Energy Storage energy storage flow battery

Published on July 9th, 2014 | by Tina Casey


New Energy Storage Demo Rides On Pacific Northwest Winds

July 9th, 2014 by  

Three Washington State utilities with big investments in wind power have just signed on to a new $14.3 million energy storage and smart grid demonstration project. The end payoff will be further proof that wind power and other intermittent forms of energy can be integrated into a utility scale electricity provider while keeping up a steady stream of reliable, durable power.

The news comes fresh on the heels of an announcement by Siemens, which has just hit the 10-gigawatt milestone for its wind power installations in the Americas. Considering the vast, as yet untapped offshore wind power resources in the US there’s plenty more where that came from.

energy storage flow battery

Flow battery courtesy of UET.

We Built These Energy Storage Demo Projects!

The new three-utility energy storage project is being spearheaded by our friends over at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, which developed the vanadium flow batteries that will be used by two of the utilities. The $14.3 mil is being chipped in by Washington State, so group hug all you taxpayers out there.

Here’s the rundown on the three (for easy reference the links go to their wind power pages):

1. Avista Utilities will get $3.2 million for a project that combines a flow battery with a “smart campus” at Washington State University in Pullman. The utility will deploy its experience with smart grid tech funded in part by the US Department of Energy’s Smart Grid Investment program.

2. Puget Sound Energy gets $3.8 million for a lithium-ion battery project designed to provide some cost-benefit numbers for different sites in the utility’s territory.

3. Snohomish County Public Utility District No. 1 gets $7.3 million for a twofer: both a flow battery and a lithium-ion battery. Snohomish also has a Smart Grid Investment program grant under its belt.

Vanadium Flow Batteries For Advanced Energy Storage

We’ve been talking a lot about the advantages of flow batteries lately, and this is where the intermittent power source thing fits in.

Flow batteries store energy in the form of two liquids in separate tanks. To generate power you start pumping the liquids into a cell, but you keep them apart with a membrane (or an alternative system). Although still separate, the liquids interact to create an electrical current.

Because the liquids are kept separate, one key advantage of flow batteries is that they can remain idle for very long periods of time without losing their capacity to generate a current, yet they can be called into action quickly when needed.

As for the vandium angle, vanadium is a silvery transition metal commonly used in steel alloys. In solution, it can exist in four different states of oxidation, two of which can be deployed for use in flow batteries.

The use of a single element, rather than two, provides additional energy storage benefits for flow batteries, by simplifying the supply chain and buffering the system against damage if the two liquids accidentally come into contact with each other.

The vandium flow batteries used in the demo project are from the company UET, which is licensed to produce the technology specifically developed by Pacific Northwest National Laboratory to accommodate wind power.

Where’s The Vanadium?

We’ve brought the vanadium supply issue up before and it’s worth revisiting in light of the Energy Department’s push for vanadium based energy storage solutions.

The problem is that right now, there are no commercially viable vanadium mines in the US, leaving the domestic vanadium energy storage scene vulnerable to some serious supply chain issues.

However, that won’t hold true for much longer.

The aptly named company American Vanadium has been gearing up a cost effective vanadim mine in Nevada, and we just got an update from the company Imergy on its proprietary technology that enables it to recover high grade vanadium from mine tailings and other industrial waste.

Wind Power Ready For Its Closeup

Up to now the Pacific Northwest has been better known for its hydro resources as far as renewable energy goes, but wind power is coming on strong in the region, too.

If the three new vanadium based energy storage projects perform as expected, that means vanadium flow batteries could play a key role in developing additional wind resources.


Aside from the wind power projects of the three aforementioned Washington State utilities, there’s the gigantic Caithness Shepherds Flat wind farm in Oregon, which has also benefited from Energy Department Support as well as a $100 million investment from Google.

That’s just for starters in the offshore wind sector. The considerable offshore wind resources of the Pacific Northwest have so far remained untapped because of its relatively short stretch of shallow water, but a new floating wind turbine demo project off the Oregon coast aims to show how the region’s deep water wind resources can come into play.

