Duke Energy disconnects CATL batteries in North Carolina

An installation at a Marine Corps base is on hold following lawmaker concern over the battery-maker’s connections to China’s Communist Party.

December 7, 2023
A CATL battery manufacturing base in China

Photo credit: Shi Zhaochang / Xinhua via Getty Images

After installing 11 megawatts of storage at its facility at Marine Corps base Camp Lejeune in April, Duke Energy said Wednesday it had disconnected the installation in response to concerns about the battery manufacturer’s connections to the Chinese Communist Party.

Contemporary Amperex Technology Co. Ltd. (CATL) is the world’s largest manufacturer of lithium-ion batteries, claiming more than a third of the market. Those batteries are used widely for both energy storage and for electric vehicles

However, the company has come under scrutiny from United States lawmakers for links to the Chinese Communist Party, and to forced labor.

On Dec. 1, a group of 27 lawmakers urged the Department of Defense to investigate whether CATL’s equipment was in operation on any other military installations outside of North Carolina’s Camp Lejeune. 

“A CCP-funded and supported firm should have no role or presence on a U.S. military installation,” the group said in a letter. They cited a report from the right-leaning think tank Foundation for Defense of Democracies that warned of parallels to Huawei, the Chinese multinational tech company that pulled its solar business out of the U.S. following energy security concerns related to potential Chinese interference.

Camp Lejeune is just one Duke Energy project using CATL batteries — in March 2022 the utility unveiled 34 MW of storage spread across three projects in Florida, at least one of which uses CATL technology.

The move to disconnect follows a back-and-forth with Ford Motor Company, which earlier this year said it planned to use CATL technology in its new battery factory in Michigan. Following concerns from lawmakers Ford paused work on that factory in September, but restarted construction in November, albeit with scaled-back ambitions.

Big fish, sparse market

The U.S. market for utility-scale storage is growing rapidly, primarily thanks to lithium-ion batteries like CATL’s. At the end of 2022, the U.S. had around 8,842 MW of operational utility-scale battery energy storage systems; 4,807 MW were installed in 2022 alone.

McKinsey predicts that global utility-scale BESS deployment will grow around 29% annually between now and 2030..

And in the U.S. CATL is an increasingly big player in this growing market. 

In August 2022, Dominion Energy said it had completed a 12 MW storage project using CATL batteries. In October of that year, Nevada-based Primergy Solar signed an agreement to buy CATL batteries for the Gemini Solar and Storage Project outside Las Vegas, which is set to be the largest continuous solar installation in the country.

More recently, CATL signed an agreement with Texas-based HGP Storage to supply over 450 megawatt-hours of storage for a project in the state. The pair also agreed to a “long-term partnership” to facilitate up to 5 gigawatt-hours of utility-scale projects.

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