Batteries energy storage solar flow battery

Published on June 21st, 2015 | by Tina Casey


Flow Battery Vs. Tesla Battery Smackdown Looming

June 21st, 2015 by  

Yes, they went there. A little-known startup energy storage company called UET just announced a major milestone for its latest flow battery project, and the folks over there couldn’t resist the opportunity to take a poke at the much-publicized Tesla battery, too.

The new UET flow battery is part of a major energy storage project supported by the US Energy Department. The goal is to compare and contrast the performance of  flow batteries with lithium-ion batteries — such as the Tesla battery —  when it comes to utility-scale performance and grid integration. So, hold on to your hats, this could get interesting.

vanadium flow battery wind energy

Energy Storage & Flow Batteries

For those of you new to the topic, the energy storage market is set to take off like a rocket, running apace with the renewable energy market and the boom in electric vehicle sales.

Since wind and solar energy come and go, energy storage fills a critical gap in terms of availability and reliability. That goes for utility-scale operations and the booming small-scale sector consisting of homes, businesses, and other relatively small users.

So far, lithium-ion (Li-ion) technology has staked a claim to the gold standard for energy storage in terms of performance relative to cost. To gild the lily, Li-ion batteries are easily scalable — hence the Tesla Motors Li-ion battery and coming Gigafactory.

Best known for its application to the already-legendary Tesla electric vehicle, the Tesla battery was recently introduced to the small-scale stationary energy storage market in the form of the Powerwall battery, and the company is also diving into the utility-scale market.


However, other energy storage technologies have an eye on the prize as well, which brings us to redox flow batteries (redox is fancyspeak for the transfer of electrons).

“Flow” literally describes how flow batteries work. They consist of two tanks of liquid, which simply sit there until needed. When pumped into a reactor, the two solutions flow adjacent to each other and generate a charge.

Earlier versions were costly, inefficient affairs but in recent years flow battery technology has leaped several hurdles. The main driver here in the US has been the Energy Department’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL).

The UET Flow Battery

That brings us to UET, which is short for UniEnergy Technologies.

The guts of the UET flow battery were developed at PNNL, which engineered a flow battery based on vanadium (vanadium is a silvery gray transition metal, also known as a micronutrient).

PNNL’s breakthrough was to introduce hydrochloric acid into the electrolyte solution. Conventional flow batteries use sulfuric acid, and PNNL found an increase of about 70% in storage capacity when both acids are used.

In addition, the use of two acids enabled the battery to function efficiently at a far greater range of temperatures. As for lifecycle costs, one advantage of vanadium flow batteries is the 100% recyclability of the vanadium.

In 2012, we took note when UET won a licensing agreement to cross the technology into commercial use, specifically aimed at wind energy. Here’s what the Energy Department had to say back then:

The redox flow battery is well-suited for storing intermittent, renewable energy on the electricity grid. The technology can help balance supply and demand, prevent disruptions and meet the grid’s varying load requirements…

Redox flow batteries can also help utilities during times of peak demand on the grid, providing additional power when it is needed. Successful commercialization of DOE-sponsored technology development, such as this, is vital for creating the grid of the future, and sustaining U.S. leadership in advanced technology.

Let’s note for the record that Tesla Motors can also thank us taxpayers for its success. In 2010, the company received a $365 million federal loan to crank up production of its Model S electric vehicle (Tesla paid off the loan far ahead of schedule, btw).

Where were we? Oh, right. UET’s big new announcement. The company is involved in a three-part Energy Department–sponsored smart grid energy storage project in Washington State, which is designed to demonstrate high-efficiency systems for tapping into the region’s wind energy resources.

The project is set up to include both Li-on and flow battery technology. UET was tapped to provide a flow battery for Avista Utilities, which was assigned to develop a “smart campus” microgrid with Washington State University in Pullman. One major end-user will be the employee-owned electric power systems company Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories.

The battery was delivered earlier this year and the new announcement confirms that the shakedown period is over, and it is now fully owned by Avista.

Here’s the subtle dig at the Tesla battery from company CEO Gary Yang from the press release:

…UET is not shy to say it has the best grid-scale energy storage solution at the best levelized cost, maximizing value for the customer.

Actually, UET is hardly being subtle about it. Back up a couple of graphs in the press release and you’ll find this nugget:

The Uni.System’s levelized cost ($/total GWh delivered over 20 year life) is multiple times lower than the cost of lithium ion systems such as Tesla. Those have limited availability of their energy, degrade in capacity, are flammable, and have ¼ to ½ the lifetime of the Uni.System.

Is that the sound of a dropping microphone we hear?

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Image: Courtesy of PNNL.

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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+.

  • eveee

    There is no Tesla battery to compete against. Tesla doesn’t own the rights or patents to any battery chemistry, nor do they need to. They have the biggest market for lithium batteries in the world by far, that’s all. Currently Panasonic sources their cells. Companies submit test cells to Tesla constantly. This company and every other company in the world is vying for their attention. The battery companies are competing against each other to get their cells built at the GigaFactory. Cell life and cost separates the wannabes from the real deal, not capacity.

  • bink

    Know all about it and recycled vanadium is not expensive versus market vanadium plus UET has its own source of vanadium.

    also a innovation pathway mitigates any pricing concern

  • newnodm

    What is the expensive part of making a flow battery? What cost per watt is Yang claiming?
    I would be concerned today purchasing storage that had a competitive LCOE based on years 10-20. A lot is going to change over the next ten years.

    • bink

      why ? when in a utility application you will need to have that longevity in order to defer infrastructure upgrades. That is where the money is. Most expensive DC component is the power stack. Power density improvements would shring that and the overall cost of the system. There is a pathway to doing that through invention not materials cost

      • bink

        Know all about it and recycled vanadium is not expensive versus market vanadium plus UET has its own source of vanadium.

        also a innovation pathway mitigates any pricing concerns

  • eveee

    I will be more impressed with the bravado marketing statements when they are accompanied by published firm prices and complete descriptions of all particulars. Until then, its strikes one as odd the boasts are particularly loud, but the particulars are peculiarly quiet.

