Hybrid technologiesProject Project Fulfil
Project Fulfil aimed to deliver an affordable and reliable battery monitoring and management system for operating lead-acid batteries in partial state of charge (PSoC) applications, as well as developing interfaces and tools to enable the use of the system with existing inverters, and predictive analytics to improve network integration.
The project involved the commercialisation of the technology so the UltraBattery can compete in markets that require it to operate at a PSoC. However, circumstances have resulted in an outcome that will see Project Fulfil mutually terminated without Ecoult achieving all of its goals.
We remain convinced that lead acid technology can achieve the performance and consistency needed to significantly extend the contribution it is already making to supporting wider adoption of renewable energy generation and providing remote power where it is most needed and beneficial.
Ecoult has had the benefit of tremendous support from its parent East Penn Manufacturing (EPM) and from key stakeholders in its mission including ARENA. It also had the benefit of committed focus from a dedicated team of very talented employees.
The case can be made that Ecoult had access to adequate resource, and, that it is possible for lead acid systems to achieve the needed performance and consistency to attain a major position in the energy storage segment.
In this presentation of lessons learnt we have tried to present the circumstances objectively as there are many assessments that can be made. Innovation is a process of creating the conditions to uncover new knowledge and understanding and to capture it for productive purpose. The Ecoult team and EPM worked closely together toward innovation goals and decisions were made in a collective manner by a governance team with high mutual respect and trust based on our best understandings as we progressed.
One area of importance to consider as the Ecoult experience and project outcomes are reviewed with the benefit of 20/20 hindsight, is the timing and balance of apportionment of resource between early commercialization and the fundamental understandings needed to achieve the performance and consistency objectives.
A second is the tight boundaries in focus that were sustained by Ecoult. Ecoult was focussed on applying the capabilities of a single cell chemistry (UltraBattery®) to energy storage applications rather than responding to the defined needs of an understood user story. Our original business plan assumption was that we would get the UltraBattery device cost to a target cost of not more than 1.2X the cost of a standard valve regulated lead acid (VRLA) cell. In fact, the final EPM multiplier (based on actual cost of manufacture and conventional margin) was closer to 2X (Exide Industries UltraBattery cells were lower cost at 1.4 times an Exide standard). Despite meeting our KPIs for cost, this cell price premium was a showstopper in the end when applied to commercial assessment of the long-term viability of the UltraBattery systems against the lower prices continually being achieved by lithium.
In the later stages of Ecoult it was realized that the methods we were forced to develop in Ecoult to achieve the performance and consistency utilizing UltraBattery were effective and could be applied even to low-cost standard VRLA cells. This offered a potential pivot path to much lower cost and competitiveness; however, compounding influence in the final outcome though was the “time lag” it takes to achieve proof even where there is a high level of conviction with battery testing. In the simplest sense, Ecoult ran out of time to establish proof that it could achieve its mission with the technology it was stewarding.
For this reason, the dominant priority through each step development process must be a product outcome that can be warranted with confidence and that has all necessary standards and regulations compliance and certifications.
Project Fulfil was the correct step for Ecoult to take and was intended to uncover the understanding needed for the consistent high performance needed for the technology to be globally successful. Again with 20/20 hindsight, the workplan of Project Fulfil, the testing capabilities Ecoult established in Macquarie Park, and the advanced data analytics techniques that we applied to the challenge should have been put in place by Ecoult earlier in its journey, rather than being used for catch-up.