US Navy Pushes Solar Energy Storage Solution

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We just got wind of a major new oil industry campaign to tear down California’s clean energy rules, but we’re thinking these guys are going to be outflanked by the shockingly rapid growth of the energy storage sector. Case in point: the Navy Mobile Utilities Support Equipment facility in Port Hueneme, California, is hosting a new cutting edge smart microgrid project that can go into “island mode” using only solar power, thanks to vanadium flow batteries for solar energy storage.

If you’re new to the topic, it may come as somewhat of a shock to see Navy and solar energy in the same sentence. However, recall the Navy’s leadership transition from wind power to coal, oil, and nuclear energy, and you can see how this particular branch of the armed services is all over the next big energy thing like white on rice.

Energy Storage Vanadium Flow Battery for US Navy
Courtesy of Imergy Power Systems (image enhanced).

Advanced Energy Storage And Vanadium Flow Batteries

We’ll go over that anti-renewables campaign later this week, but for now let’s zero in on that energy storage angle. Our friends over at Imergy Power Systems are the brains behind the flow batteries, so let’s take a look at that aspect first.

Like the name says, flow batteries generate a charge by the interaction of two liquids flowing next to each other. Because the liquids are stored in separate tanks, flow batteries have a strong safety and scalability advantage. They also have a huge advantage when it comes to lifecycle durability.

One challenge has been to compress the energy density of the system into a useful size. Another challenge is finding a cost-effective way to get the liquids close enough to interact without contaminating each other.

vanadium energy storage
Vanadium flow battery (courtesy of Imergy Power Systems).

Vanadium is a silvery transition metal that lends itself to flow battery systems because it can exist in two states [update: okay, so more than two], which helps to cut down on the cross-contamination issue.


The problem in terms of US energy independence is that we have no functioning vanadium mine. That could change just about any minute, though, and additionally the folks at Imergy have come up with a proprietary system for reclaiming high quality vanadium from mine tailings and other forms of industrial waste.

Energy Storage For The US Navy

The energy storage system that Imergy is contributing to the Navy’s microgrid project consists of three shippable vanadium flow batteries it calls the ESP30. Imergy introduced ESP30 earlier this fall as a next-generation enhancement of its earlier technology. It has a capacity of up to 50 kilowatts and stores up to 200 kilowatt-hours.

ESP30 also delivers a cost of less than $300 per kilowatt-hour, a huge improvement over the first-generation technology, which clocked in at $500 per kilowatt-hour.

You ain’t seen nothing yet, since the company is confident that it can meet the Energy Department’s energy storage goal of $220 per kilowatt-hour within about two years.

In the context of the microgrid project, which is being run by the company Foresight Renewable Solutions, the three flow batteries will enable the base to optimize its energy consumption and reduce its electricity bills with a combination of demand management, load shifting, and strategic deployment of solar energy. A 50 kilowatt solar installation is also part of the project.

The “island mode” angle is critical for base security and resiliency, and the Navy is already looking to showcase the microgrid’s capabilities for use in the civilian sector, for example at school campuses, industrial facilities, and office parks:

The project will demonstrate how well a photovoltaic (PV) solar system and battery storage, disconnected from the grid, can provide energy for a user’s critical loads during a given time period, enabling similar systems to be securely deployed at remote, mission critical facilities.

Onwards And Upwards For Energy Storage

Being in the energy storage business, Imergy is also not shy about pointing out how quickly the energy storage sector is growing. Here’s a snippet from the company’s embargoed press release (break added for readability):

The market for energy storage is growing rapidly. The California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) has mandated that the state’s three largest investor-owned utilities add a minimum of 1.3 gigwatts (GW) of energy storage of energy storage infrastructure by the end of the decade.

Worldwide revenue from energy storage for the grid and ancillary services is expected to grow from $675 million annually in 2014 to $15.6 billion in 2024, according to a report from Navigant Research.

That’s just the utility sector talking. Now add in the mobile energy storage sector (aka electric vehicle sector), which is already in the process of developing vehicle-to-grid systems, and you’ve got an energy storage tidal wave on the way.

Not for nothing, but that aforementioned oil lobbying effort had better look out for the US Air Force, which has just nailed bragging rights to the world’s largest vehicle-to-grid fleet located — where else — in California.

Let’s also note for the record that vanadium could make its way into the mobile energy storage market, too, in the form of on-board flow batteries as well as next-generation EV fast charging stations.

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Tina Casey

Tina specializes in advanced energy technology, military sustainability, emerging materials, biofuels, ESG and related policy and political matters. Views expressed are her own. Follow her on LinkedIn, Threads, or Bluesky.

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