Understanding Reliability Across the Energy Storage System Industry
The Department of Energy (DOE) Office of Energy conducted an Energy Storage Reliability Workshop this week provide a unique glimpse at how the stakeholders across an industry view reliability.
The representatives from government and private sector, including national labs, large and small companies, insurers and consultants gather to talk about the reliability of large-scale stationary energy storage systems.
Specifically, the focus of the workshop was on helping the DOE identify the specific activities and focus for their involvement in this relatively new industry segment.
First question: What is reliability?
After a few hours of presentations, the attendees joined small working groups. The initial question posed to the group was to define reliability.
The draft definition included the element of function with an emphasis on performance. It did not include the elements of environment, duration or probability. All quickly agreed the common engineering definition of reliability with the four elements of function, environment, probability, and duration was a suitable definition of reliability.
The discussion quickly moved to the common use of trustworthiness for reliability and whether that should be a part of the definition. The discussion also touched on availability and maintainability definition.
There really was a diverse and often inconsistent understanding of these terms. Have you asked your peers and management team lately, what does reliability mean to them? You may find a surprising range of definitions.
It’s worth asking and checking for a common understanding before continuing a reliability related discussion.
Unfortunately, the terms we use in reliability engineering also have common use language definitions. These alternate definitions hint at the same concepts, yet it is the engineering definitions that permit use to measure reliability, maintainability, and availability.
Current barriers to achieving reliability
Another major topic of discussion addressed the barriers the energy storage industry must address. The one that concerned me the most was the broad call for industry standards for reliability testing.
I argued that these standards are rarely used and would not help the industry specify or obtain their reliability objectives. I think I got the point across with the help of a few other reliability practitioners.
At this early stage in the development of energy storage systems, the focus of standards should be on providing a set of common definitions and structures for communication of reliability requirements, estimate and testing results, and field performance reporting.
Creating a meaningful and common framework to talk about reliability enables the industry to avoid mistakes caused by misunderstandings of common terms.
A framework may include data collection, analysis and reporting essential elements to permit full understanding and use of communications concerning reliability.
The list of barriers included:
- Exposing novel failure mechanisms
- Understanding the various environmental and use situations
- Resources and rubrics to evaluate complete systems or elements of a system
- And, many others.
What can the Department of Energy do to help?
The last breakout discussion session focused on gathering ideas and suggestions.
The DOE wanted to know what DOE-sponsored activities would be of the most value to the industry? The options ranged from investing in critical research to data collection and report to providing standards and professional development support.
Two ideas that I liked (and suggested they adopt) were benchmarking best practices and creating an industry roadmap.
Sharing best practices for design, manufacturing, integration, and operation by the DOE would enable all participating organization to evaluate and improve their processes. The concept that all ships rise with the tide does require cooperation.
The concept of an industry or technology roadmap is to review the current and potential future elements that make up a successful energy storage solution. The aim is to identify the limiting technologies that may require innovation to enable a complete solution.
As battery technology continues to improve, the performance may not improve overall if the ability of inverters or controllers does not also improve, for example. The roadmap looks at the expected pace of future improvements and then identified elements of solutions that are likely to impede or delay the realization of the system improvements.
It was fascinating to hear the various stakeholders priorities and desires concerning reliability.
In every case, the focus was on understanding and improving system reliability. Some focused on stable performance, while others focused on the cost of ownership. Other talked about the enhancements to business models when supporting a reliable product.
As you already know, reliability touches many parts of an organization.
It also plays a major role across an industry. From design teams creating a new battery storage solution to the utilities incorporating the system into their grid of power distribution and delivery, everyone stood to benefit if each element of the solution operated reliably.
A key take away from the workshop is the many factors that influence the view of reliability across the industry. Keep in mind that what is important to reliability in your organization is rarely the same as your customers.
How important is reliability across your organization? How do you know? How do others in you industry view and talk about reliability? Add you comments or questions in the comment window below.
Also published on Medium.