Published on April 23rd, 2014 | by Tina Casey


“Exceptional Step Forward” For Energy Storage In New York City

April 23rd, 2014 by  

New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority is one of the largest single users of energy in the US, and today the agency is officially launching a next-generation energy storage system that is bound to turn heads. MTA has installed three CellCube vanadium flow batteries on the 25th floor setback of its lower Manhattan headquarters to demonstrate how small footprint, high volume on site energy storage systems can shave down peak electricity use and turn a “smart” building into a brilliant one.

CellCube flow battery for MTA energy storage

CellCube battery (cropped) courtesy of Gildemeister.

On Site Energy Storage And Renewable Energy

Even without a renewable energy angle, on site energy storage is the next big thing in grid management and smart building strategies. It’s a  huge bottom line plus for the consumer, since you can store energy during cheap off-hours rates and draw from the battery when rates are high, while ensuring resiliency in case of grid disruptions.

In the bigger picture, on site energy storage can help local utilities reduce the need to put peaking plants on line to handle maximum load, and put off the need to build new plants.

The new MTA batteries will draw from the grid (no room on the 25th floor for a solar installation). However,  since the batteries are the CellCube line from the German company Gildemeister, which pitches the product as an on site renewable energy storage solution, we’re guessing that this high (literally) profile flow battery demonstration will help grow the US market for integrating on site energy storage systems with solar and other renewables.

American Vanadium

Those of you who know your vandium — a soft, silvery transition metal — are probably scratching your heads right now, wondering why MTA would choose a battery technology that could have some serious supply chain issues down the road, namely, there is no domestic source of vanadium in the US.

However, there will be soon. Last year the company American Vanadium crossed our radar because it had begun to develop a vanadium mining operation in the US, in the middle of Nevada. The operation, called the Gibellini Project, will put the company’s money where it’s mouth is: energy plans for the operation include a solar array and CellCube flow battery system.

Energy Storage Goes Mainstream

We had a chance to speak with Bill Radvak, President, CEO, and Director of American Vanadium last week, and he characterized the MTA project like this:

…an exceptional step forward for testing and understanding how vanadium flow batteries will save money by storing off peak power.

Partnering in the project is ConEdison, the massive utility company serving New York City.

One thing that ConEd expects to get from the project, according to Radvak, is a better handle on the potential for using distributed energy storage as a means of pumping energy back into the grid, with the ultimate aim of reducing the need to build large substations as demand grows.

That approach is also taking off in the mobile battery sector, just a few examples being the emerging Department of Defense vehicle-to-grid landscape, Ford’s MyEnergi package, and the University of Delaware V2G project.

As Radvak puts it, the interest in energy storage represents “a real shift in mindset…energy storage is no longer peripheral to energy systems.”

As for the vanadium flow battery advantage in an urban setting, Radvak explained that they are far more compact than lead-acid batteries, with the added benefit of being non-flammable and non-toxic.

That’s the real significance of the MTA project: if you can economically store a significant amount of energy on the 25th floor of a skyscraper, you can do it just about anywhere.

We’ve made previous attempts at describing how vanadium flow batteries work, and to that Radvak adds a couple of competitive angles with the current energy storage gold standard, lithium-ion.

One advantage is that flow batteries are highly durable. Since only one metal (vanadium) is involved, degradation of the electrode is minimized, and the result is a battery with no loss of capacity over a 20-years-or-more lifespan.

The other competitive aspect is scalability. Because flow batteries are relatively easy to scale up, the larger the flow battery, the more cost-effective the system becomes.

The MTA Energy Storage Demonstration

The MTA building, at 2 Broadway for those of you keeping score at home, is also significant because it is a certified Energy Star building that is already serving as a high profile test bed for a number of other advanced energy efficiency and conservation strategies in its 1.6 million square feet of space.

Aside from MTA, American Vandium (which markets CellCube in addition to developing the mine), and ConEd, other partners in the project include the New York State Research and Development Authority, the New York City Transit Office of Strategic Innovation and Technology, and the Advanced Research Technology Center (AERTC) at Stony Brook.

Also involved in the project is Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory, which developed an automated demand response system that complements the CellCube batteries. In addition, the National Renewable Energy Laboratory is slated to test CellCube batteries in a solar-integrated microgrid.

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About the Author

specializes in military and corporate sustainability, advanced technology, emerging materials, biofuels, and water and wastewater issues. Tina’s articles are reposted frequently on Reuters, Scientific American, and many other sites. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on Twitter @TinaMCasey and Google+.

  • CsabaU

    I’m missing discussions of the cost. Is Hope it is not of the type: “If you have to ask then you can’t afford it”.

    • Omega Centauri

      Chuckling, to some extent this is a cheerleading site. I think the flow batteries are reasonably priced -at least per KWhour of storage capacity. I don’t recall the round trip energy efficiency being so great however.

      • bink

        Omega, round trip efficiency not so important as hyped when charging at nite. Also major advancement in RB stack technology as of late, Vanadium chemistry 10x the power, significantly reduces the amount of vanadium needed per volume. A 1.5 MW or 1,500 kW’s x 450 kWh battery would now be housed in one 20′ container. Redox batteries are independently scaleable, if I need more power I add stacks not tanks and vice versa. That way none power materials are not being added as in the case of lithium ion batteries (70% non energy and power) materials.

        1 standard container= 1.5 MW’s x 450 kWh’s
        Building load=3 MW’s= 2 standard containers =3 MW’s x 450 kWh’s

    • JamesWimberley

      Tina says 3 batteries. Bloomberg say they are 130 kwh each, and the total project cost $1.2m. So about $3,000 per kwh. That can’t be right. Competitors are going for $300 per kwh in future; the current market price seems to be three times that.