That brings us right around to Siemens. Despite its impressive 10 GW record, the company has yet to tap US offshore wind power (for that matter, nobody has but that’s a whole ‘nother can of worms).

However, Siemens is a partner in the Oregon floating wind turbine project, so look for a lot of deep water action in the company’s future.

Update/clarification: The State of Washington is the project leader, with technical and analytical support from PNNL and others. You can get more details at

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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+.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Just saw this…

    “FREMONT, CA–(Marketwired – Jul 9, 2014) – Imergy Power Systems, a pioneer in advanced storage systems, has achieved a fundamental milestone in energy storage by developing an exclusive process for producing high-performance flow batteries with recycled vanadium from mining slag, oil field sludge, fly ash, and other forms of environmental waste.

    The achievement will have a number of significant impacts on the growing energy storage industry. Other manufacturers of vanadium flow batteries build their devices with virgin vanadium extracted from mining. It must then be processed to a 99% plus level of purity. Through an extensive R&D program, Imergy has developed a way to produce flow batteries with vanadium at a 98% purity level that can be harvested from environmental waste sites.

    By extracting vanadium from slag, Imergy will lower the cost of obtaining and processing vanadium — the principal active ingredient in many flow battery electrolytes — by 40% relative to competitors. As a result of this technology and other developments, Imergy will be able to lower the cost of its flow batteries from $500 a kilowatt hour, already an industry benchmark, to under $300 per kilowatt hour.

    Imergy’s flow batteries from low-grade vanadium will also be capable of storing more energy per kilogram than conventional vanadium flow batteries by more than twice, giving cell phone operators, solar power plant developers, microgrid owners and other customers more flexibility and capacity for managing outages, curbing peak power or reducing demand charges.”

    • bink

      Bob, the increased energy per gram is from the licensed PNNL electrolyte innovation which the co-founders of UET developed. This is an example where the IP was developed at PNNL and then licensed to 3 flow battery manufacturers UET, Watt Joule and Imergy to support an energy storage market. thus far UET is the only one with a containerized commercially available product. The others only recently acquired the licensing

  • TinaCasey

    Regarding taxpayer funded R&D, thanks guys for opening up the conversation in a new direction. For that matter, the technology behind hydrofracturing was developed thanks to federal research labs way back when, initially as an aid to the geothermal industry. Back then, geothermal wasn’t ready for prime time but eventually the oil and gas picked up the slack and the rest is history.

  • bink

    I am supportive of government research and believe as you do it is a necessary and required investment which drives innovation and new businesses. People that don;t government should have a hand in this stuff are dreaming and counting on corporate america to 1) invest the required R&D and 2) make it available to society as a whole,

    all i am saying is this technology platform has been around since the mid 80’s with innovation in between which gives it a solid track record in terms of what it can do.

    this a marketing issue not technology

    • Offgridmanpolktn

      I’m not sure on the specifics of this projects finances in particular, so as you say they could be abusing the government investment return potential.
      At first it seemed as if you were coming out against research investment in general, so like you I am glad that we see the positive results of these programs in general in the same way.
      Have a great day.

      • bink

        they are not taking advantage. keep in mind there is the money and then the brain trust to develop this stuff they are human beings.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Seems like the point here is that taxpayers are financing the projects but profits are flowing to another group of individuals.

    • bink

      the labs receive a licensing royalty for continued research

    • Will E

      hehe always is.
      the German utilities now want to sell their old nuke plants to the the state. so the cost of scrapping them will be paid by the state.
      in UK scrapping Sellafield did cost over a 100 billion euros. not done yet. paid by the state.

  • jburt56
  • Just some silly background on Pacific Northwest National Laboratories (PNNL). PNNL is run by the giant government contractor Battelle Memorial Institute. Battelle is a nonprofit with revenues of about $5 billion per year. Non profit doesn’t mean they do things for cheap. It just means they keep revenues above the bottom line and don’t pay taxes. U of Chicago does similar work for Argonne and Fermi National labs. PNNL has the management contract for the Hanford National laboratory – a producer of nuke fuel and other things.

