In an age where marketing often trumps substance, the energy storage company SimpliPhi Power seems to have it backwards.
The company has spent years getting its battery technology right for the power industry before broadcasting its value to the world.
“We’ve really wanted to perfect our technology so that when we were selling product and entering markets we were not using customers in a beta test format,” said Catherine Von Burg, CEO of SimpliPhi Power, in an interview last week, as the company emerged from its quiet (although very active) phase.
It’s not that SimpliPhi didn’t have a story to tell. In fact, it’s a good one with characters like Lee Iacocca, Disney, Hollywood celebrities and humanitarian causes, culminating more recently in partnerships with some big microgrid players.
The story begins in 2001 with a bike and a battery.
Company founder Stuart Lennox at that time worked as a television and movie production designer. He became intrigued by a Lee Iacocca electronic bike and its battery while working on a commercial — so much so that he took out a home loan to develop a similar battery for use in movie cameras and portable lighting.
If it worked for Tron…
His battery became a Hollywood hit. A year later, Lennox founded SimpliPhi’s early incarnation, LibertyPak.
The LibertyPak battery helped make many well-known television shows and movies, among them Madmen, Avatar and Inside Amy Schumer. It lit up the suits in Tron (because it doesn’t get hot) and helped keep a special-effects moon afloat on Conan.
Meanwhile, the company kept bettering its batteries and battery management system, doing away with cobalt, switching them from lithium ion to lithium ferrous phosphate, and in doing so making the batteries less toxic and cooler. Its new battery could operate with 98 percent efficiency and retain repower for extended periods. Because it gives off no heat, the ferrous phosphate battery is spared the risk of fire or thermal runaway, a sudden and potentially destructive escalation of heat.
Then the electric grid changed
The movie industry continued to buy up its product. But the company began noticing new opportunities emerging for its lithium batteries.
After the company learned of the high percentage of military deaths during fuel deliveries in war zones, LibertyPak teamed up with ZeroBase to offer lighter solar plus storage systems to remote outposts.
“The military was attempting to bring portable solar generation to the front lines in Afghanistan and Iraq, but they were doing it with lead acid batteries,” said Von Burg, in the company’s history posted on its website. “They were heavy and toxic, and their labels said they would last for years, but in reality, they were only lasting about eight months. We heard stories of the landscapes of these war zones littered with abandoned batteries.”
Following the 2011 tsnuami in Japan, and the Fukushima nuclear meltdown, the company miniaturized its Little Genny (a portable DC/AC energy storage system) into a Baby Genny. The portable emergency relief, off-grid power system is now used worldwide, according to the company.
Meanwhile, the company leaders began noticing a massive change occurring on the electric grid. The door was opening for energy storage with the rise of renewable energy, new worries about electric reliability, and a consumer drive for local energy.
As a result, this year the company changed its name from LibertyPak/OES Company to SimpliPhi. It products are available to a range of markets that use battery energy storage: homes, buildings, stores, factories and communities, along with grid-operated and remote microgrids.
At SPI Sept. 15-17
SimpliPhi’s batteries already are being used by U.S. Army & Marine Corps, Maui Brewing Company, Whole Foods, the Los Angeles Department of Water & Power, the City of New Orleans and several other customers.
“We have been very impressed with SimpliPhi products’ ability to be able to replace lead acid batteries directly with much higher performance as well as having no need for ventilation or cooling,” said Doug Wicks, product manager for off-grid systems and battery-based inverters at Schneider Electric. “These and other technology innovations, such as their modulatory, make for a remarkable energy storage solution.”
With 5 MW of batteries deployed, the company now feels ready to market its product in earnest. So this week SimpliPhi is teaming up with Schneider Electric, ZeroBase Energy and Lotus at Solar Power International in Anaheim, Calif. to demonstrate its batteries.
The company will be at Booth 7505. No big splash, staging or high drama — just a company with a good story to tell.
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