    • Anon

      You get published prices and all the particulars when you are a customer. Are you a utility or IPP?
      We know the price of the Powerwall (targeted to consumers). Can you tell me the price (all-in price) of Tesla’s grid scale version?
      UET has publicly quoted capex costs, both near term ($800/kWh) and long term ($500/kWh). That’s about as good as you are going to get from a company that doesn’t care whether you (as a non-customer) are oblivious to their product pricing.

      • eveee

        Explain why Tesla has published prices then. I get that the utility business is different. But everyone has to compete. Can I tell you Teslas all in price of the grid scale version? Not exactly. But the quote from Musk at a shareholder meeting is $250/kwhr. We know thats relatively real because we know its just below the cost of the PowerWall which is also published.
        We even know details about PowerWall use. Still not as much as we would like to know, but compared to VRB vendors, Tesla is transparent.
        Other Li battery vendors have different degrees of transparency. We also have several different storage vendors popping up, with varying degrees of transparency.
        Long term estimates of cost from a flow battery company are about as good as the viability of the company. We have lost a few recently….

  • bink

    The Mogget, you got it from the horses mouth. I can get a complete installed system for 4 hour duration cheaper than installed powerpack. with a quicker payback in deregulated market

    • windbourne

      Note though, that it is cheaper because it is a large installation. For small ones, powerwall is probably going to be the way to go for some time.

  • QKodiak

    Have any of you’ll heard of the 20700 cell that Tesla has already designed and has slated for mass production at the Gigafactory? It’s 10% larger than the current 18650 cells and has optimized packaging and a slightly better chemistry. These changes will allow battery packs using the 20700 cells to have a 30% higher energy density than the current battery packs using 18650 cells. Also, when mass produced, these are supposed to drop the cost per kWh by at least 30%.

    That means that a Model S AWD equipped with a battery pack using 20700 cells could theoretically have a 345-mile EPA range while remaining the same weight, give it a 300-mile range while reducing the weight, or Tesla could redesign the Model S, refreshing the exterior, making it even lighter which would make it handle better, and giving it enough battery for a 300-mile EPA range.

    This article here states that the Model III (80% smaller than the Model S) could be lighter than an equivalent and nearly identically sized BMW 3-series due to what he calls “knock-on” effect. A lighter battery would allow for a lighter frame which can use a smaller, lighter, more efficient motors and inverters which reduces the energy needed to power it which reduces the size of cabling reducing weight which allows for a lighter battery, smaller, lighter brakes, suspension components, etc.

    • Ivor O’Connor

      Yes, I think most of us have heard of it.

      • QKodiak

        Good. I’m surprised that it has not been mentioned yet. The comment above has been edited.

        • Ivor O’Connor

          Since the new flow battery is more hype than reality it is hard to make an actual comparison. If the flow battery starts competing in the same markets as Tesla then real comparisons will probably be made.

          The article’s title is more for clickbait.

          • bink

            Ivor, did you not see that this was a real sale to a utility (they own it) I don’t understand the hype part . flow batteries are 30 years of field installation. there is a second installation going in for another Washington state utility this years as well. In California they have a behind the meter installation which has been operating for over a year at an industrial park.

            the technology is not knew and is proven, The powerpack will compete with vanadium flow

          • Ivor O’Connor

            I did not see the part where real prices and availability to the public were mentioned. Please enlighten me with those details.

          • bink

            Most of these guys are not going to publish pricing to the public, just because Tesla did so, does not mean they will. They have targeted industry and because of that they don’t do public pricing. I have distribution agreements so I have access to that information and the batteries for resale. not necessarily these guys but I know the price points and the systems.

            They are interested in utility and industrial commercial application not residential. transmission and distribution deferment is the biggest payday storage could hope to have so I don’t blame it to began with. We are co developing a large installation (transmission) using VRB technology. So I know its real

          • Ivor O’Connor

            This company does not mind bad mouthing Tesla prices but then refuses to give their prices?

            The Uni.System’s levelized cost ($/total GWh delivered over 20 year life) is multiple times lower than the cost of lithium ion systems such as Tesla.

            Seriously? They are allowed to say such things but not back it up? Meanwhile Tesla does give prices and they are sold out for year and years. I would like this company to be honest and come clean. To give prices. Until then I’ll assume they are not honest.

          • Bob_Wallace

            It’s frustrating, but there’s a lot of stuff we on the outside can’t find out.

            What does it cost GM to build the ICE and its support systems for the Volt? We don’t know so we can’t predict when a large battery pack will be cheaper.

            What percentage of the cost for a $25k ICEV is engine/systems and what percentage is the rest of the car? Knowing that we could make some estimates how low battery prices would have to fall to allow a mid $20k EV.

          • bink

            bob, you are correct. Ivor should not focus so much on cost and concern himself with cost effectiveness or ROI. That will tell you whether they will be competitive or not. You can have a lower cost system and yet be the least cost effective, because you left money on the table. The energy storage market is not straightforward

          • Bob_Wallace

            Problem is, bink, I don’t have any idea what the ROI for a flow battery might be.

            I can clearly see that flow batteries should be hugely cheaper for long term storage than lithium-ion, assuming reasonably priced chemicals. Large storage tanks are cheap. But I’ve no numbers that I can use to replace “hugely cheaper”.

            I’ve got a feel for what lithium-ion batteries cost. I can take their cycle life expectancy/efficiency and calculate the cost of daily, weekly or multiple-month storage. I can find bits and pieces here and there about the per kWh cost for PuHS. Best I can say about flow batteries is that they might be the cheapest option. Or not.

