bit close for comfort! That was back in the 1970s, though — a more recent study by Evans put the figure at 30 million tons. That’s a bit better, but still tight (as you see above, 1.5 billion cars). But now, SQM estimates reserves may exceed 60 million tons! The evolution is outlined in this report, and the reason is clear. With USGS reserves already at 10 million tons, and annual demand currently only around 0.034 million tons, we have enough known reserves for 300 years at current extraction rates.

First up is Eos Energy Storage, a startup developing rechargeable zinc-air energy storage technology, which raised another $2.97 million in venture capital funding this week, according to Cleantech Group, which cited a regulatory filing.

The newest fundraising brings the Easton, Penn.-based startup’s total funding to $11.9 million out of a goal of $20 million. Eos raised $1.8 million in December, raised its total to $5.5 million later that month, increased that total to $5.9 million in March, and raised $1.25 million in May, according to reports.

The vision was to bring a team of volunteers into Port-au-Prince, Haiti, to install a 50-kilowatt photovoltaic (PV) system on the roof of an orphanage in just one week. Most seasoned commercial PV installers in the U.S. would likely budget three weeks for such a project — and that’s with a skilled crew and access to tools and electrical equipment.

While China’s market structure is the biggest barrier to energy storage, the government’s will to win appears resolute enough to overcome these difficulties. The central government has made it clear that it intends to pursue energy storage and batteries as part of the same set of national industrial policies that have helped other renewable energy sources achieve scale in the country.

In the short term, this will likely lead to a number of additional demonstration projects, some of which may have the same scale and impact as the Zhangbei project. Though many may dismiss the market for pre-commercial technologies as unappealing, the size of these projects and growth rate they could represent will make them just as interesting for players in the industry as their forerunners in wind and solar before those fields achieved commercial scale.

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