Energy Storage News
Alberta Storage Alliance
The Alberta Storage Alliance (ASA) has been launched by a consortium of private sector energy experts under the common goal of advancing the deployment of energy storage technologies across the province of Alberta. The ASA is recommending a joint strategy for Alberta to leverage innovative energy storage technologies within its electricity market. These recommendations are highlighted in the ASA's recently released white paper: Energy Storage: Unlocking the Value for Alberta's Grid.
The ASA believes energy storage can bring significant benefits to the Alberta Interconnected Electricity System. In November 2015, the Alberta government announced a new Climate Leadership Plan; central to the plan is transitioning the province's energy production away from coal and towards renewables. This decision is expected to have several impacts on the Alberta Interconnected Electricity System. Alberta will almost certainly require solutions in four key areas: renewables integration, managing price volatility, maintaining supply adequacy, and ensuring grid reliability.
Energy storage can play an important role in navigating this transition by providing proven solutions to each of these challenges. Energy storage technologies can balance the grid by storing excess electricity and reinjecting it at a more optimal time. The successful deployment of energy storage in electricity systems around the world has demonstrated its ability to swiftly react to system needs, making storage a compelling solution for Alberta.
Energy Storage Overview
Utilities have the challenging task of estimating energy usage. This can be done by looking at historical information, usually citing last year’s information. Then, they have to consider recent weather trends, climate change and other information. All this information is entered into complex equations that determine what we might use today. Confusing, maybe, complicated, YES! To boot, in Canada, this is done every day, every hour.
Now, the grid needs to make sure there is enough electricity to meet the needs of their customers. Some technologies can be turned off quickly, like solar, some technologies take a lot longer to turn off like nuclear or fossil fuels. The balance act is making sure there is just the right amount. Too much causes issues, too little causes brownouts or blackouts.
So, utilities have been trying to store energy for a long time. Now, this technology, in many forms, is ready for prime time; from pumped storage to all types of batteries to compressed air and hydrogen ending with flywheels. There are many solutions in the research phase as well.
Defining Canada’s Role in a Growing Vanadium Market
Energy storage technologies are expected to increase at an exponential rate in Canada and abroad over the next decade – all positive news for proponents of a greener, more efficient grid. With growth come new opportunities, such as increased demand for graphite, nickel, and lithium used in lithium-ion batteries. Similarly, the vanadium redox flow battery (VRFB) is a promising technology choice for stationary energy storage, and a growing market raises the question – where do we find stable and affordable sources for high-quality vanadium?
Energy Storage News
A newsletter by the NRC covering Canada’s role in a growing vanadium market.
Vanadium Supply for VRB Applications
Today consumption of vanadium in VRB (vanadium redox batteries) and other energy storage applications represents a very small percent of total demand, but this could grow dramatically in the coming years. At least one source forecasts vanadium demand in energy storage applications could total more than 32,000 metric tons of vanadium per year by 2020.
Vanadium: The metal that may soon be powering your neighbourhood
Today, vanadium mainly goes into structural steel, such as in bridges and the "rebar" used to reinforce concrete.
It is a small and sometimes volatile market. Supply is dominated by China, Russia and South Africa, where the metal is extracted mostly as a useful by-product from iron ore slag and other mining processes.
China - which is midway through the longest and biggest construction boom in history - also dominates demand. A recent decision by Beijing to stop using low-quality steel rebar has bumped up forecast demand for vanadium by 40%.
Yet the biggest source of future demand may have nothing to do with steel at all, and may instead exploit vanadium's unusual electrochemical nature. "The ease with which you can hand electrons to the vanadium and take them away - this is the basis of a very, very stable battery."
Vanadium "redox flow" batteries are indeed stable. They can be discharged and recharged 20,000 times without much loss of performance, and are thought to last decades.
The really big question for vanadium is whether the world contains enough of the stuff.
The immediate challenge is that the birth of the vanadium battery business is coming just as China is ramping up its demand for vanadium steel.
But there is also a longer-term problem - the quantities of vanadium added to steel alloys are so tiny that it is not economic to recover it from the steel at the end of its life. So for the battery market, that vanadium is effectively lost forever.
"Like with all raw materials, it's always a question of how stable is the need of the market, and how big are the incentives for the industry to set up new mines."
A Novel Vanadium Electrolyte Storage Technology
At remote cell tower sites in India and Africa, getting electricity to keep the telecommunications system running is a costly and difficult engineering challenge. Some of the systems have weak connections to an unreliable and intermittent power grid, with diesel back-up. Other sites are off-grid, with only diesel engines to keep them functioning. Fuel is expensive, and shipping it is neither cheap nor easy. Theft of fuel is also a frequent occurrence. It’s a tough place to have to run a cell tower. It’s also a bad place to have to use most kinds of batteries. Temperatures can average close to 100 degrees Fahrenheit, and max out at 125.