            I fully understand that companies want to write purchase agreements in secret so that they can get as much as possible in each separate contract. But flow batteries aren’t likely to gain a lot of public support until the industry starts releasing some ballpark numbers.

          • bink

            Let me clarify. In order to calculate ROI you need a cost factor and a revenue factor, and this is where all things are not equal. Lets say the cost of system 1 is $200 lower per kilowatt hour than system 2

            The bid is for renewable (PV) energy sales, firming, shifting, peak shaving (great so far) but then additional ancillary services are required: frequency regulation, voltage support, VAR management, balancing services, T&D deferment, etc…

            System 1 is a lithium ion high energy battery

            System 2 is a vanadium redox battery

            The bid services involve both power and energy applications, cycling many times a day, some services will have to be performed simultaneously

            Which system can capture all those revenue streams and which one can capture only a portion of those revenue streams ?

            The methodology for payment is based on avoided cost or deferment of (T&D upgrade, generation,)

            System resiliency and flexibility (generation optimization peak shaving, reserves), and reliability (ancillary services), and environmental (emissions reduction)

            System 1 will capture energy sales, firming, shifting, and peak shaving-displacing a combustion turbine (CT) gas peaker, environmental reductions

            System 2 will capture energy sales, firming, shifting, peak shaving, ancillary services, T&D, generation, and greater environmental reductions – displacing a CT peaker, a combined combustion cycle plant (regulation services and load following) , substation and lines deferment (spinning reserves and congestion relief) generation optimization (storage proxy for regulation) _- reducing pollution from less ramping

            Same thing would apply at commercial industrial level behind the meter, electric storage would have to have the ability to simultaneously provide behind the meter service and ancillary service in deregulated market to increase ROI, otherwise the ancillary service revenue is left on the table

          • Bob_Wallace

            “Lets say the cost of system 1 is $200 lower per kilowatt hour than system 2.”

            That would require the cost of system 2 to drop to or below $0. EOS Systems is stating an installed price of $160/kWh once they scale up some more and 10,000 cycles (about 30 years). Alevo and Ambri are talking $100/kWh.

            “Which system can capture all those r evenue streams and which one can capture only a portion of those revenue streams ?”

            Both systems can capture the revenue stream. It simply comes down to cost. We could stack up a pile of lead-acid batteries and perform all those functions were cost not an issue.

            Flow batteries have the ability to store more energy for a longer time and might have a cycle life advantage (liquid metal batteries may have longer cycle lives). PuHS is a direct competitor with flow batteries in terms of cycle life and ability to store large amounts of energy at low cost.

            Lacking any cost data we don’t know if a flow, lithium-ion, liquid metal or other chemistry battery is the least expensive for short term storage purposes. Out past a couple of days then flow batteries and PuHS probably have a cost advantage.

          • bink

            bob stay with me. lithium does not have the ability to do all those services simultaneously and that is what you would have to do to get compensated. Regulation and volt support, VAR management services are 24/7.

            I am going to point you back to solar grid solutions who thought they could firm, shift and peak while providing frequency regulation services in the PJM using a single inverter. They according to Jigar Shah they could not and I technically they cannot. Peak shaving requires a 100% discharge or oversizing the system to get the same capacity. Also a high energy density lithium battery is not engineered for power application, it will significantly degrade during daily use

          • Bob_Wallace

            “lithium does not have the ability to do all those services simultaneously and that is what you would have to do to get compensated. ”

            I don’t understand that. If the grid is short of power then that shortfall can be supplied by either dispatchable generation or storage. It doesn’t matter what kind of storage (or generation) is used. Watts are watts.
            Frequency drops, I think, because loads are more than operating spinning generation can produce and they log down, slow down. Pump in some more power and they speed back up.

            “Also a high energy density lithium battery is not engineered for power application, it will significantly degrade during daily use”

            This may be the case but it does not mean that batteries cannot do the job. It just means that they would last less and the overall price would increase.

            If there was a very large amount of battery storage online then all the batteries could pump out a lot of power for a short time and shave the peaks without causing battery damage. If one undersized the total pack then, yes, the pack could be damaged.

            Perhaps there is something that I’m not understanding. If so, try saying it a different way.

          • bink

            you are not understanding, I will come back to you, If you look at it from an investor perspective, and not just as an observer than you will get

          • Ivor O’Connor

            bink is trolling. Uni themselves say they beat Tesla’s price many times over. If that were true then Tesla would have to be 3x or more expensive. So they should be able to offer their product at 1/3rd the price and still make a huge profit. They don’t.

            Then bink wants to say comparisons can’t be made. Yet Uni already has made the comparison. Then when you ask clear questions he tries to baffle with BS and then runs away saying you just don’t understand.

            I’ve seen this type of behavior many times throughout my life. An honest company, or person, would gleefully fill in the details because they want to make money. The fact this is not happening should make it obvious they want attention but are not ready. I’ll be polite and say they are not ready “yet”. I like almost everybody hopes they get their product together and becomes very profitable for all.

          • bink

            stop making incorrect statements they say on a levelized cost basis and yes they do. UET quotes a complete system and not just DC level. You have your opinion and that is good lets circle back in 6 months and see whats up

          • Ivor O’Connor

            Quit trying to hide bink. They made serious accusations and so have you. Supply numbers or be dismissed as vaporware and trolling.

          • Anon

            Can you supply numbers for the levelized cost (AC) of the Tesla grid scale battery?

            They haven’t been published. When they are, your comment might have a sliver of merit.

          • Ivor O’Connor

            Did you mean to ask me for numbers? It is not me that has claimed I have numbers. It is this new upstart company and bink that say they have numbers. To which I have said please share the numbers instead of saying their products are far cheaper. (As the CEO Gary Yang claims.) Or that their products are so superior to Tesla’s no comparisons can be made. (As bink has said.)

          • eveee

            “An honest company, or person, would gleefully fill in the details because they want to make money”

            Or admit they don’t know…

            “I’ll be polite”

            You are showing remarkable restraint.

