WT Interview with Martin Rheault, VP Business Development and Interim CTO, EVLOTM Energie. EVLO designs delivers and operates energy storage systems powered by extreme cold weather eco-friendly batteries. The transcription below has been edited for clarity and length.
WT: Can you tell me first off, what need this technology fulfills and how it came to be developed?
Martin Rhealt: That’s an excellent question, it’s the heart of everything we do. Basically, we’ve been leveraging the 40 years of work that Hydro Québec has invested in battery research with a focus on bringing to market energy storage systems. Not only with regards to the chemistry but with a view to making it a viable product to accelerate the energy transition.
WT: When you explain what EVLO does and what these units do, can you give me a sense of how you would explain this to a native community that would be interested in renewable energy?
Martin Rheault: There are multiple applications for energy storage. The one that would be of interest for your audience would be getting more independence from diesel. In that application, we would definitely see renewable energy resources being integrated within the power plants of every community.
With renewable energy comes intermittent energy, and we know it's not necessarily there when we need it. The storage is one application, primarily capturing the energy while it’s there and deploying it when it's needed. That’s one application that adds some stability, energy storage can be added to your mix to maintain a better service for your community. Our system not only provides renewable integration, but it also mimics the behavior of diesel machines and again, optimizes consumption of the existing energy you have in your community. It offers many benefits, and that’s probably why it comes with a great set of skills and technology, but it is a technology that’s ready to be deployed today.
WT: Is this how it works? A Band Manager would call you up and say, 'My community is interested in using renewable energy. Can you help us?'. Do you design the whole project from start to finish if that’s what people need? Can you give me an idea of the process of how this works?
Martin Rheault: Every community does have different needs, different fuel mix and load profile. There’s a lot of customized elements to every project.
EVLO's strategy as we speak in 2021, is not to be a one-stop-shop to do all of the integration. While we are working to be way more autonomous in the future, what we can do right now is bring the right partner to the client, along with doing the intitial study, sizing the right technology for the community, avoiding building too much and putting too much burden dollar-wise onto the community, and having a smooth integration. One of the specificities of our service is that our team goes all the way to the project sites and basically leaves the site when it works. It's not just a purchase, a delivery, and getting stuck with it; we go all the way up to the commissioning and the training of the personnel taking care of it. We are not a one-stop-shop today but we are adding services as we go forward, and we have the possibility of bringing the right partners. It’s all about bringing the right elements to the team to make it a successful project.
WT: The understanding I have is that the principal advantage of this system is that if I have solar, wind energy or what-have-you, I can feed my renewable energy into your EVLO unit and that energy is stored on something called a lithium-iron phosphate battery. According to your website, this lithium-iron phosphate battery is a considerable advantage. Can you tell our viewers what is the advantage and how it differs from what other companies would be doing with batteries?
Martin Rheault: That’s exactly right. You just named the minerals, lithium-iron-phosphate, of the LFP battery and there’s a lot of advantages to its composition. All those minerals are present in Canada which makes it the essence of a future locally made battery, as is not the case today. The ethical mining of (LFP) minerals is also way better than the NMC, nickel, manganese, and cobalt which have some eco-responsible challenges in the world. The chemistry itself being more eco-responsible is one advantage, and the second advantage is safety. The LFP chemistry is something that’s a core value to EVLO and Hydro Québec, but safety is really number one. The stability of the LFP compared to the competitor chemistry is notable in many ways and crucial when you think about bringing new technologies to remote locations. People will be depending on the technology so having stable chemistry and much safer attributes are top of mind. It is not only a pitch by EVLO, we’ve seen the whole industry moving from more current chemistry to LFP and we’re quite proud of having made the decision a few years back. Just so you know, the licenses of the LFP are partly owned by Hydro Québec and were also developed by Hydro Québec, so it’s a part of our approach to bringing not only a safe technology but also technology that was developed by our mother company.
WT: One of the things I hear in the native communities is 'when this solar project is over, we’re not certain if the disposal of the solar panels is safe' and then the second thing is, 'we’re not sure that the disposal of the battery systems available now is safe'. Is it fair to say then that your system when it’s disposed of is not dangerous or toxic?
Martin Rheault: That’s exactly right. We claim that 99% of the content of our batteries can be recycled and that's a really important aspect, especially in areas where nature is an integral part of the community. The disposal industry is growing, it’s not an industry that has settled yet and the main reason in my opinion is we haven't gone through a full cycle of those end-of-life lithium-ion batteries. Having a 99% recyclable battery, mainly due to the LFP chemistry we just talked about, is definitely a differentiator and an element we’re investing quite a bit of effort in developing; having the right local network to recycle the client’s installation at the end of life.
WT: Is there a time advantage to this system, over other systems? For instance, does it last longer, does it last less time than other existing systems I think would be a question that would be on everybody’s minds.