Which makes it a perfect test bed for Imergy to install its Vanadium Energy Redox Storage Platform. In India, the company already has 70 systems functioning, some of them for up to two and a half years. With diesel back-up generation being so expensive, you have to take advantage of the power grid when it is functioning and grab the electrons when you can get them. In such an environment, you have to charge fast, and you have to run long. Imergy CEO Bill Watkins comments that the Indian environment has provided a very good use case for his vanadium electrolyte storage technology.
Energy Storage: Game-changing Component of the Future Grid
PiperJaffray believes energy storage for stationary power will prove to be an important component of the future “Smart” Grid and will help utilities optimize power transmission and distribution. Also, an increasing proportion of energy generated from renewable sources such as solar and wind over the next several years will almost mandate the need for storage to assist in integrating these intermittent energy sources into the grid. Based on PiperJaffray's proprietary checks with several utilities across the U.S. and Europe, it expects initial energy storage growth opportunities will be driven first by independent power producers (IPPs)/unregulated utilities followed by regulated utilities. PiperJaffray estimates spending of ~$600B+ on energy storage solutions over the next 10-12 years.
PiperJaffray also believes that energy storage solutions for motive (industrial vehicles) and automotive applications will gain traction over the next few years, which in turn should increase demand for electricity from utilities during off-peak hours for charging requirements — further justifying utility investments in better managing the grid. In addition, per the stimulus spending plan, PiperJaffray expects $2B in grants to US advanced battery systems manufacturers to attract investments in hybrid electrical systems providers and related component manufacturers in the near-term.
The United States Department of Energy
The US DoE PNNL announced the ability to increase the energy storage capacity of the VFB by 70% and to expand the temperature range in which they operate by modifying the battery’s electrolyte solution. This advancement will allow the size of the VFB to be reduced, while generating the same amount of power storage and output, and will allow the VFB to work in a wider temperature range while maintaining its high (approximately 87%) efficiency. Through the PNNL, the United States Department of Energy has committed millions of research dollars towards further advancement and development of the vanadium flow battery.
How do you Bottle Sunlight?
Tony Spencer, Financial Post, December 9, 2010
It's the major hurdle preventing renewable energy's acceptance into the mainstream. The moment the sun sets or the wind drops, that energy source shuts down for business. You can hardly power a major electrical grid on such uncertainty. Likewise, any surplus of wind or solar power has nowhere to go -- except to be either wasted or discharged back into the ground.
The truth is renewable energy will never realize its full potential until we develop efficient ways to store and harness the energy it produces. So that when the source is either offline or producing a surplus, we can continue to draw power. The solution lies in energy storage.
Influential energy industry analyst Nick Hodge concurs: "Energy storage is the Holy Grail of the energy market." In a recent sector report, American investment bankers Piper Jaffray project the blue-sky potential of this emerging clean technology frontier: "We estimate spending of $600-billion plus on energy storage solutions over the next 10 to 12 years." No wonder energy storage is the new global gold rush.
One battery in particular, the vanadium redox flow battery, already shows enormous potential as an energy storage solution. In fact, it's the only battery technology today capable of powering everything from a single home right up to the storage demands of a power grid.
With the world now increasingly wireless, we depend on batteries like never before to run our netbooks, power our smartphones and soon, our vehicles. Battery technology continues to rapidly progress as consumers, corporations and governments drive the cleantech sector to innovate better solutions.
A little-known metal called vanadium is beginning to play a pivotal role in both battery power and energy storage technology. This is because vanadium makes highly powerful and efficient batteries -- both in a stand-alone capacity for large-scale power grid usage and as an additive in small-scale battery applications.
Vanadium is a strategic metal that is essential for engineering as well as for the automotive, shipping, and construction industries. It is irreplaceable for its role in aerospace. This is because vanadium possesses the remarkable ability to make steel alloys both stronger and lighter. In fact, vanadium-titanium alloys have the best strength-to-weight ratio of any engineered material.
With the boom in global infrastructure development, steel consumption is driving the market for vanadium. While the steel industry currently uses 90% to 97% of the 60,000 tonnes of vanadium produced annually worldwide, its application in the growing trend toward battery power and energy storage marks a significant tipping of the scales.
It turns out that renewable energy's greatest challenge is vanadium's greatest opportunity.
The vanadium redox flow battery (VFRB) invented at the University of New South Wales in Australia, is a game-changer. It has a lifespan of tens of thousands of cycles, does not self-discharge while idle or generate high amounts of heat when charging, and can absorb and discharge huge amounts of electricity instantly--over and over again.
VRFB technology not only provides the missing link in scaling renewable energy to national levels but also in reducing dependence on fossil fuels. Safe and versatile, the VRFB is fast moving toward mainstream acceptance as a medium for grid-scaled energy storage by the global green industry.
