Eos Energy Storage
An interview with Michael Oster, CEO at Eos Energy Storage
But first, an intro from Watts Up Cleantech
The U.S. electricity grid is a complex system in which the supply of electricity must be equal to the demand for electricity at all times. That means grid operators, at any given moment, must constantly monitor the amount of electricity being generated and the amount of electricity demanded for activities such as watching TV or keeping your apartment at that crisp 68 degrees when you sleep.
While the amount of storage capacity has been growing and is projected to increase rapidly in the future, our current ability to store a large amount of energy and use it at a later time is pretty limited. According to the Energy Information Association (EIA), as of June 2018, the U.S. had over 1,084,395 Megawatts (MW) of in-service capacity, but only 757 MW were batteries. That’s about 0.07% of the total grid.
Battery storage will be a critical part of the clean energy puzzle as we continue to increase the generation of clean energy such as wind and solar. Because the sun isn’t always shining and the wind isn’t always blowing, wind and solar can have variable outputs. Storage technologies have the ability to smooth out this variable energy supply and help it match with grid demand.
Lithium-ion^ batteries make up the lion’s share of the battery storage industry, but other technologies such as redox-flow and zinc-hybrid batteries have gained significant headway in recent years. With its zinc batteries, Eos Energy Storage is pushing the boundaries in the burgeoning battery storage industry.
In your own words, how would you describe what Eos does?
We’re an energy storage technology and product company based in Edison, NJ and an office in New York City. We develop, manufacture, and sell energy storage systems. Our systems use a novel and proprietary battery chemistry and design that is lower cost, safer, more durable and longer life than lithium-ion batteries. Our focus is on large-scale utility applications, solar plus storage^, and other stationary energy applications.
What makes Eos unique?
First, our technology. We have a revolutionary zinc hybrid cathode battery technology we call Zynth®. The incumbent battery for many utility applications today is lithium-ion. We have a significant cost advantage for stationary storage systems, and our systems have greater functionality than lithium-ion.
What’s your outlook on the energy storage market, and more specifically on the stationary battery market?
It’s a massive market opportunity. Bloomberg recently projected it to be a $50 billion market in the next 10 years and $250 billion in the next 20 years. What’s exciting for us as at Eos is that the stationary battery market is not optimally served by any one entity. Electrical vehicles are pretty well served by lithium-ion batteries. Lithium-ion is light and appropriate for a car. For an EV, you never really want to fully discharge your battery or you’ll have to push your car. Our batteries are aqueous, so they’re heavy. However, for stationary batteries on the grid, you want to fully discharge them every day during peak times, or else you’re leaving money on the table and you don’t care about weight. Cost, life, and safety are more important factors.
Are Eos’ batteries always paired with renewables such as wind and solar to time shift the electricity production to peak demand periods?
Many integrators will integrate our batteries with renewables. They are a logical combination and I think it will happen more and more often in the future at very large scale. However, our batteries can also just be a part of the grid without being paired with renewables.
Which project are you proudest of?
We have a couple systems in the field already. One of our first was with PSEG^. They are a great partner. They are very understanding and embrace new technology—it’s refreshing to see that in a utility. We have a number of other projects coming online soon.
What geographies do you have your eye on for these next projects?
There are a number of large market opportunities, like India, China, and South Africa. We generally pursue those international markets with integration partners. That way our partners can integrate to make an AC system from a DC system^ and do the on-site installation. It would be too tough to do that in so many countries on our own.
As CEO, when you think about your company, what keeps you up at night?
Developing a new chemistry and a new technology is difficult. Some issues show up in the few hours, some show up in a few years or in a decade. Now at Eos, we have the largest battery test floor in the country--we do a lot of testing. Still, I’ll feel even more comfortable in 10 years.
Lithium-ion chemistry has limitations. For example, it doesn’t have a very long life if used every day. We have a significantly longer life at full depth of discharge.
How did you become a co-founder and CEO of Eos? Can you talk about your career journey?
I knew that energy storage would be critical for utilities—I found the inventor of this technology, and we founded the company together. I was the first investor. Now we have about 80 employees and we have a much more mature product.
Earlier in my career, I worked at IBM and then got my MBA at NYU Stern. After Stern, I worked at A.T. Kearney, a management consulting firm. I traveled internationally and landed in Moscow and started to invest in real estate. I put together an investment fund and came back here when the internet was getting started. I got involved with technology and energy. I then started to develop solar power projects in the Northeast. Eventually, I started Eos—we founded the company 10 years ago.
How would you describe Eos’ corporate culture?
It’s a very entrepreneurial culture. Failure is okay. You learn from failures. There is a famous Thomas Edison quote that I will paraphrase: “I have not failed. I’ve successfully found 10,000 ways not to do things.” That’s very applicable to our mindset at Eos. Now, you don’t want to fail in all aspects and you want to fail quickly if you must. You have to take some risks and you have to make decisions. Sometimes it’s more costly to make a slow decision that gets you to a right answer than a quick decision that gets you to the wrong answer which could steer you to the right answer more quickly. As an entrepreneurial company in a young industry segment, we often have to accept unknowns.
What advice would you give someone who wants to get into the industry?
The cleantech industry is still relatively young. We have many strong and experienced people coming from other industries, but the creativity of youth is valuable. Don’t be so concerned about your initial title or role. If you are with a young and flexible company, you can advance very quickly.
What do you look for when you hire? What skills do you think the clean energy industry needs most?
We look for people who can bring value that the company doesn’t already have. That could be special know-how, relationships, or geographic presence. For example, Africa represents a great opportunity but we don’t have the time and resources at this time to pursue the market fully. If someone said, “I’ll do it, and we can work out a success-based fee arrangement, we might be interested to pursue a market like that sooner.
I try to look at most resumes that come through. Something I want people to know is that they may be a very qualified individual, but we just may not need those skills at that specific time. We would hope to bring on board people who understand what we need as a company at any given stage. Today, if somebody had experience with energy management software, we would be more likely to be interested in interviewing them. Young people may not have the exact experience, but they should at least understand what they can bring to the table.
Other than Eos, what New York area clean energy company is most exciting to you?
PSEG and Con Edison^. The market dynamics are changing and these energy companies are embracing those changes and are leaders in the industry. Con Ed has a tough job maintaining an old grid on an island. It’s interesting to see that young people are excited to work at utilities now.
Speaking of Con Ed, can you talk about how the battery market is different in New York City compared to other markets?
Absolutely. Con Ed and the Fire Department of New York have a unique challenge—if there is an accident with a battery, it could cause damage to a large number of people working in an 80-story skyscraper. They have to avoid those safety issues and that risk at virtually any cost. There are battery systems that are flammable, and the risks with those systems are too high. Lithium-ion will have challenges in Manhattan at any scale, because it is flammable. Our Zinc Hybrid Cathode batteries are not flammable, and I think that is an advantage in an urban area like New York City area. We want to take our time in NYC.
What do you think will surprise the cleantech industry in the next 10 years?
I think that things like solar plus storage will become the norm for new generation in many regions of the world. It already makes economic sense. If solar plus storage market penetration is less than 1% of the total installed base now, I think it has the potential to be a very high percentage of new generation around the world. The second thing is the size of the battery storage market. It will take a few years, but I think this market will be massive and should meet the aggressive market growth targets that many in the energy or banking industries project. Storage solves a major problem – in fact, it solves many major problems. As solar was growing a few years ago, people inside the industry would say, “Well we’re more expensive than other generation, but at least we’re cleaner.” If you have those environmental and energy independence benefits and you are also less expensive, that represents a strong value proposition.
Notes from Watts Up
Cleantech is full of industry jargon. We’re here to help.
^Lithium-ion batteries: Lithium-ion batteries get their name from the transfer of lithium ions between the electrodes. Lithium-ion batteries were first sold to everyday consumers in 1991 by Sony. Since then, they have become the most widely deployed battery technology for utility-scale applications.
^Zinc hybrid cathode: Another battery technology that is currently less prevalent than lithium-ion. The first rechargeable zinc-based batteries came online in 1996.
^Solar plus storage: When solar systems are connected to batteries so that any extra production from the solar system is stored for later electricity needs.
^PSEG: a utility serving parts of New Jersey and Long Island.
^AC and DC: AC (Alternating current) and DC (Direct Current) inspired the name of a legendary metal band, and are also a foundation of electricity. DC flows in one direction, whereas AC changes direction. DC is generated by solar panels and what batteries hold in storage, while AC electricity is the type used by the grid and therefore most household devices. An inverter is required to convert DC electricity to AC.
^Con Edison: a utility serving NYC and Westchester. Commonly referred to as Con Ed.
Sources: Energy Information Administration, Energy Storage Networks, Union of Concerned Scientists