          • Ivor O’Connor

            Thanks. I’m trying very hard these days to be positive.

          • eveee

            You and me both. But like Bob says, its getting so my phasers are stuck on full blast with all the nonsense coming at me.
            Its worth it to be discerning and still keep my cool.

          • eveee

            Bob – you grasped it. Lithium batteries do regen in EVs. So why can’t they do that on the grid? No reason. A battery is a battery is a battery. Frequency regulation and other grid services are a property of the inverter, not the battery, as along as the battery has decent overall characteristics. A123 batteries could be charged at 25C. Translated, that means you could charge them fully in minutes without destroying them. That certainly sounds like a battery that could instantly absorb or provide massive power.


          • eveee
          • bink

            bob name me one lithium battery installation in the PJM or California that is actually providing frequency regulation and capacity ? PJM has a capacity and ancillary market. Where are the lithium battery installations providing both. UET is not only serving the behind the meter customer but grid services to Avista.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Batteries, at this point, are just starting to be used for frequency regulation. There is not ample demand for capacity, if by capacity you mean time shifting large amounts of energy.

            To me, batteries are batteries. They have cost, efficiency, and cycle life characteristics. I can see that flow batteries could have longer cycle life than lithium-ion but less than liquid metal. I can see that flow batteries could store larger amounts of energy for less money. But I don’t have good numbers to put on much of that.

          • bink

            bob PJM has allowed battery for regulation since 2012 and has benefited them greatly. You will never see one application pay for a battery, Even in the PJM it does not completely cover costs but even if it did there are other more lucrative applications and that is waht I am getting at at how applications can you stack that would mitigate any cost advanatge

          • eveee

            Bob – Look out. See my comment above. AES provides frequency regulation services to PJM using lithium batteries. They are also a Tesla partner. That is in direct contradiction to his challenge.

          • eveee

            Explain what you mean by that. Is there some reason a lithium battery cannot provide frequency regulation? That is a property of the inverter, not the battery. Lithium batteries can both absorb and provide energy. And power. If they could not do so, they could not be used for regen in an EV.

            Here is where there is a lithium battery providing frequency regulation grid services. Of course they also provide capacity. It happens to be with PJM.

            The provider is AES.


            AES is a Tesla partner.


          • eveee


          • eveee

            Lets balance the claims between flow providers and lithium, shall we? I would like to see both succeed, but readers need some perspective. Here is AES on long term grid storage, whatever that means..

            Clearly, the claim that lithium cannot do frequency regulation is simply wrong. Where this simultaneous power and energy and grid services claim comes from, or what it means, I don’t know. It makes little sense. Maybe we should get a response from a competitor.

            Sounds like gobbledygood to me.


            “A123 which was bought out of bankruptcy by China’s Wanxiang and sold for $100 million to Japan’s NEC in March, has launched a long-duration storage system that it has deployed in Spain and Japan so far. There’s little doubt that many other lithium-ion battery manufacturers and their partners are working along similar lines.”

            “The market potential for storage that can provide hours of capacity could dwarf those for shorter-duration grid services like frequency regulation, where lithium-ion has played its primary grid role so far. Mid-Atlantic grid operator PJM procures about 6 gigawatt-hours of this grid frequency balancing per year, and as of last year, AES Energy Storage’s battery fleet provided about 1 gigawatt-hour of that, he said.”

            There is ample evidence of grid services, frequency stability, provided to PJM in direct contradiction to claims.

            1. Frequency stability
            2. PJM

            Thats two strikes…

          • Anon

            Google is your friend. Do some research before speaking such. UET has publicly stated both near and long term pricing.

          • Ivor O’Connor

            sniff sniff. I smell troll…

          • Anon

            And even Tesla hasn’t disclosed AC-AC system costs for its grid scale product. The powerwall has a price because it’s essentially a consumer product. It’s not fair to criticize a grid scale battery company based on non-public pricing.

          • bink

            that is exactly what you are doing with UET even though they give you their pricing in the article WOW< WOW< WOW!!!!!

          • Anon

            I don’t think you meant to respond to me. I wasn’t critical.

          • bink

            sorry i meant to respond to Ivor, i appreciate the support. Ivor is all things Tesla and his bias shows even in the face of facts, as you stated UET gave numbers and that is exactly what they are selling for (a complete system).

            The sad part is they are living in a fantasy land. the department of energy has stated many times that storage wwill have to capture several benefits to be cost effective. Ivor is focused on cost of goods and not the revenue side of the cost effective equation

            If I deffer a 20 million dollar upgrade because I can provide voltage support or congestion relief and the avoided cost of a combined cycle generator for load following and regulation at $1,600 a kWh capital cost I am using the technology that can capture both not just one.

  • bink

    That project had a lot of costs that had nothing to do with the battery installation. Avista hired a bunch of people on their end that was included in the budget, they also worked with their consultants to develop power flow patterns and modeling for their system (included in budget). Algorithm were developed again, part of the budget. This application of energy storage was a first of its kind. This was not straight forward but not unusual. That ran the final project numbers up

  • Ivor O’Connor

    It is only a matter of time until these are made in water heater formats. We are certainly living in interesting times!

  • jnffarrell1

    Region scale flow batteries work. County scale, transformer substation batteries work too, school scale, refuge scale, Costco warehouse scale batteries work better with Tesla’s batteries and home scale batteries/inverters with or without solar cells work great at keeping refrigerators and cabins working while the grid is off.

    Easy to say that once every five years a grid failure is OK unless it wrecks a family vacation or reception.

  • Matt

    There is lots of room for many type of players in this market. Since there are many uses. Performance factors (Cost, density, # charge cycles, charge rate) will drive the winners in each segment. The trade off between different factors will be different for each segment.

