Seeking Alpha
Long-term horizon, nano-cap, micro-cap, alternative energy
Profile| Send Message|
( followers)  

On Friday, the House of Representatives and Senate passed H.R. 1, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 and sent the bill to President Obama for his signature. The impact on companies that manufacture advanced batteries and other energy storage devices will be staggering. The principal energy storage appropriations include:

  • $2,000,000,000 for grants to manufacturers of advanced battery systems and vehicle batteries that are produced in the United States, including advanced lithium ion batteries, hybrid electrical systems, component manufacturers, and software designers;
  • $4,500,000,000 for grants for “Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability” including activities to modernize the electric grid, include demand response equipment, enhance security and reliability of the energy infrastructure, energy storage research, development, demonstration and deployment, and facilitate recovery from disruptions to the energy supply;
  • $6,000,000,000 to pay the cost of guaranteed loans under a “Temporary Program for Rapid Deployment of Renewable Energy and Electric Power Transmission Projects;”
  • $500,000,000 for research, labor exchange and job training projects that prepare workers for careers in energy efficiency and renewable energy; and
  • $300,000,000 to purchase high fuel economy motor vehicles including: hybrid vehicles; neighborhood electric vehicles; electric vehicles; and commercially available, plug-in hybrid vehicles.

In addition, the final bill includes tax credits for purchasers of plug-in electric vehicles as follows:

  • For new plug-in electric vehicles, a base credit of $2,500 plus $417 for the first 5 kWh of battery capacity plus $417 for each additional kWh of battery capacity, up to a maximum of $7,500 per vehicle;
  • For new neighborhood electric vehicles, a credit of $2,500 per vehicle;
  • For plug-in EV conversions, a credit equal to 10% of the first $40,000 in conversion costs.

Analyzing Congressional intent is difficult and predicting how regulatory agencies like the DOE will interpret that intent is even harder. Nevertheless, recent DOE publications and the text of the legislation provide some important clues about how the subsidies are likely to be distributed. So I’ll go ahead and climb out on a limb and offer one lawyer’s opinion of how things are likely to evolve.

There are substantial differences between the original House bill and the final version sent to the President. The original House bill included $2 billion in funding for renewable energy research and development and specifically allocated those funds to biomass ($800 million), geothermal ($400 million) and other ($800 million).

It also authorized $1 billion in battery manufacturing grants and $1 billion for the cost of guaranteed loans for battery manufacturing. Most of the bells and whistles were eliminated before the final bill was sent to the President. Now we have a single $2 billion appropriation for battery manufacturing grants. I would characterize the final bill as far more results oriented than the original House bill.

In a recent article titled “DOE Reports That Lithium-ion Batteries Are Not Ready for Prime Time,” I reviewed the 2008 Annual Progress Report for the DOE’s Energy Storage Research and Development Vehicle Technologies Program. While DOE concluded that Li-ion technology was promising, it also noted that there were numerous technical barriers that prevented immediate commercialization of Li-ion batteries for use in automotive applications including cost, performance, abuse tolerance and life. Based on the conclusions, tone and tenor of the DOE report, it’s clear that the DOE views Li-ion as a promising R&D stage technology, but believes it is not a prime technology that’s ready for immediate commercialization.

The final bill sent to the President requires the DOE to include Li-ion battery developers in the class of eligible grant applicants. Without that requirement, I think there would have been a reasonable argument that Li-ion developers should be excluded from grant eligibility. While Congress clearly wants some funding for Li-ion battery developers, it’s clear that the battery manufacturing grants are not directed solely or even principally toward Li-ion technology. The Congress wants energy storage solutions that work today, not potential solutions that may work in 5 or 10 years. On balance, I expect the bulk of the battery manufacturing grants to go to companies that are manufacturing and selling existing products into established markets.

In another recent article titled “Alternative Energy Storage: Enabling the Smart Grid,” I reviewed two recent reports from the Department of Energy’s Electric Advisory Committee that discussed the critical enabling role that energy storage technology would play in the evolution of the Smart Grid. At the time of the original House bill, I speculated that some of the $4.5 billion appropriation for electricity delivery and energy reliability might ultimately be used for energy storage devices.

Since the final bill sent to the President specifically added, “demand response equipment” to the list of authorized uses, and the final bill includes a new $6 billion appropriation for guaranteed loans to electric power transmission projects that should alleviate some pressure on the $4.5 billion in grant money, I think my earlier speculation can now be classified as certainty. I’m not courageous enough to predict the amount of electricity delivery and energy reliability grants that will ultimately be allocated to energy storage, but I will be surprised if the grant funds allocated to energy storage don’t exceed $1 billion.

I believe a total of $3 billion in battery manufacturing and electricity delivery and energy reliability grants can do an immense amount of good across broad sections of the energy storage landscape as long as the DOE sticks to legislative intent and funds companies that can manufacture and sell commercial products today. It all goes back to my core belief that we need to wake up in the morning, go to work with the tools we currently have available, solve our problems to the best of our abilities and be prepared to embrace new tools and new technologies when the R&D work is done and the commercial value is established.

I have no doubt that the energy storage sector is in for some very interesting times, but this is a jobs, productivity and manufacturing bill, not a research and development bill.

Disclosure: Author holds a large long position in Axion Power International (AXPW.OB) and small long positions in Active Power (ACPW), Exide (XIDE), Enersys (ENS) and ZBB Energy (ZBB).

Source: Energy Storage Incentives Approved by Congress