Energy Vault Lands $110M from SoftBank’s Vision Fund for Gravity Energy Storage

Energy Vault, the Swiss-U.S. startup that says it can store and
discharge electrical energy through a super-sized
concrete-and-steel version of a child’s erector set, has landed
$110
million investment
 from Japan’s SoftBank Vision Fund to take
its technology to commercial scale. 

Energy Vault, a spinout of Pasadena-based incubator Idealab and co-founded by Idealab
CEO and billionaire investor Bill Gross, unstealthed
in November
 with its novel approach to using gravity to store
energy.

Simply put, Energy Vault plans to build storage plants
— dubbed “Evies” — consisting of a 35-story crane with
six arms, surrounded by a tower consisting of thousands of concrete
bricks, each weighing about 35 tons. 

This plant will “store” energy by using electricity to run
the cranes that lift bricks from the ground and stack them atop of
the tower, and “discharge” energy by reversing that process.
It’s a mechanical twist on the world’s most common energy
storage technology, pumped hydro, which “stores” energy by
pumping water uphill, and lets it fall to spin turbines when
electricity is needed. 

But behind this simplicity lies some heavy-duty software to
orchestrate the cranes and blocks, with a “unique stack of
proprietary algorithms” to balance energy supply and demand,
volatility, grid stability, weather elements and other
variables.

CEO and co-founder Robert Piconi said in a November
interview with GTM
 that the standard array would deliver 4
megawatts/ 35 megawatt-hours of storage, which translates to nearly
nine hours of duration — the equivalent of building the tower to
its height, and then reducing it to ground level. It can be built
on-site in partnership with crane manufacturers and recycled
concrete material, and can run fully automated for decades with
little deterioration, he said. 

And the cost, which PIcini pegged at $200 to $250 per
kilowatt-hour range, with room to decline further, is roughly 50
percent below the upfront price of the conventional market today,
and 80 percent below it on levelized cost, he said. 

The result, according to Wednesday’s statement, is a
technology that could allow “renewables to deliver baseload power
for less than the cost of fossil fuels 24 hours a day.”

Wednesday’s announcement builds on a recent investment from
Mexico’s Cemex Ventures, the corporate venture capital unit of
building materials giant Cemex, along with a promise of deployment
support from Cemex’s
strategic network
. Piconi said in November that the
company had sufficient funding from two funding rounds to carry it
through initial customer deployments, though he declined to
disclose figures. 

This is the first energy storage investment for Vision Fund, the
$100 billion venture fund set up by SoftBank founder Masayoshi Son.
While large by startup standards, it’s in keeping with the
capital costs that Energy Vault will face in scaling up its
technology to meet its commitments. Those include a 35
megawatt-hour order with Tata Power Company, the energy-producing
arm of the Indian industrial conglomerate, first unveiled in
November, as well as plans to demonstrate its first storage tower
in the north of Italy in 2019. 

For Vision Fund, it’s also an unusual choice for a storage
investment, given that the vast majority of venture capital in the
industry today is being directed toward lithium-ion batteries.
Lithium-ion batteries are limited in terms of how many hours they
can provide cost-effectively, with about four being seen as the
limit today. 

The search for long-duration energy storage has driven
investment into flow batteries, compressed air energy storage
(CAES), and variations on gravity-based storage, including a
previous startup backed by Gross and Idealab, Energy Cache, whose
idea of using a ski lift carrying buckets of gravel up a hill to
store energy petered
out
 with a 50-kilowatt pilot project.

Source: FS – GreenTech Media
Energy Vault Lands 0M from SoftBank’s Vision Fund for Gravity Energy Storage