The signs are evident: China's Prudent Energy, a rising star and VRFB manufacturer based in Beijing and Washington, was named to the 2010 Global Cleantech 100 as one of the most promising private technology companies poised to make a significant market impact over the next decade. Prudent Energy was chosen from more than 5,000 firms from 14 countries by an expert committee drawn from Fortune 500 titans including BASF, GE, Honeywell, IBM, Siemens and Proctor & Gamble.
"It's a matter of a better technology winning the day," according to Prudent Energy president Tim Hennessy: "Our vanadium redox battery energy storage systems are unique in their ability to repeatedly deep cycle and rapidly recharge with little or no capacity change. Our units have been independently tested, and the field results over the last three years have shown a performance way in excess of any other technology currently in the field."
Prudent Energy has installed VRFB systems all around the world and, unlike other flow battery systems, the energy-holding electrolyte in their systems operates at room temperature and never wears out.
Meanwhile, in Europe, the recent acquisition of Cellstrom GmbH, another VRFB manufacturer based in Austria, by German conglomerate Gildemeister GmbH, underlines the recognition by global corporations of the growing importance of energy storage. Since 2008, Cellstrom has successfully marketed VRFBs throughout Europe and most recently in India, where they are installed as back-up systems for factories in regions frequently hit by power outages.
The U.S. Department of Energy (DoE) has identified VRFBs as a leading solution for storing renewable energy. They are currently conducting a smart grid regional demonstration program with field research for the VRFB in the city of Painesville, Ohio, in conjunction with state and local power authorities. "This project will help ensure that residents and businesses in Painesville have access to a safe, secure and stable power supply," Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland said.
Vanadium is also proving to be a highly effective additive to existing batteries in small-scale applications. In the case of electric cars, vanadium is being combined with lithium to act as a "supercharger" that increases the battery's energy density and, hence, the distance a car can travel.
Clean technologies and materials analyst, Jon Hykawy of Byron Capital Markets, sees a new fork in the road: "Vanadium is the best cathode material that can be used in these automobiles. And we're starting to see that conjecture being borne out by the battery industry, which is looking at lithium-vanadium-phosphate cathodes as one of the more important drivers for a higher-power, and, potentially, a much less expensive battery for the automotive industry."
Germany's DBM Energy recently made headlines with its testing of a lithium-vanadium polymer battery. Refitted into an Audi A2 electric car, the result was the setting of a new distance world record, with the car driving over 600 km on a single charge. Even more impressive, DBM Energy says the battery shows 97% efficiency and can be recharged in as fast as six minutes using any standard electrical socket.
By comparison, the 2011 Chevy Volt can only travel 56 km on its lithium-ion battery alone until its range extender kicks in, with a 10-hour recharge cycle. Along with DBM, a host of other companies including China's BYD Auto Co., Japan's GS Yuasa Corp., Japan's Subaru and U.S.A.'s Valence Technologies, have vanadium-based batteries either in development or in plans for production.
The question is with growing acceptance for vanadium usage in cars and energy storage solutions, what is holding the technology back from mass adoption?
Martha Schreiber, chief operating officer of Cellstrom GmbH, pins it down to a combination of price and legal issues: "The highly volatile price of vanadium makes it very difficult to calculate stable price conditions, not only for manufacturers but for the end consumer as well. Moreover, this leads to a very conservative pricing policy by manufacturers to the detriment of mass-market penetration. The technology for VRFBs has also been blocked by original patents dating back to 1987. It has only been since their expiry in 2007 that has allowed companies to openly develop the technology."
These emerging energy storage technologies require a high-purity form of vanadium called V2O5 (vanadium pentoxide). And the amount a single VRFB requires is massive: anywhere from one to five tonnes each. Today, the current value of steel-grade V2O5 is around $7 per pound and expected to increase, while battery manufacturers are paying anywhere between $10 to $30 per pound for battery-grade V2O5.
On the strength of the steel industry alone, vanadium demand is growing at 7% annually and predicted to outpace global supplies by 2012. Analysts firmly believe that vanadium demand will significantly increase over the coming years but they are less able to confidently predict that supply can keep up with demand. China is currently the world's largest exporter and consumer of vanadium, followed by South Africa and Russia.
With very few primary mines coming on line in the next decade, this leads to a delicate balancing act where supply can keep pace only if all junior projects reach market and none are delayed.
The crux is that the VRFB can only be developed to its full potential once the global supply and pricing of V2O5 is stabilized.
When Piper Jaffray projects a $600-billion market for energy storage solutions, there's little doubt the future will be battery powered. Energy industry analyst Nick Hodge agrees: "With that kind of anticipated spending, you should seriously start thinking about allocating a portion of your portfolio to energy storage companies."
In the race to build a better battery, it makes equal sense to consider investing in the resource companies that will provide the raw materials for these energy storage manufacturers.