A Coeur d’Alene company is developing battery storage technology similar to that of Tesla Inc., which could lead to a manufacturing facility being sited in the state with up to 2,000 jobs.
The company, KORE Power, produces lithium ion batteries using a similar technology to batteries today, but with higher density and less cost, said CEO Lindsay Gorrill. Unlike Tesla – which built a 1.9 million square foot “Gigafactory” in Sparks, Nevada, to produce batteries – KORE produces its own cells. The cells can be used in a variety of products, ranging from an electric bicycle to the massive storage a utility company would use, he said.
The company was launched in April at the Energy Storage Association Annual Conference & Expo in Phoenix, and since then has been developing a pipeline of worldwide projects it’s bidding on for 2020, Gorrill said. The product is expected to ship in the first quarter, he said.
KORE has 10 employees in the U.S., seven of whom are in Idaho, along with four in Canada and 18 in China, where the company is building a factory, Gorrill said. That factory is intended to develop one gigawatt hour of production by the end of the year, increasing to six by the end of the third quarter, he said.
At the same time, KORE is researching a U.S. factory location and has five to seven states on its list, including Idaho, Gorrill said. The site location for the U.S. factory, expected to have more than 2,000 employees, should be determined by January, he said.
The primary criterion is the workforce.
“We can’t build the plant somewhere that has no people,” Gorrill said.
Other factors include access to the 250 acres the factory will need and, potentially, the ability to put a solar farm next to it, he said.
State incentives will also be a factor, but only for states that have been determined to be suitable, said Taite McDonald, a partner with Holland & Knight in Washington, D.C., which is consulting with the company on factory siting.
“It will come down to the best site, with the best infrastructure, with the best power quality and power prices, with the best workforces,” she said.
A $25 million incentive package won’t help the company if it has to spend $50 million on infrastructure for the site, she said.
While McDonald wouldn’t name the other states, she said that coastal regions, which have the advantage of ports, are the biggest competition.
Energy storage is the next frontier of the energy industry because batteries are needed in renewable energy not only to stockpile power for when the wind doesn’t blow and the sun doesn’t shine, but to smooth out irregularities caused by momentary drops in generation, said Greg Cullen, director of generation and technology development for Energy Northwest, a consortium of 27 public utility districts and municipalities across Washington.
Cullen spoke on an energy storage panel at the Energy in the West conference in Boise on Aug. 27. The other major limitation with today’s energy storage is that it doesn’t have a very large capacity, so it can’t store energy for very long until it’s full, he said.
Currently, energy storage products are also somewhat klunky because they require organizations to put together products from multiple vendors rather than offer a turnkey solution, said Curt Kirkeby, fellow electrical engineer for Avista, speaking on the same panel. On the other hand, the energy storage industry is new and, like all other forms of energy technology, it will evolve to be technology ready, said Russ Weed, a business developer with CleanTech Strategies, a Seattle-based consultancy.
“Energy storage is the Holy Grail of economic development,” said Brian Young, clean technology sector lead for Washington Gov. Jay Inslee. The Pacific Northwest has the opportunity to lead the world in this technology, he said.