Friday, May 29, 2009

Energy Storage Association Annual Meeting

The ESA held its annual meeting this past May 20-22 in Washington DC. According to the ESA, the meeting was well attended, with 13 exhibitors and over 300 attendees. It may not sound like much, but this is a big increase for an industry event that has begged to be noticed in the past.

Much interest was engendered by the smart grid stimulus money. According to the ESA, there were over 40 presentations from 10 panels.

Although we did not attend, we had our sources. We learned that the VRB-ESS is still well perceived.

"In general, people seem keen on the VRB technology and happy that Prudent has chosen to pick up where VRB left off in developing the technology. While the competitive environment is getting more well-populated, flow batteries in general and the VRB technology in particular are still noted in many of the presentations. Consensus seems to be that they definitely have a part to play in the energy storage industry."

NGK's molten sodium sulfur NAS battery is well accepted in Japan. According to one pr
esentation, they have over 270 MW located at 190 sites in Japan. In fact, they are "sold out" through 2010. (Which means, apparently, that it will not be possible to install a large energy storage facility with the NAS battery under the smart grid stimulus grants?)

My comment - I wonder how a large installation of NAS would be accepted in the USA? I personally think the Japanese are much less sensitive to such things. I saw a peaker plant go down in flames from neighborhood activism in S. Orange County, California. This natural gas plant was nowhere near any houses, out of sight, and no one would ever know when it was running. However, a few activists were able to shut down the "smokestack power plant". I have to believe there would be some real reaction to a molten sodium/sulfur plant of any size near a neighborhood, even though NGK has engineered substantial safeguards into the system.

I also received this report on the NGK system in New York: "
One interesting note is that there was a complete failure of the NGK system in New York this past year, requiring that the entire storage system be replaced. Apparently the NaS system cannot be completely discharged without suffering irreparable damage" I didn't find any news on the internet about the failure - anyone have a reference?

Lithium batteries of various types received substantial attention - and why not, they're getting all the money! But they aren't ready et for long term storage - most applications are for quick response, short term storage - like flywheels.

The VRB-ESS still looks good for large, grid connected storage.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Energy Storage Vaporware

From the earliest days of personal computing, companies would announce, to much fanfare, a new piece of software that would do wonderful things, be user friendly, the next killer app., etc.. Then, after awhile, the buzz and hype would fade away, deployment would be delayed - and then forgotten. This phenomenon became know as "vaporware".

I see the same cycle being repeated with energy storage. Now that energy storage is seen as crucial to integrating renewable energy, the press and media seem to be looking for any new and exciting concept or R&D that could result in a story, without really evaluating the potential for practical success or application to our need for storage.

For example, I have seen articles recently about storage from "bug farts", "air fueled batteries", and a new flow battery that is safer and more reliable, costs less, and would be a good fit for solar and wind farms- but they won't talk about how it works.

I can't say that all or any of these technologies will be the energy storage equivalent of vaporware, and some seem to have some pretty serious and knowledgeable people behind them. However, it seems easy to get a lot of press on a concept or technology that is years away from any practical application.

We should continue our R&D and enjoy discussing new and creative energy storage ideas - but we also need to be realistic about our need for energy storage, and our need to begin deploying those technologies that are available now. Vaporware isn't going to solve our problems!

Why Blog about the VRB-ESS?

This is my initial post to the US&R Energy Storage blog. I started this blog so I could share my thoughts on grid energy storage and the VRB-ESS. Although there are many different energy storage technologies, and each has a potential application in the energy management toolbox, I wanted a forum where I could focus on the VRB system and its applications.

First, some background - the VRB-ESS is the vanadium redox flow battery (VRB) energy storage system (ESS) by Prudent Energy. More information on the technology is available at our website, My comments on this blog are my own and do not necessarily represent those of Prudent Energy or anyone else connected with the company.

The VRB technology is decades old and installed around the world in various sizes from 5 kW to 6 megawatts. It's ready for mass deployment for smart grid and wind/solar energy integration. We are looking for opportunities, such as provided by the smart grid stimulus funding, to deploy large installations and bring the cost down through economies of scale. Just like photovoltaic technology (PV), the cost for this technology has been significant, limiting installation to demonstrations and niche applications. However, the deployment of intermittent renewables, like solar and wind, is focusing attention on the need for massive energy storage, and incentives are being created to reduce installation costs and build the pipeline. Thus, like PV, greater deployment, due to these financial incentives, will result in cost reduction through economies of scale, resulting in even greater penetration and benefit to the grid.

Utility Savings & Refund, LLC (US&R) is my company and we are a sales affiliate for the system. We saw the possibilities for this amazing technology back in 2006, and we've been promoting it ever since. I'll be discussing some of the potential applications and benefits in later posts. However, my plan for this blog is to comment on current developments in energy storage, not to use the blog as a long infomercial for the VRB-ESS. That being said, please keep in mind that I will feel free to comment from the perspective of one that is most familiar with one specific and practical energy storage solution.