    Anyway, PNNL licenses technology developed out of its shops. We pay for PNNL – but do we see a return on R&D dollars invested? I don’t believe so. I believe Battelle gets to keep that.

    For instance, PNNL developed a soil and groundwater remediation technology that is finding its way up to Alberta to do almost the same thing to extract tar sands without surface mining or steam injection via in situ techniques. Tar sands production will result in billions and eventually trillions in revenue. I don’t think anything will go back into US Treasury coffers to, say, pay down the debt. Or pave my street with gold bricks as Obama promised. That part is not true.

    • LouG

      Excellent write up. Just 2 points to Tina and Michael. Let’s leave political shots out of the discussion. Tina, FEDERAL SUPPORT means my tax dollars so maybe you could use Taxpayer support rather than Federal Support. Michael, excellent point about ROI of Taxpayer support. If more Green Supporters demanded a better ROI back to the taxpayer then support for green investment would grow. Michael, the President never promised streets of gold. Just saying to be fair Nuff politics. LouG

    • Offgridmanpolktn

      While these government investments don’t provide the more immediate ROI that you would like to see in the long run they do benefit the consumer/taxpayer.
      There have been several studies showing that we would not now have microwave ovens so inexpensive that the poorest of families can get them, solar panels efficient enough to compete with grid supplied electricity, small powerful computers that we carry in our pockets in the form of smartphones for a few hundred dollars, and the much more efficient tankless water heaters. None of these would now be available or if so at a price affordable to the majority of people without Kennedy’s investment in the boondoggle (as some put it) of NASA and the Apollo missions.
      Yes it does take time for the trickle down benefits of government research investment to be seen, but it has, does, and will continue to happen.

      • bink

        the UET technology is already in the market

    • bink

      hogwash, absolutely pays off. do you even know what the cost of the UET battery is ? or the kWh cost?

  • JamesWimberley

    Tina: “..wind power and other intermittent forms of energy can be integrated into a utility scale electricity provider while keeping up a steady stream
    of reliable, durable power.” Do I detect the survival of an obsolete paradigm? Viz. that a proper electricity supply is continuous, and anything less than 100% availability is a flaw to be compensated, even if the workaround, like giant batteries, is expensive.

    The other way to solve these problems is with mathematics and specifically statistics. You have a large population of consumers, whose demand varies semi-predictably at the individual level and with high predictability in the aggregate. You have a large population of generators, also varying, also highly predictable in the aggregate. Wind and solar vary separately, with negative correlation on both daily and seasonal scales.

    Question 1: what is the minimum despatchable capacity you need to cover all demand at 99% reliability, assuming arbitrary quantities of solar and wind?
    Question 2: given that in the above baseline scenario much of the renewable capacity is wasted, is it cheaper to substitute more despatchable capacity at the margin?
    Question 3: how much despatchable capacity (biomass, syngas, geothermal, hydro, storage, guaranteed imports, load shedding) will you have already?
    Question 4: which is cheapest?

    My guesses: 1. less than you think; 2. no (you are replacing low-cost with high-cost capacity, in both cases for occasional use); 3: more or less enough (especially because solar households will overbuild storage because of quirks in the billing model, even if its inefficient from a system viewpoint); 4: doesn’t arise.

    Prove me wrong. There is another question though.

    Question 5: given that much of the cost of 100% renewable electricity comes from the last 10%, even 5% (you need to overbuild both solar and wind at the margin for a tiny capacity factor), do you get a better carbon reduction bang for the buck by just leaving some existing and paid-for natural gas generators, which you only use to cover peaks and gaps, and spending the money on large-scale sequestration instead?

    • bink

      you keep saying expensive please give us some numbers of what you think this flow battery costs?

      • With or without vanadium mine development? Maybe with federal lands mineral rights purchase price, at 1876 levels, of around $2.75 per acre.

        • bink

          i am asking you what is the capex and per kWh cost of the vanadium redox SYSTEM ?

          • I don’t know. Why is that relevant at this stage of development? As long as it fits in the general range of other storage technologies to date. You seem vested in this – so maybe you did the economic analysis and could share your work with us. By the way, I think storage technology is awesome.

