A Danbury battery startup business faces its first big test

A Danbury startup flipped the switch on a bank of batteries in New York that could be built out over time to cap electricity prices — with Connecticut currently studying systems toward the same goal.

The New York Power Authority is using a battery array from Cadenza Innovation to provide power at its White Plains headquarters for up to five hours each day. It marks the first real-world test of Cadenza batteries to feed electricity to a facility when power plants charge the most, with the batteries recharging overnight when prices are lowest to repeat the cycle the following day.

Those batteries could fill in as a short-lived source of electricity during power outages as well. California is in the process of lining up several gigawatts of battery storage, after a summer of rolling blackouts due to power shortages.

Launched by globally renowned battery experts Christina Lampe-Onnerud and spouse Per Onnerud who live in Wilton, Cadenza had its development lab at Duracell’s Bethel research center before relocating this year to The Summit at Danbury complex.

The NYPA installation totals more than 850 batteries Cadenza manufactured in Bethel, with the company having tested twice twice that number linked together into a “supercell” design.

Cadenza’s batteries are designed to shut off at any sign of “thermal runaway” or other mishaps that can pose the potential for fire or explosion, with an Arizona utility-scale battery plant having had such an incident last year. Cadenza’s tests have extended to earthquake simulations in which its batteries have been shaken violently.

“The battery just says, ‘ooh, not good — I’m going to disengage,’” Lampe-Onnerud said.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo has set New York a target of three gigawatts of energy storage in the coming decade, with the Cadenza battery installation amounting to just a tiny fraction of that total at 50 megawatts. But the system is designed for easy expansion in a design Lampe-Onnerud has likened to clicking together Lego blocks.

Cadenza picked up nearly $2 million of the costs of the project with another $1 million from the New York State Energy Research and Development Authority. Cadenza has raised in excess of $10 million from investors, including more than $500,000 from the Connecticut Innovations venture fund backed by the state.

The company has also received $3.5 million from the U.S. Department of Energy. Cadenza is among two dozen semifinalists in DOE’s Scaleup Launch Pad contest for energy technologies considered to have a potentially major impact but with commercial demand still in the early stages. Several other battery developers are in the competition.

More than a year after undertaking its own ambitious grid modernization study, the Connecticut Public Utilities Regulatory Authority is now homing in on specific designs and enabling technologies to include battery arrays.

In August, PURA held a forum to analyze “non-wire” alternatives for the grid.

Cadenza has yet to weigh in on the proceeding, with Lampe-Onnerud saying the company has kept its energy focused on the NYPA project.

A number of other companies submitted feedback, to include Able Grid Energy Solutions which has a 100-megawatt battery storage plant under construction in Texas; and Danbury-based FuelCell Energy whose power generators use a chemical process to produce electricity.

Avangrid, Eversource and the Connecticut Municipal Electric Energy Cooperative all have battery storage projects in operation or the planning process. Eversource is building a $40 million battery facility on Cape Cod that will have 25 megawatts of capacity, with much of the cost offset by avoiding a $30 million transmission line that would be needed to serve Provincetown and $270,000 in annual maintenance going forward.

Alex.Soule@scni.com; 203-842-2545; @casoulman