The unnerving capability of lithium ion batteries to catch on fire emerged as headline news last month, as Boeing was forced to ground its futuristic
787 Dreamliner FLEET after two batteries caught on fire. But the next generation of lithium ion batteries are promising to be safer, and a few of them are already starting to be used in real-world situations in the power grid, electric vehicles and gadgets.
Six-year-old startup Seeo — which is backed by Vinod Khosla, Google Ventures and others — has installed its first battery system to act as energy storage in conjunction with a solar panel system developed by SunEdison, according to Seeo CEO Hal Zarem. The solar battery installation is a trial for now, but a sizable one: on the level of kilowatts and tens of kilowatts, explained Zarem. For comparison’s sake, the Nissan LEAF uses a 24 kilowatt hour battery, while an average cell phone will use 2,000 to 3,000 milliamp hour batteries (far smaller than a kilowatt hour of capacity).
Batteries, like the one Seeo has installed for SunEdison’s solar system, can act as storage for the energy produced by solar panels, so that when the sun goes down (or behind a cloud) the battery can then offer up the stored power. Utilities, building owners and even home owners are starting to see the benefits of having battery storage systems connected to solar systems, because power can be far more smooth and reliable. Likewise solar installer SolarCity has been working with Tesla’s batteries to sell a home battery system with its solar panels in certain markets.