      Worth noting that these are not consumer products where prices are public and advertised. Between-business contract details are usually confidential. But Tina should at least ask.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Wouldn’t it be great if someone would create a site that listed all the storage technologies and the important metrics?

        We’re really missing a way to easily compare various technologies.

        I think the important metric is what cost would be at scale. Prototype/first release prices are not very telling.

        Price at scale, efficiency, cycle life – this stuff should be in a table.

        • bink

          Bob, National Labs and 30 years in the field have proved VRB durability and the lowest installation per kWh in the business. It is the power (per kW) component that costs need to come down but I contend this depends on application. Bulk and peaking for grid applications is where they belong to take advantage of the system flexibility (power and energy).

          Until recent that would have been true but Watt Joule 10x power break through is a game changer. The stack has been proven out at University of Tennessee (OakRidge National Laboratory) so it is ready for commercialization. They have acquired a proven electrolyte already being commercialized, now they have to figure out how to containerize it and ramp production

          • Bob_Wallace

            “They have acquired a proven electrolyte already being commercialized, now they have to figure out how to containerize it and ramp production”

            That is a stream which is not always successfully jumped.

            Ambri is setting up a prototype factory. They apparently have working prototype liquid metal batteries and are now working on the best ways to manufacture at scale.

            They may or may not be able to jump their stream.

            We shouldn’t count on products until they are out in the real world and proving themselves.

          • bink

            Bob, when I say commercialized that means already being used in systems sold. The difference between redox flow and that metal battery is a long history of proven electrolyte formulas and cell stacks. Fuel cells have been around for over a hundred years and that is exactly what a redox flow battery is. Proton Exchange Membranes (PEM)’s are as old as you are. Matter of fact the vanadium redox battery is older than the lithuim ion battery. Bink

      • bink

        James, vanadium redox installed is around $1000 fkWh or something that small. The more capacity hours the lower the price, also you have to be careful about quoting battery costs that do not include installation. Everyone seems to be forgetting degradation and replacement costs with these other technologies. VRB’s are very durable

        • bink

          Bob, when I say commercialized that means already being used in systems sold. The difference between redox flow and that metal battery is a long history of proven electrolyte formulas and cell stacks. Fuel cells have been around for over a hundred years and that is exactly what a redox flow battery is. Proton Exchange Membranes (PEM)’s are as old as you are. Matter of fact the vanadium redox battery is older than the lithuim ion battery

      • bink

        James, another publication says 400 kWh which is their 200kW/400kWh cell cube

        • JamesWimberley

          Yes, 3 x 400 kwh = 1200 kwh = $1000 per kwh, in line with other sources. Looks plausible. Bob’s right of course, early-stage prices affect the rate of adoption but are irrelevant to the ultimate scale of rollout.

          • bink

            I agree, once utilities realize system flexibility (regulation and multi-hour application) versus dominant Lithium ion battery things will change. That would scale manufacturing and lower price without innovation but recent innovations will accelerate the process.

    • bink

      CsabaU, more advanced system is being commercialized with significantly more power. this will be commonplace with this technology as we move forward. Already lowest per kWh installed in business

    • CsabaU

      Of course, the low hanging fruit for these batteries is if New York City’s Metropolitan Transit Authority needed some kind of UPS and the battery both replaces the UPS and can shave the peak demand (with top prices). That is probably an excellent business case.

  • Michael Berndtson

    Mining always seems so 19th century sometimes. Obviously with vanadium and other organics and inorganics necessary for renewables and technology gizmos it’s not. I’m glad my alma mater never changed it’s name from Colorado School of MINES to something more modern and techy sounding. If only the world could actually mine natural resources with all the lessons learned between 1874 and 2014. There’s too much mining being done with environmental protection and remediation work arounds in the developed world. And dangerous and exploitative methods, considering both human health and the environment, in the less developed world.

    • JamesWimberley

      Yes, In theory a 100% sustainable society would not mine, only re-use. But since metals are indefinitely recyclable, exhausting their ores is not a problem on our immediate horizon. This one we can leave to our grandchildren, Global warming, not.

      • Michael Berndtson

        An entire kingdom lies between the idea and the action. Sound regulation and pretty much regulation alone only works to enforce environmentally sound mining and recycling practices. And of course not dealing exclusively with corrupt African and elsewhere leaders, who have interests in mining and an interest keeping it very low cost. And of course not establishing international trade agreements that promote a race to our post-apocalyptic hellscape future.

    • sault

      Well, fossil fuel extraction involves a significant chunk of mining and it is some of the dirtiest mining going on right now. As renewable energy and efficiency lower fossil fuel demand, all that mountaintop removal mining, Tar Sands extraction, fracking, and open pit / below ground coal mining will be reduced. Hopefully, this will reduce the impact that mining does on a global scale.
      We also have a problem of planned obsolescence where material goods, especially electronics, are not made to last more than a year or so. E-waste is a big problem and mining the materials that go into them, like Coltan, cadmium, lead and others, is another source of environmental problems. While planned obsolescense lines the pockets of the companies making these products, all the rest of us get in return are goods that break easily and a legacy of pollution from mining sites to the horror of e-waste “recycling” in developed countries.
      It’s great that many metals and minerals can be mined in a responsible way, but a great deal of the mining going on supports extremely wasteful and unsustainable consumption of little social utility.

      • Michael Berndtson

        Extraction, production, mining, exploitation are all the same things – subsets of mining, manufacturing and agriculture per SIC divisions. I don’t think I made a declaration that inorganic mineral extraction is better or worse than hydrocarbon mining. Have you ever been to a mining superfund site in western US? Butte, MT is a good place to start.

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