Last month, I had the privilege of participating on an energy storage panel discussion, alongside five other leading manufacturers, at Critical Power Expo 2016 in Novi, Michigan. It is evident that the trend to reduce UPS runtime and costs is in full effect, and that innovation in energy storage technologies is challenging the lead-acid battery status quo in the mission critical industry. This innovation is offering customers more choices outside of conventional offerings to reduce lifetime costs and footprint while increasing reliability and sustainability. Below are my three big takeaways:

Lithium Ion Taking Center Stage

A greater presence by lithium ion battery suppliers demonstrates that it is becoming a more acceptable solution and replacement for lead-acid batteries in UPS applications. Two major UPS companies have recently announced that their products support lithium ion batteries. However, challenges still exist for this solution:  lithium ion is around two to four times more expensive than lead-acid batteries for the same amount of runtime and has not yet been proven to be reliable and safe for extended mission critical usage.  But, given its advantages — a design life of at least 10 years, smaller footprint, a much higher cycle count — it’s likely just a matter of time until lithium starts overcoming lead-acid.

Flywheel Delivers 78% More Energy Storage

Flywheel energy storage integrated into a UPS has been around for more than 15 years with thousands of deployments worldwide. This proven technology can now deliver nearly 80% more energy storage and runtime with the same benefits as before. At nearly one minute of runtime at partial loads and 25 seconds at full load, flywheel energy storage can now be considered for applications where parallel or reserve generators are deployed, IT loads are transferred to alternate sites or to cloud backup. This solution is also ideal for manufacturing applications that require more time for a graceful shutdown.

Supercaps Taking A Back Seat

At last year’s show, supercapacitors were presented by two major UPS manufacturers as the next big thing in energy storage for UPS applications. A year later, that is still not the case. They have not found their way into data centers yet, rather being deployed only in manufacturing facilities looking for runtimes in the three to seven second range. High initial cost, sub-10 second runtime and lack of proven reliability are significantly deterring their growth, even though they require minimal maintenance and are compact in size.

Customers are looking for alternative solutions that will give them a better return on investment, reduce footprint, increase their service reliability and help save the environment. The burden now falls back on UPS suppliers to clearly demonstrate total cost of ownership savings, hard proof of reliability and environmental benefits across these different energy storage technologies.