            You may want to jump into comments like an engineer who tags along with the salesperson on a prospective client visit. In this case, the salesperson would be Tina. You would be the engineer who knows the details both technically and economically. I’d be the prospect who found Tina’s pitch very interesting and the technology very enticing – but somewhat skeptical due to it being early in development. And wondering what part of the development cost would be borne on me, i.e. citizen of the United States.

            For what it’s worth, I’ve been both the engineer and the sales guy on a joint venture Battelle/PNNL technology commercialization. It ain’t easy to take something from small pilot to actual scale and from government to private sector – and scary for a prospective paying customer.

          • bink

            Michael, i know that, UET has a commercially available product. the demonstration project stuff is just strategic marketing. I listened to a CESA webinar a couple weeks ago and they are just looking to scale so they can get better pricing from their suppliers which will drive a cost drop.

            Keep in mind you are the one that brought cost into the equation as do you had some factual base for the costs from which you were working. You can’t make a statement about being too expensive unless you are basing it on something you have seen or read.

          • I don’t think I ever brought up cost. Except the flippant comment I made about mining. My mistake was replying to the wrong reply on accident. I thought I was replying to another reply of yours from a comment I made down thread. I may have hit a nerve. So, sorry.

            Again, cost isn’t all that important at this point – as long as it fits within the expected range for similar technologies. And there is promise of it being cheaper than existing technologies. Performance and scalability is key at this point in the pitch. Plus, anyone of the multinational power and power equipment suppliers has at least an office building floor of engineers, cost estimators, and economic evaluators to crunch all those cost numbers.

            I’m thinking there’s no such thing as “strategic marketing” for technology that needs to work and work well, i.e. proof is in the pudding. If it demonstrates to be successful (time and money) – then stand on street corner with a megaphone. Or fly around cities in a Piper Cub with an aerial banner affixed to the tail professing its success. Especially if it may usurp incumbent technologies such as coal, natural gas and nuke.

          • bink

            that aproper electricity supply is continuous, and anything less than 100% availability is a flaw to be compensated, even if the workaround, like giant batteries, is expensive.

            Enough said on whether you made a comment about expense
            secondly, like I said the components like cell stacks and pumps have years of proven field deployment, vanadium redox batteries are a mature technology not something cooked up. been out there since mid 80’s. the only thing different is a new electrolyte which gives a wider operating and temperature range while eliminating any fouling

      • JamesWimberley

        Is it really controversial that all storage is expensive? You have to generate the electricity. Then you have to build the storage, at additional capital cost. Pumped storage is the cheapest here, at £2m per MW; everything else costs more. Then you lose some (say a third) of the electricity in the round trip. So whatever the technology, it costs a lot more per kwh than plain generation – at least double. You look up the numbers for particular technologies if you want.

        • bink

          i am not going to argue with you when the utility industries own whitepapers dispel your argument. you forget there are things such as excessive reserves or night time off peak where storage can capture excess energy, sometimes getting paid for it, you don’t have to generate when you have large reserve margins.

          it is cheaper to use a battery to compensate than to have gas or coal generators just running in anticipation of a need, are you saying there is no cost associated with starting up a plant and burning fuel.

          a gas turbine cannot follow load (Frequency regulation, balancing, etc…) so they are used as peakers, then a combined cycle takes 45 mins to start up so it cant be brought online quickly. Is that really efficient ? two expensive plants to perform two different applications.

          the redox battery can perform ancillary service and provide capacity or demand response with a quick response of milliseconds. the vanadium redox battery can perform both applications simultaneously (at the same time) tell me another technology that can do that trick>

    • Guest

      Your answer to number 2 is wrong. There are diminishing returns when adding surplus renewable capacity, and at some point dispatchable capacity (storage) becomes cheaper.

      Storage is not cheap, but it is not that expensive either. It is needed for high penetration of renewables.

    • Hans

      There is a lot of scientific literature about the issues you mention. Somehow the results never quite manage to reach the general public or politicians.

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