  • Interesting developments (patent-pending) at Biosolar with their superbattery. If that works, that’s going to disrupt things a little, … IF … IT … WORKS, that is.

    • Matt

      Look at their web site. All they have to say is they are working with a lab to get it working. Then need to build/test some prototypes. Yes I hope it working, but it look to “just” be a polymer cathode. So best option to mass production for them is a licensing deal with multiple manufactures.

      • As I stressed by using the “IF” statement, this is interesting, but actual effect on society is dependent on many factors obviously. It looks like it is JUST a polymer cathode? There are many that have the same numbers? Please provide evidence for this. Yes, it is clear that they are looking for licencing deals.

  • Ronald Brakels

    Litium-ion batteries are flammable? I am unperturbed. Come to Australia, we’re so crazy we actually put explosive fossil fuel derived liquid in our vehicles and climb inside them and drive around. (Basically it’s just like Mad Max: Fury Road, but with more seat belts and speed limits.)

    • Bobby

      The flame guitars are also interesting. Well done.

      • Ronald Brakels

        Yeah, I had to play the flame Guitar in my school band. I had no talent for it at all, but they made me play it anyway simply because I had scored the best on the kerosene safety exam.

        • eveee

          Always remember fire safety when playing the flame guitar.

          • Ronald Brakels

            I always remembered fire safety. That’s why I sucked. You gotta give it all to the fire guitar. You can’t hold anything back. You just gotta… let it burn.

    • Rtfa Zeberdee

      I think the issue is lithium-ion batteries in things like laptops/phones, there have been a few of those bursting into flame over the years.

      • Ronald Brakels

        Even the humble lead-acid battery will on rare occasions turn itself into a pile of smoking goo. But up until now home energy storage in Australia has generally meant a supply of gasoline and a generator, so I’m not too perturbed by very small possibility of them catching on fire since they are a huge improvement with regards to fire safety over what we currently use. Especially since once generally has to open up the battery case with a jackhammer or some such to get them to catch on fire.

        • I’ve heard rumors that grid electricity wired into homes has a slight potential of causing fires as well. (That’s sarcasm, Bob… 😉

          • Bob_Wallace

            Bob sometimes needs help like that.

            He deals with so many jerks and trolls that he can read a comment while his phasers are set on high and ….

          • Ivor O’Connor

            You don’t say… 😉

  • OneHairyfoot

    Let’s note for the record that Tesla Motors can also thank us taxpayers for its success. In 2010, the company received a $365 million federal loan to crank up production of its Model S electric vehicle (Tesla paid off the loan far ahead of schedule, btw).

    BTW, that has been a long time ago now… and has been payed back. GM is still paying back there Publicly funded loans as-we-speak. How about have the Article about the Technical parts of the Battery(UET flow battery)? This is new to me. Does the Battery use the Electrolyte salutations as fuel or recycles them… example Hydrogen fuel? All I see is a jab at Tesla battery.

    • TinaCasey

      Thank you OneHairyfoot for reminding us. Yes I did note that Tesla paid its federal loan back well before the due date…still, the company did get the loan so what’s wrong with a nice group hug for all the U.S. taxpayers that gave an assist?

    • Bob_Wallace

      This battery uses vanadium. The vanadium is not consumed but can be recovered and used in the replacement battery a few decades from now.

      Lithium is also not consumed in lithium batteries. It can also be recovered and reused.

    • QKodiak

      It was $465 million dollars paid back 10 yrs early WITH INTEREST. The government made money off of Tesla Motors. As a result, taxpayers have effectively not put a red cent into Tesla Motors.

      • Hold Your Horses

        Nice try…they wouldn’t have gotten their feet off of the ground without us, or at least no where near as quickly. Just because they paid back with interest and we ‘made’ money off of them makes no difference. That money could have gone towards other tech and made more money, less money or incurred a debt. In the case of Tesla the bet payed off, however, they would not be where they are, as many companies wouldn’t, without taxpayer support be it through incentives, loans, grants subsidies, and turning a blind eye to dangerous situations. Fortunately, in the case of Tesla, this loan didn’t get stumped by the Big Three nor has it turned out to be a Fiskers or Solyndra, lest ye forget.

        • Bob_Wallace

          I’ll bet you don’t know that the vast majority of federally supported startups have succeeded.

          That 25% of all privately funded businesses fail in the first year, 36% by the end of the second, and 50% by the fourth.

          ​That there are few industries in the US that have not benefitted by government assistance getting off the ground.

          I’ll bet you don’t understand the basics of investing…​

          • Anon

            I don’t think that was his/her point. I think so, because I agree with both comments.

            It is undeniable that Tesla benefitted from the federal government. It is also a fact that the loan was paid back. That is what he/she stated.

            Everything you said was also true. Your comments after the two “I bet…” seemed out of place.

  • Robert Fahey

    Golly, it seems everyone has a much better alternative to Li-ion, and is developing much better cars than Tesla’s.

    • Bob_Wallace

      Troll much? ;o)

      • YBT

        Reads like a joke to me. Print is perhaos not the best medium for such dry wit..

        • Joe Viocoe

          tags should become a standard part of the HTML spec.

        • Calamity_Jean

          No “perhaps” about it.

      • Patrick Hoffman

        I thought it was sarcasm. Everyone claims how great their stuff is but we never see a price or its this thing in a giant shipping container.

        • Bobby

          Or how much they can produce in a year…

          • Eventually you have to “shoot the engineer” (stop fiddling with improvements) and ship a product. Most people seem to struggle with that concept, but Elon Musk ships actual product in quantity while creating enthusiastic demand. I’m not jealous of his wealth, but I am jealous of how well he transitions technology into product at commercial scale while his many competitors ship press releases. It’s a rare and valuable talent.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Good point. Grab what works best right now and start producing. And while producing constantly search for better stuff and update.

          • Jacob

            Actually Musk bothered to have a launch.

