Nostromo Energy – Water is Forever
Nostromo Energy makes a strong case for the role cold energy storage will have in the journey to net-zero.
Nostromo is an energy storage company solving one of the biggest gaps today in the world of energy storage, which is commercial buildings. Nobody will argue with the important and growing role of renewable energy. However, before it can fulfil its potential there are major challenges for the sector to overcome.
“We cannot integrate more renewable energy without storage, because renewable energy sources are intermittent or unstable,” argues Yoram Ashery, CEO of Nostromo Energy. “We need storage on a massive scale.”
The storage itself brings challenges too, however. If you store energy on the supply side, it demands more infrastructure to transmit it to where it can be used. If it is stored on the demand side, there are safety concerns around most forms of battery, meaning it can’t be kept in urban or populated areas, at least not at a meaningful scale.
“Safety means batteries can be used primarily outside the urban environment, on the supply side. The infrastructure required to deliver stored energy to the consumer is costly and sometimes not even possible,” Ashery says. “The second limitation is recycling. It is challenging and costly to recycle batteries, not only at an economic level but an environmental one. How do you dispose of that much lithium?”
But the need for energy storage in commercial properties is great.
“Commercial buildings account for half of all energy consumption but there is insignificant storage for them,” Ashery says. “The trouble is that storage technology has limitations- one of which is safety. Buildings cannot install lithium batteries on a relevant scale, so that’s not an option.”
Nostromo’s solution is not a catch-all, but it occupies an essential and growing market niche- “cold energy”. Commercial air conditioning accounts for between 30 and 70% of a commercial building’s energy consumption, a substantial part of the growing energy demand.
“We can take electricity when it’s cheap and clean, such as when there’s a surplus of renewable energy or free capacity on the grid,” Ashery explains. “We then use it to create cold energy, store it and discharge it when there’s high demand, reducing the energy consumption of the building during peak time by half. We have a large storage capacity, and it requires no additional grid infrastructure, so we aren’t depending on power transmission and distribution. In essence, we’ve turned buildings into large, safe and sustainable batteries.”
It is a solution to a problem a growing number of businesses are facing.
“Today most corporations, whether they own or are a major tenant of a building if they care about carbon footprints, global warming, emissions, they should consider solutions like this,” Ashery says. “We’re not the only way to reduce your footprint but storage is critical not just to reduce your footprint but to integrate more renewables into the grid as a whole. Integration of renewable depends on storage.”
As well as being an elegant solution to the issue of energy storage, it is also one that is startlingly easy to put into practice.
“Our technology is designed to make its implementation practically painless. It doesn’t require real estate, it can be installed into almost any space in the building, like Lego blocks,” Ashery tells us. “Our ice bricks can be laid out in different configurations, along the wall, or in a basement. There are so many ways to place them that it really can be done without taking any usable space from the building.”
It does good for the environment, society and saves customers’ costs. The technology can potentially reduce 20% of the energy demand on a grid in peak hours. But to achieve that, it needs greater reach.
“It’s really about scale. We’re reaching out to larger numbers and everything from the supply chain to the installation is a logistical challenge if you want to do more than a handful of systems,” says Ashery. “We want to roll out in the thousands. Working at that scale is a challenge on finances, processes and components.”
There are many markets with potential growth.
“Our focus right now is on the US market, although we’re an Israeli company,” Ashery points out. “This is not just because of the size of the market, which is important for new products and technologies, but also the economics, the way the power rates are structured there, which are more favourable to energy storage.”
For the owner of a Nostromo storage device to profit from it there need to be certain conditions in place, such as a difference in the price of energy at peak and off-peak hours.
“There is also the sophistication of the market and demand for services that the grid or utility company purchases from consumers,” Ashery tells us. “The utility firm will pay the consumer to lower consumption in peak hours, and that’s another source of revenue. Energy storage can lower demand on the grid without changing your operations. These conditions exist in the US and that’s why we’re there, but we are planning to expand globally in other warm regions.”
The other criterion is climate- anywhere sub-tropical or tropical where air-conditioning is the biggest electricity consumer.
“Already today during peak hours air conditioning can be half the demand on the grid in places like California,” Ashery says. “If it isn’t, that demand is growing, as is the case in markets like India and other parts of Southeast Asia, where penetration is lower.”
According to the UN International Energy Agency of the OECD, the demand for energy for space cooling is going to triple in the next two decades, so supplying that is a major challenge for the energy market. It’s the fastest-growing demand for power behind possibly electric vehicles.
As well as finding the right markets, there are three components to Nostromo’s efforts to achieve that scale- finance, organisation, and sales channels.
“Not just company financing, but project or system financing. When you install a system like this it can be $1-2 million and typically customers in energy want to pay out of the savings they make, not pay the total upfront,” Ashery says. “This is a common business model and there needs to be a mechanism to finance those systems at scale.”
The second factor is the logistics of manufacturing and installation. Nostromo manufactures components in Israel, China, and Mexico, and assembles them in the US near its target markets.
“The third factor is the sales channels, how to reach these customers,” Ashery says. “Marketing activities, media, but also through the partners like air conditioning professionals who sell, install or maintain the systems.”
Nostromo’s vision is to have an important role in the energy storage sector. It is eyeing markets as diverse as the Old South, parts of central USA, southern Europe, Asia, Latin America, the Middle East, anywhere with a warm climate, and unfortunately, global warming means its market is expanding too.
“In all these areas we can a major contribution to reducing emissions and decarbonising the power grid,” Ashery says.
Lithium batteries form an important part of the total solution, but there are challenges around safety, waste, and supply.
“These batteries use rare earth metals, the extraction process is environmentally costly and if we want enough lithium for electric vehicles we won’t have enough for batteries in the power system,” Ashery points out. “The beauty of our technology is that water is forever. Water can freeze and unfreeze forever. So, there is not just the safety advantage. If you want technology that can last long-term that’s a place where what we are doing is unique.”