Martin Rheault: That’s in fact on everybody’s mind. Not all LFPs have been created equal, but the LFP developed by Hydro Québec has a higher cycle level; with a full charge and a full discharge representing one cycle, our rate is around 7000 cycles. We’re in the 7000, range going up all the way to 8000 and 10,000. By comparison, if you look at current solutions, they range from 2000 to 4000 cycles.
WT: That’s a considerable advantage.
Martin Rheault: Correct. It's something we value. We’re in the business, right now where today’s cost is king. For good reasons, we’re being compared to other solutions on the basis of the cost at day zero, but we really encourage owners and operators of systems to take into consideration the full life cycle of the project. Definitely in the long run, an EVLO solution would bring way more value and we believe in it for our communities.
WT: Many times, when I talk to Chiefs and Band councils across the country, I’ll hear a statement like this: 'Well we bought a technology, and we got a manual with it and we got a half-day seminar with the producers but we felt they should have trained our people much better to operate this system'. Is this something that you're keen on? If you move EVLO into a community there are native jobs generated, the training is properly done. Can you tell me a bit of how that works?
Martin Rheault: Definitely. In an EVLO project the training has been a part of every delivery process so far. What we can say on top of that is that we have a unique test site. Obviously, it’s a bit more in the south, a long way from some native communities but having a full-scale type of training site is a true differentiator. We could therefore envision having a few of the newer employees to be trained in the community coming to not only a desktop classroom-type training but coming into a real asset with a real expert getting the right training and going back to their communities with way more tools and experience for operating it. That’s something we’ve been doing a bit for our own purposes and for standard and certification purposes, but clients have been expressing a lot of interest in it, especially the training aspect of it. As far as leaving the site versus being close to the communities, we also offer the operating of assets. This may not apply to every case but cases where there is some telecommunication with enough bandwidth to pilot from remote. We could offer support and having a bit of a help desk available to oversee the operation of the asset . That’s the type of tools we have today on our end that we don’t see in our competitors.
WT: That’s an interesting thing to say. According to the information I read on EVLO the system is scalable. These communities across Canada that depend on diesel generator sets, they range from 200 people up to 1500 to 2000 people. Does this fit in the economy of scale? Is there a minimum number of houses or buildings that you need to have to make an EVLO make economic sense?
Martin Rheault: From an economic point of view, I would say that it is probably a green light for most, if not all communities, because the cost, both real and environmental, of operating those diesel assets is significant today but will be much higher looking forward. It’s a tough one to answer and that’s probably why the feedback you're getting is not crystal clear.
There are no two community energy needs that are equal, they may be similar in many ways but not the same. We have one unit, the EVLO 1000 that would be the equivalent of one large generator, while the EVLO 500 is the equivalent of one medium generator. Just to give you a rule of thumb here, if you have three generator sets on your power plant, adding one EVLO system of the size of one of the machines would be the rule of thumb. Again, don’t quote me, it's not engineering advice by any stretch but the scalability for almost every community makes it feasible to have an EVLO solution. Obviously the bigger you get the easier it becomes to justify the cost because of the economy of scale. The scalability of the project overall not only the EVLO solution is important. We believe that the EVLO solution can be scaled to fulfill the energy needs of smaller communities.
WT: That’s wonderful. Is this something you’d like to see in remote communities across the country? Is this a vision you have for these devices?
Martin Rheault: Definitely. We’ve been probably one of the only system providers to go to minus 40 degrees right away and have the ability to go a bit lower in survival mode in those systems. Batteries are quite sensitive to temperature, hot and cold temperatures. Because we’ve been deploying our solutions to the up-north Québec, we know it’s something that will be suitable for basically all communities throughout Canada. We’ve designed our systems to be well insulated and well designed for Canadian weather and one of the ways is to support this replacement of diesel generation.
WT: I find this fascinating. If I’m a band manager and I go, this is a great idea this is something I’m interested in, how long does it take? If I call up and say I want two EVLO's, is it something I can have in a month, or is this something I need to order a year in advance? What’s your thinking around order times?
Martin Rheault: It’s amazing how my answer would have been different a few weeks ago or a few months ago. Right now, we're in the 10 to 12-month delivery window and if we compare it, it’s really good. We see the pressure on the supply chain worldwide, not only for electronics but also on the raw materials of batteries and battery manufacturing. It’s a window that we see widening but the 10 to 12 is something we're fighting hard to keep. We’re securing every component in our supply chain. We know if we go to two-year types of delays, were going to lose opportunities as well. Therefore, all of the efforts from our procurement team is to stay within what I’d call normal deliveries, 10 to 12 months would be the right answer today.
WT: Supply questions are of utmost importance. I want to thank you for doing this. I think EVLO can really make a difference in remote communities.
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