SoftBank pumps $110M into Energy Vault, maker of energy storage technology

Energy Vault plans to store energy from wind and solar farms with proprietary technology that lifts 35 ton bricks into a tower, then lowers the bricks to disperse the energy. (Energy Vault)

The SoftBank Vision Fund has invested $110 million in Energy Vault, a Swiss renewable energy long-term storage technology producer.

It is the first time the $100 billion Vision Fund has been used for energy storage technology. 

Energy Vault announced on Wednesday that it will use the funds to accelerate global deployment of its unusual technology that relies on kinetic energy to store power in towers made of 35 metric ton bricks.  

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The company has provided an animation on its website showing how the tower and an enormous automated crane functions in lifting and lowering the bricks. The crane can lift or lower several of the bricks at a time with several cranes.

Each time the tower is built higher, it is pulling energy from a solar or wind farm. When electricity is needed, the cranes lower the bricks using gravity. The cables connected to the bricks are used to help collect the generated electricity in a proprietary system.

With its storage technology, renewable energy from solar and wind can be used to deliver power for less than the cost of fossil fuels 24 hours a day, according to Energy Vault.

Renewables are intermittent and unpredictable power sources because sometimes the sun isn’t out or the wind isn’t blowing. That’s why the amount of electricity delivered to the grid has been limited.

The idea for Energy Vault came from hydro plants that use gravity and the movement of water to store and discharge energy.

The cranes that lift and lower the bricks operate autonomously with software that Energy Vault designed. Predictive intelligence and proprietary algorithms are used for the electricity charge/discharge process. The tower can deliver “all the benefits of a large scale pumped hydro storage system but at a much lower levelized cost, higher roundtrip efficiency and without the requirement for specific land topography and negative environmental impacts,” the company said.

“Energy Vault solves a long-standing and complex problem of how to store renewable energy at scale,” said Akshay Naheta, managing partner for SoftBank Investment Advisers.

EnergyVault’s first full-scale demonstration project of its tower is expected to come online in northern Italy by the end of 2019.

Company co-founder and CEO Robert Piconi said the technology works and will be priced low enough for the utility market to purchase it, according to an interview in Forbes.

“We knew we needed to be around three to four cents levelized cost per kilowatt hour to add to [solar] or wind in order to be competitive below fossil. That took a lot of innovation,” Piconi told Forbes. 

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