            Car firms and mobile phone firms have launches all the time. And they reveal their retail prices too.

            Battery firms (except Tesla) do not bother with that.

          • bink

            Jacob, wish i could say something but I can’t. What is going to happen in about 16 months is going to disrupt the energy storage and automobile business.

          • bink

            at this time they can scale to 100MW annually

          • Bobby

            Where and who is paying for it? How much tomorrow?

          • bink

            i do not understand what you are asking. if you place a purchase order tomorrow they can produce the units for you

          • Bobby

            So even amazing as it is… According to the article its adoption rate is so low we have to read about it in a news article.

          • bink

            bobby the US energy storage market is really just taking its first steps here, so that is unfair. VRB had dozens of installations around the world prior to that. US utilities don’t even know all the benefits they can gain from storage I know I have been doing this since 2010 when i started my company as an independent rep for battery makers.

            I have now become a developer distributor. We have been out there for the last 4 years educating the utility industry for 4 years and a lot of them still don’t get it, they are just very risk averse.

            These are not consumer batteries so lithium had an advantage in that regard (being known) but as the uses and technology constraints become known that will and “is” changing quickly.

            A Tesla announcement isn’t going to change that. As you can see the hype is dying down once people become educated.

  • newnodm

    Tesla defines their utility batteries as useful in limited spaces, such a substations. I take their product positioning as a recognition that there will be other solutions that will be superior to Li-ion in some applications.
    In ten years there may be three or four new types of batteries in large scale production. Li-ion will probably have the highest energy density.

  • Bobby

    How many megawatts of storage will they manufacture in a year? Betamax was great but failed …

    • Bob_Wallace

      With Betamax and VHS tape there was a need for a single standard. Consumers picked VHS over the supposedly better Betamax for some reason I don’t recall.

      There will be no need to standardize battery storage. Grids around the world can use whatever works best for them. And individual grid could have some of each. It’s a wide open market.

      • Jason hm

        The guy pushing VHS was a better salesman/businessman schmoozed the industry into adopting VHS standard. Content producers made the VHS win over Beta max not consumer choice. I Remember very few movies where actually available in beta max because that guy got exclusive deals from the movie studios .

        • AltairIV

          Nah, the primary reason that VHS won out was very simply that it provided longer recording
          times per tape. At a time when each individual cassette cost a bundle, most
          consumers decided that quantity was more important than quality. The greater capacity also greatly benefited the rental industry, since a single tape could hold an entire movie.

          • Wayne Dibbley

            VHS could record the entire Superbowl. Betacord couldn’t.

    • Matt

      No Beta lost because the owner of the patent would not license. But the own of VHS (a lower quality product at the time) license to all comers. So they were many ways to by VHS and only one (more costly) Beta. Yes, I had a Beta for the better quality, but water under the bridge.

      • Benjamin Nead

        Yes, greater recording time on VHS was part of it.
        The complete story is documented here . . .

        Note that Beta tape won out in the end as a professional level
        medium (TV news gathering, etc.)

        OK . . . back to grid storage batteries . . .

      • Bobby

        Beta was better. You pointed out the reason. It still died, as will flow batteries if no one produces enough to do the job we need done, so: who is making them and how many mw did they produce this year?

  • Jenny Sommer

    How much and where can I buy?

    • Bob_Wallace

      No price info.

      How many shipping containers would you like?

      • Jenny Sommer

        Dann…that won’t fit my laptop.

        • vensonata

          Precisely. The size is what Elon Musk was referring to in his shareholders meeting when talking about the Tesla grid scale batteries. He said that at a substation, where large scale batteries would typically be installed, lithium fits in the present buildings elegantly. Flow batteries footprints are much larger and they would have to buy the nearest house, tear it down and build a new building to house the battery. Hence the cost per cycle is not merely that of the battery but the sheer space involved.
          I had not heard Musk mention flow batteries before so rather than simply taking his description as fact it had the effect of making me think that flow batteries are actually serious competitors. Further information is needed to confirm the energy density. Especially now that they say their new addition of hydrochloric acid has increased density. Stay tuned.

          • Tom Capon

            We should see a good spectrum of technologies to fill various niches. Some substations have plenty of room, others not so much. Lithium will have its place, but the demands for grid storage will almost certainly outpace production so other avenues will be found.

          • bink

            huh, what are you talking about? Tesla has a 100kWh contaniner, and UET has a 125kWh container

          • Jacob

            How long are the shipping containers?

            I have never seen a Tesla-branded shipping container.

          • bink

            UET comes in standard 20ft container and is purely a result of how they choose to configure it

          • CrankyFranky

            so – using that example of 2.2MWh in 5x20ft containers – if I scale that down to 5kWh size my calculations suggest a 4 foot square by 1 foot deep size – I wonder if that would work

            – what liquids are used – and whether that would be a suitable scale for a home 5kW PVR system – hmmm – or if it produced 20kWh per day and needed 20kWh storage – then that looks like a slice of the container 1 foot deep

            – what – about 8 feet high and wide ? – that would take up a bite of a spare side wall – or maybe for fence height – 3 feet by 21 feet – ow – starting to get too big for most small yards …

  • Bob_Wallace

    Where did the idea that lithium-ion batteries would become mass storage for the grid come from? It’s not something I’ve seen people talking about. Lithium-ion batteries probably have a role, for now, as frequency regulation storage.

    • Tom Capon

      Normally it comes up when talking about electric vehicle recycling. In small installations, LiIon could make sense. But as soon as you can buy a flow battery in a shipping container like the Tesla units, they will be flying off the shelves to utilities and industrial users.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Well, possibly. First they need to prove themselves out in real world use and they need to be attractively priced.

        Seems like flow batteries are getting closer, but ….

    • Bobby

      Volume will come into play. If there is 50 megawatts of liion from tesla per year (not to mention 38mw from a certain chinese liion producer after its battery factories spool up) and 1 mw from this company with its flow battery guess which battery will dominate the market?

      • Bob_Wallace

        Flow batteries and lithium-ion are mainly for different markets. Flow batteries are good candidates for large scale grid storage (along with pump-up hydro and possibly liquid metal batteries). Lithium-ion are currently the best option for portable storage (laptops, cell phones, EVs, …).

        If EVs take off like many of us expect it will take many “gigafactories” to supply auto manufacturers.

        If flow batteries do work then we will see many factories pumping them out.
        Replacing coal plants and most ICEVs over a 20 – 30 year period will require massive amounts of new manufacturing capacity.

        • Jacob

          Li-ion batteries are also more energy dense than flow batteries.

          A lot of houses would not have the space for a flow battery.

          • bink

            footprint is concern but not that great. Vanadium uses 100% of its capacity, lithium 50%, 80% depending on application. New flow technology would have 5 times current VRB density, making it very compatible in regards to spacing requirements

          • Offgridman

            First a side note, I am enjoying bink version 2.0 too, thanks.
            Now a question for version 3.0 if possible.
            These higher density VRB’s sound nice and a smaller footprint isn’t even an especially important concern.
            Will they be in production and available for the individual consumer within let’s say five years? That is the current issue with the VRB options available right now, yes they can be purchased, but the pricing always seems to be based on avoided grid costs.
            What about those of us managing our own grids with multiple power sources (wind and solar for now, possibly hydro by then). Is there going to be an option with definitive pricing by that time?
            Or will scale up and actual production take longer than that?

          • bink

            2017 there will be a commercial rollout. Will be in demonstrations and 3rd party testing during 2016

          • bink

            just a side note, VRB manufacturers have targeted utility and C&I not residential. The new inventions will produce smaller 30kW units

          • Offgridman

            Thanks, I realize that they won’t be aiming for the typical grid tied residential market, but needing to cover everything myself investing in small scale commercial (30-40 Kwh) would be something that I would consider to be sure to still have power in the most unusual of weather situations. The ones being used now were designed for a commercial application so for the better quality and warranties the extra money may be worth it with the VRB also.
            Glad to hear that by 2020 there could be something on the market for comparison purposes anyways.

          • bink

            Imergy does have a 30kWh unit but they probable wont sell you an individual unit but like I said new manufactures are targeting in the 30kWh range for individual sale

          • Offgridman

            Yes I got the fact sheet from Imergy a couple of months back on their 5Kw 15-30 Kwh small scale option but as of last week it is still a coming soon with no indication of price or maintenance fees (they’re saying that it will need a service check 2-4 times a year depending on number of cycles).
            That’s why I was wondering when some of these other companies might have something actually available for purchase.
            Thanks again, I’ll bug you again in a couple of years for the latest details on what is available for smaller scale VRB storage.
            Have a good one.

          • bink

            okay, By the way I think Imergy will have problems executing so look for some troubles

          • Jason Smith

            why do you say that about Imergy? just interested.

    • JamesWimberley

      Yes. This is a phony battle got up for PR purposes. Flow and lithium-ion batteries are targeted at different markets. The point of a stationary flow battery is that you can build pairs of tanks of arbitrary size.

    • Marion Meads

      Bob has no short and long term memory. There were several articles over several years posted here in Cleantechnica about the various large containerized battery storage made of Lithium Ion batteries. I’ll let you do the honors of searching the archives, that way, the memory would stick longer.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Bob is the first to admit to a leaky memory.

        Bob is also pretty sure that none of those large containerized battery storage made of Lithium Ion battery packages were designated for long term electricity shifting, except perhaps for an experimental evaluation of how grids might incorporate time-shifting.

        The large lithium-ion packages that have been shipped are being used for grid regulation, to reduce the amount of NG being burned dealing with short term supply/demand changes.

        (Marion seems to have an anger management issue that is giving her problems….)

        • Ivor O’Connor

          And I’m literally laughing at the back and forth between the two of you. May I buy you two a room for the night?

  • Graphite Gus

    Can we talk about the chemistry of this flow battery? What is the cathode? what is the anode?

    • Bob_Wallace

      Lots of good information on the UniEnergy site. Except for cost….

      Redox Flow Battery (RFB)

      The RFB is a unique electrochemical device that stores electrical energy in liquid electrolytes, instead of in electrodes as many other batteries do. The RFB then releases the stored energy according to the demands of the customer, at levels up to multi-MW and MWhs. As shown in Figure 1, a RFB cell consists of two electrodes or “stacks” (made from carbon felt and other items ) and typically two circulating electrolyte solutions (a positive/cathode-side electrolyte or catholyte, and a negative/anode-side electrolyte or anolyte) that are separated by an ion exchange membrane or a separator. The energy conversion from electricity energy to chemical potential energy (charge) and vice versa (discharge) occurs instantly within the electrodes as the liquid electrolytes flowing through the cell.

    • Marion Meads

      Also, “Redox” is NOT A FANCY SPEAK, it is a very normal term understood by anyone who had paid attention in at least one chemistry class and passed it. Otherwise, your teacher should have given you an F.

      This is technically wrong information: “vanadium is a silvery gray transition metal, also known as a micronutrient”
      Vanadium IS A micronutrient, and it is one of the many micronutrients!

  • Patrick James Bayham

    “Is that the sound of a dropping microphone we hear?”
    No. More like a feather, slowly wafting to the ground.

    • Shane 2

      While various flow battery options may have an inherent potential to be significantly cheaper than lithium ion for grid storage, lithium ion has the advantage of having had billions spent on development over the last 30 years and the advantage of large economies of scale. How does a new technology get the economies of scale to be able to compete? It will only be able to compete and build scale if the materials and construction are inherently much cheaper than lithium ion. It will be very difficult for new technologies.

      • Marion Meads

        Dead Wrong! Having spent billions on a technology is not a guarantee that it will be used forever. These are dynamic times. Many technologies of today can be ramped up to ultra large scales very quickly on demand. This is not the stone age nor the industrial revolution anymore. The best example is China, and we need to watch out, as they hack into everything, has spies everywhere and they are known to copy anything that has a global market value, and they can build a mass production facility overnight.

        • Jenny Sommer

          China bought a KiteGen.
          Waiting for the copies. They also copied our own Hallstatt.

          The other dictatorship that bought a KiteGen is SaudiArabia.

          • newnodm

            I don’t know why we don’t see articles on kitegen here.

          • Jenny Sommer

            Because the HAWT hitman has written a hitpiece once…

            We don’t get to read about the K-Bus either…
            Maybe KiteGen isn’t doing very well in getting international coverage either.


          • newnodm

            After watching the video, I have no idea what the K-Bus is about, or its relation to kitegen.

          • Jenny Sommer

            It’s an electric bus that charges it’s capacitors during stops.
            KiteGen does more engineering than just the kitepower plants.

          • Jenny Sommer

            Here are some new photos.
            The text and the comments are pretty expandable though.

        • Its Obvious

          Exactly. My concern is the worse technology (lithium ion) wins like direct current did… least temporarily. Vanadium flow makes much more sense as they don’t lose efficiency over time. Vanadium is a limited resource and has toxicity issues, but lithium also has issues. Other chemicals can be used in flow batteries too but they will lose efficiency quicker. It will be interesting to see who wins. I don’t see the Chinese as being a threat initially. They aren’t the most innovative and tend to work best at commoditizing already existing scaled up processes.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Flow batteries are hypothetically much cheaper than lithium batteries for long term, mass storage. We should know for sure before long.

        If the numbers prove out for flow batteries capital will jump all over them. There are immense fortunes to be made in storage and people with money generally want more.

        • The Mogget

          Wait – you mean all these people are making pronouncements and predictions with no real numbers or pilot installations?

          When these guys sell something real for less than Tesla and get large installation customers like Tesla already has – THEN talk to me.

          People are acting like Tesla’s product is silly, experimental, and obscenely expensive…. but they already have real customers who have paid real money for real installations of significant size.

          • Bob_Wallace

            There are some flow batteries online and the companies that install and use them have some numbers. Those numbers, as far as I can tell, are not being made public.

          • bink

            Imery just sold a thousand commercial units to SunEdison, stop it. vanadium redox is not new and there are hundreds of installations around the world over the past 30 years. Japan has a system that has been operating with old technology that has cycled 200,000 cycles (deep and shallow) over the last 3 years. This not new technology but new materials and chemistry. The core system has proved reliable over a period of time, even though there had been issues with smaller units that new inventions have solved (mainly, energy density, fouling and ambient temperature operating range) this was all solved with the PNNL invention

          • bink

            UET is past the pilot stage. Avista is one of two utility owned installations for them. They also have a behind the meter installation in California interacting with the grid. There are a number of Zinc Bromide or iron chromium flow manufacturers who have switched to vanadium, Imergy is one and Primus Power is the other. There are others which I cannot name going to flow mainly because they capture multiple revenue streams simultaneously

          • Bob_Wallace

            I’m enjoying this new bink 2.0…..

          • bink

            why thank you bob, hope to make an announcement of my own soon, you will hear it first

          • Bob_Wallace

            If you’ve got time I would appreciate a listing of the companies now installing flow batteries along with their critical information – cost/kWh, efficiency, expected cycle lifetime, ? – if you have it. Perhaps a statement of what sets a particular company apart from the pack.

          • bink

            execution of their strategy is everything. If they can figure out configurations than the advantage is theirs. I am under NDA with a couple of these guys and cant go into details.

            I dont think pricing is that important with them, even though they are currently competitive with powerpack on an installed basis and lower LCOS.

            the key is exploiting the coincident functionality of the battery and capturing grid services where others cant.

            Jigar Shah spoke about an early project he funded with Solar Grid Storage in which he and they thought they could support a PV installation for smoothing and peak shaving and provide grid (ancillary) services simultaneously. They found out they could not and therefore it was no bankable.

            I exchanged a couple posts with him and he acknowledged vanadium flow ability to bank that application, with simultaneous services,

            If they can figure out and exploit those type of configurations they will rule the day in behind the meter in deregulated market and utilities looking to proxy spinning reserves peak and regulation services with PV + storage to optimize their system.

            What we are trying to exploit is VRB ability to charge and discharge at differing voltage levels simultaneously, mimicking a transformer, stepping up to grid AC level or down to battery level. and eliminating the converter by utilizing the PV taps to manage current will eliminate expensive AC and DC components Don’t know if it will work but going to try at some point

          • Bob_Wallace

            Perhaps bink 3.0 will be the version that answers questions.

          • bink

            yea one day

          • The Mogget

            Help us who aren’t directly involved understand this.
            1. What does LCOS mean?
            2. What id the difference between smoothing and peak shaving?
            3. Can this and other batteries act as both storage and transformer? Surely this added functionality would improve the battery value proposition.

          • bink

            LCOS -levelised cost of system

            Smoothing reduces reduces the variability of the PV. As the energy is produced the battery buffers these dips and valley’s, injecting and absorbing energy as needed smoothing energy integration with the grid.

            Peak shaving – occurs during high periods of demand and pricing, mostly takes the form of demand response via demand response event programs using software, time shifting (using energy storage (electrical or thermal storage) or proxy generators such as generators, fuel cells etc….

            No, the VRB architecture, chemistry and platform make it unique in that regard.

            Energy storage needs more than one benefit to be cost effective. The compensation in the market place is lagging in this regard, and even if it weren’t some technologies will still be constrained.

            There are hybrid configurations being done where you might have a lithium power battery for power applications and an advanced lead acid battery fro energy capacity. The problem with that is complexity and expense. