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

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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Written By

Tina 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+.

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