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Better stationary battery storage needed to help EV revolution: Bushveld CEO

Cape Town/London — The much-hyped electric vehicle (EV) revolution can only succeed if utilities act appropriately in order to effectively manage the electricity grid, with battery storage a key component, CEO of Bushveld Minerals said this week.

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Speaking to S&P Global Platts on the sidelines of the Mining Indaba conference in Cape Town, Bushveld CEO Fortune Mojapelo said that although the bulk of the current hype around EVs surrounds mobile energy storage, the potential for stationary energy storage was "huge."

Bushveld is a vertically-integrated vanadium producer with all operations based in South Africa.

Vanadium is primarily used as a steel alloy, although battery storage is another growth area for the metal, and Bushveld.

During the conference, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa addressed the fact that the country's embattled energy firm Eskom was "too big to fail," and said that over the coming days, measures will be announced to shore up the utility.

Mojapelo said that Bushveld is already working with Eskom on energy storage technology, and that the utility firm is thinking about future-proofing the business "in the right way."

Regarding the EV revolution, the CEO said that it's coming, but perhaps not as quickly as headlines suggest. "It's about 5-10 years away," he said.

Mojapelo added that, owing to scale, stationary battery storage will be a bigger play in the move towards a sustainable energy future.

"It's better a utility disrupts itself rather than be disrupted," he said, suggesting that if companies such as Eskom don't hedge for the future, others will step in and disrupt the business. He said that utilities were facing energy security threats and rising costs, and that the ability to store renewable power is essential to the survival of the business.

On Friday, Mojapelo followed up the conversation in an email to Platts, saying "EVs will substantially increase electricity demand, and if utilities meet this increased demand with fossil fuel generation, it defeats the clean energy objectives trying to be achieved."

"Renewable energy -- which is increasingly cost competitive with traditional fossil fuels -- is the best way to meet these objectives, and with that comes greater need for energy storage," he concluded.

Donald Sadoway, professor of materials chemistry at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, recently agreed, saying that although the media glare was on electric vehicles, stationary storage was likely to be a bigger deal for metals demand, including vanadium.

He argued that without storage facilities, renewable energy such as solar and wind could become problematic as they create a glut of energy that overloads the system, causing spikes that could damage consumer goods. He was also less enthusiastic about the rate at which EVs will be adopted, mainly because he sees the current technology lacking the convenience of traditional internal-combustion engines.

-- Ben Kilbey, ben.kilbey@spglobal.com

-- Edited by Shashwat Pradhan, newsdesk@spglobal.com