SimpliPhi Revolutionizes Mobile OFF-GRID and ON-GRID Energy Storage
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SimpliPhi founder Stuart Lennox had been helping people make the most of energy technology when his company first came to life in a humble garage in 2002. Working in the film and photography industries early in his career, Lennox played a crucial role in providing reliable access to power in any number of challenging remote environments for cameras and lighting equipment, innovating with available technology to leverage just about any power source beyond the limits of transmission lines. With so much experience in off-grid solutions, combining knowledge of traditional fuel-based generation as well as renewables, along with a healthy knowledge of standard grid technology, Lennox ultimately found himself in an ideal position to innovate for the sake of more than just small-scale productions.
During those early days as a rugged field innovator, Lennox was also one of the first to work with the now-common lithium-cobalt oxide chemistry in rechargeable lithium-ion batteries. At this nascent stage in the energy storage game, however, three particular issues remained to push the innovative drive that would ultimately take form with SimpliPhi’s current work. First, persistent thermal runaway stood as a barrier to efficiency and generated a stubborn heat profile. Then, the relatively short cycle life of lithium cobalt provided a barrier to longevity and, therefore, cost. Finally, the heat profile generated by this particular chemistry also demanded additional costs in terms of necessary ventilation and cooling. Clearly, there was much room for improvement.
In the mid-1990s, a newer, safer chemistry emerged in the form of what is now commonly known as lithium iron phosphate. In short, this chemistry eliminated thermal runaway and provided a major extension of cycle life, lowering costs significantly. With these advantages in hand, and plenty of room left to maximize their effectiveness, SimpliPhi began the work it continues today, looking to provide safe, simple, reliable energy storage for both residential and commercial customers, all with a focus on renewables.
Much of what defines SimpliPhi’s impressive work involves the company’s proprietary battery architecture, in which the flow of charged electrons is optimized to eliminate the common problems of impedance. In SimpliPhi’s architecture, the lack of impedance translates to an over 98% input to output efficiency and eliminates thermal loss. The lack of a heat profile also provides a host of cost savings for the user as well, making considerations of cooling and ventilation virtually unnecessary. To meet the many possible needs of size, weight, cycle life, and adaptive discharge, SimpliPhi designs are not only cell agnostic, but chemistry agnostic as well. This allows the company to present an unusually diverse array of power storage solutions, and thereby, a broad portfolio of products that is only continuing to grow to meet the world of energy and its consumers on mutual terms.
Today, the company’s LibertyPak line of battery products is still widely used by the film and photography industries. In one notable example, SimpliPhi technology enabled much of the special lighting in the film Tron: Legacy, in which safe portable batteries were necessary to power bright colored lights inside a wide array of plastic costumes and props, all sensitive to heat and in close proximity with actors’ bodies. In the big picture, the technology provided by SimpliPhi has contributed strongly to the overall displacement of fuel-based generators and wet acid batteries in remote and location environments in the film industry. Also used by research teams like those from National Geographic and many other scientists plying their trades in challenging environments, SimpliPhi technology, as represented by products like the LibertyPak ‘plug and play’ portable products, when coupled with a fold-out solar charger, has gone a long way in providing reliable energy outside the boundaries of the transmission lines. Additional applications currently include mobile battery packs used for off-grid power on oil rigs and wells, as well as a host of applications for use in the field by the U.S Army and Marine Corps.
In making batteries that are ideal for use in many of these applications, the company’s designs stand as some of the only in their class that can function safely in high ambient temperature environments. Some specific products have even been designed for the military, including high output batteries that are safe in ambient temperatures of over 120 degrees that do not generate heat. These products, which enable soldiers in the field to store their own power from green sources, have at times reduced fuel usage on forward operating bases by up to 80%, lowering reliance on fuel supply lines and minimizing the associated risks. With efficiency comes security and resiliency.
In 2010, Lennox made the first strides toward applying the proprietary architecture, circuitry and Battery Management System (BMS) that he had created for the film industry to the worlds of homes and businesses. Today, at a time when many local governments are deciding to end so-called ‘net energy metering’ programs that allow privately generated energy to be fed back into the public grid for mutual benefit, the necessity to store self generated power seems more present than ever before. “People who have invested in solar arrays for homes or businesses find that suddenly storage is much more significant in leveraging the capital expenditure,” company officials say, “and if they aren’t benefiting from feeding clean energy into the grid through the net energy metering program, then they need to capture what they’re not using during the day from their solar generation to use at night when the sun goes down.” Whether for personal use or for maximizing stored energy as capital for arbitrage, SimpliPhi is making energy work for their customers on their terms and in truly progressive ways.
SimpliPhi also deservedly prides itself on the level of safety that they’ve achieved with their decidedly non-toxic and low-voltage approach. While lithium-ion batteries are generally considered as one homogeneous chemistry by policymakers, safety and certification standards, SimpliPhi hopes to provide the basis for differentiation between their LFP chemistry and products and the many competing toxic and potentially hazardous chemistry and products produced by other manufacturers that fall under the generic heading of “lithium ion” batteries. SimpliPhi’s proven performance and track record across diverse industries and use-cases since 2002 demonstrates beyond the shadow of a doubt that their technology performs in places that similar technology has never been able to perform before without the risk of thermal runaway and overheating. Currently, the company’s products stand as some of the only lithium-ion products that are specially licensed for air transport by the FAA, a distinguishing characteristic that presents some impressive evidence of the company’s attention to safety and comes as a result of extensive government testing by the U.S. Army Aberdeen Proving Grounds and Marine Corps.
SimpliPhi certainly expresses a goal to continue providing products that are nontoxic and safe at low-voltages, allowing customers, as company representatives relate, “to think of our services and power storage technology as helping to not only encourage the use of renewables, but to create a community resource for times of emergency or failure that is safe and accessible.” Such non-toxic and low voltage technology doesn’t require a specialized technician or safety equipment to operate. Working with utility companies to create micro-grid systems that function entirely at the 48-volt level or lower and which include such attention to detail as built-in 80-amp breakers that effectively provide an on-off switch during shipping, installation and in times of emergency, SimpliPhi sees advanced safety as a big step to getting their technology working for communities as well as individuals. Naturally, it also earns them entry into places where the competition often just can’t reach.
A relatively small operation compared to most of its direct competitors, SimpliPhi has seen its dedicated research and development push its prices down almost 30% in the last two years. “As we ramp up in scale, our prices will come down even more significantly,” says SimpliPhi CEO Catherine Von Burg. In the big picture, one of the critical issues for customers is the difference between the upfront price point and the long-term cost of energy over time. While the company’s technology is slightly more expensive upfront per kWh compared to other solutions, it offers significantly more advantages that justify the cost. Von Burg relates: “If you look at our extended cycle life, our ten year warranty, our depth of discharge and efficiency rate, and the fact that you don’t have to add ancillary cooling and ventilation equipment, we are very price competitive and can currently offer between $0.15- $0.17 savings per watt, and the price will only continue to come down.”
In making these points clear to policymakers and potential customers, cultivating an educated public is a major goal at SimpliPhi. “We want people to be actively participating in their power utilization,” Von Burg told us, “and it takes a discerning customer to cut through the surface details to look more deeply at the issues behind the basics, to really understand how well a particular product works, how safe it is, and how these factors influence the true costs for home and business owners, including the growing costs of insurance coverage for distributed assets. We’re trying to engage in a kind of marketing effort that helps to create an educated, discerning consumer.” With a bright horizon ahead of them, guided by a desire to meet real needs and create a better world, SimpliPhi is poised to make some impressive strides in revolutionizing the way the world thinks about energy.