Since its inception in 1997, the National Battery Conference (Battcon) has evolved into the nation's leading stationary battery symposium. In May, battery manufacturers, distributors, users, and members of other related industries gathered in Boca Raton, Fla., for the fifth annual conference. The timely theme was “Today's Power: Reliable Tomorrow?” As in past years, the attendees discussed a diversity of subjects all hinging on battery application, care, and technology.

The conference, sponsored by Albércorp and the IEEE Power Engineering Society, was limited to 350 attendees and consisted of a keynote address, 17 technical papers, five question-and-answer panel sessions, and a battery seminar. A trade show including 30 exhibitors was held in conjunction with the conference. In addition to the trade show, American Power Conversion and Tyco provided demonstration trailers.

Keynote Address

Dr. Imre Gyuk, the program manager for Energy Storage Research with the U.S. Department of Energy, delivered the keynote address. His paper (and two subsequent papers) examined the role of stationary batteries in the electrical energy industry.

In an excellent presentation, Dr. Gyuk pointed out that although energy storage is not the answer to all of the current problems, it would become “a necessary and powerful tool in mitigating the effects of overburdened electricity delivery system[s].”1

Dr. Gyuk held up today's digital world as an example of an infrastructure not only needing continuous energy, but a supply of high-quality power without the aberrations normally found on an electrical grid. This ideal power supply would provide better than 99.999% reliability, whereas the best grid today only can supply about 99.9% reliability.

As Dr. Gyuk stated in his address, “an outage of a few cycles [a few milliseconds] may take four hours to clean up. While the price of power is determined by the economy of power production, the cost of a power outage is determined by the value of the product. As a result, power quality is becoming as important as power quantity, and the cost of ‘no power’ is almost priceless in the digital economy.”2

Dr. Gyuk went on to offer his thoughts on lead-acid batteries and other chemistries used in energy storage and load-leveling applications. He gave examples of up to 20MW battery plants and the development of even larger plants.

After the keynote address, Dr. Phillip Symons and Jim McDowall gave their presentations. Symons is the board chair of the Energy Storage Association as well as the president of Symons/EECI, a well-respected battery consulting company. McDowall chairs the IEEE Standards Coordinating Committee on Stationary Batteries and is the North American business development manager for SAFT America Inc. Both presentations soundly augmented and advanced the principles put forward by Dr. Gyuk and discussed the role of advanced batteries and distributed generation.

Other Battery Issues

The great debate of applying valve-regulated lead-acid (VRLA) batteries continued over from previous years. Every year, seasoned users, analysts, and industry professionals bring the latest studies, newest ideas, and alternative proposals.

Another hot topic featured outdoor environments. Curtis Ashton, of Quest, and John Zulaski, with the S&C Electric Co., delivered two detailed studies pertaining to this issue, and Stuart Landsburg, from SAFT America, presented the case for an increased deployment of nickel-cadmium batteries in remote telecom applications.

Battery monitoring, testing, and maintenance is always a perennial issue, and this year's conference was no exception — although more attention was paid to the cost and methods of maintenance.

Rick Tressler, from Liebert, gave a good perspective on battery maintenance data analysis. Too often, adequate data is measured and collected; however, according to Tressler, “what to do with the data once it has been collected can be somewhat confusing to some involved in the management of continuing maintenance of large stationary batteries.”3

Battery sizing, charging, grounding, and protection methods also were featured topics. Dan McMenamin, of Dan McMenamin Associates, presented a paper titled, “Myths and Performance Problems in Telecom Network Power,”4 which focused on debunking some industry myths.

Expansions and Additions

The use of expert panelists to address questions and comments raised by attendees was expanded this year. As always, there were more questions than there was time to answer, even though five panel sessions offered over five hours of interchange. Among the topics discussed were battery charging methods, management issues, surveillance, and the environment.

As expected, spill containment was a hot issue. The general consensus was that spill containment should not be required for VRLA batteries, and the codes are ambiguous and misleading. Many believe the root problem stems from a lack of distinction in codes and standards between vented lead-acid (flooded) batteries and VRLA batteries.

A new feature of the conference included a tutorial presented by Jim McDowall and Rick Tressler titled, “Battery Basics and Beyond for the User.” The seminar benefited the novice and experienced user and focused on lead-acid and nickel-cadmium stationary batteries.

Proof of the tutorial's success came from conference evaluation results, which strongly indicated a desire for an expanded tutorial session next year.

Survey Results

The results of the conference evaluations indicate the event was a success. An overwhelming 97% of attendees said that the conference met or exceeded their expectations. The technical content also received high marks. The technical papers received a 98% positive rating, while the panel sessions garnered a 97% average or above grade, with 49% indicating above average. As for the trade show, 98% rated it as average or above average, with 46% responding with an above-average rating.

One pressing issue for Battcon organizers has been whether to increase the size of the conference or to continue with the intimate, limited gathering that exists. Survey results tilted slightly toward some limited expansion. When asked the question, “should the conference grow in size?” 41% of attendees said “no.” Another 48% indicated that the conference should grow by 100 attendees, while 11% said it should grow by 200.

There also was a sizeable demand for expanding the trade show. This puts the organizers in somewhat of a quandary. The current location, the Marriott Boca Center, would have difficulty in accommodating 500-plus delegates, and the nearby Sheraton Hotel, which hosts the trade show, cannot increase the available floor space. Whatever direction the organizers choose will strive to serve the best interests of both the conference and the attendees.

Beyond Battcon

Last year, the conference took place during a time when business was booming for battery manufacturers and users, especially in the telecommunications sector.

What a difference a year makes! The downturn in the technology sector and, in particular, those telecom rollouts that drove battery demand, resulted in a supply and demand reversal. Now, manufacturers have product sitting on loading docks and users are canceling orders and revising forecasts at an alarming rate.

This has given the industry more time to focus on itself and spend some time on planning its future progress and development. It also means the industry needs to concentrate more on quality and refinement of product. With supply exceeding demand, customers can become more discerning. They'll look for product quality, suitability, and life-cycle costs and examine alternative solutions.

What lies ahead? One of the industry segments that is still humming and seems to be relatively well funded is the electric vehicle (EV) industry. Stronger regulatory requirements or customer acceptance would drive the further development of existing VRLA and nickel-cadmium technologies and other advanced battery chemistries.

Much work has already been done with nickel metal hydride batteries in the EV industry, and more promising results look possible from lithium ion technology. Other electrochemical mediums such as lithium polymer also are under development. Still, only a few manufacturers of these products exist. The challenge lies in developing them in configurations and capacities suitable for large stationary applications while at the same time driving costs down. The traditional lead-acid and nickel-cadmium manufacturers may want to turn their heads in this direction.

J. Allen Byrne is a senior staff applications engineer for American Power Conversion Corp.'s DC network solutions. He also is the co-moderator of Battcon, a board member of the IEEE Battery Standards Coordinating Committee, and a member of the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions (ATIS).

References

  1. Battcon 2001 Conference Proceedings, paper number 1, Dr. Imre Gyuk.

  2. Ibid., paper number 1, Dr. Imre Gyuk.

  3. Ibid., paper number 16, Richard Tressler.

  4. Ibid,. paper number 15, Dan McMenamin.



Note: Copies of the Conference Proceedings of Battcon® 2001 may be obtained from Albércorp/Battcon 2001, 990 South Rogers Circle, Suite 11, Boca Raton, FL 33487, or by telephone at 561-997-2299.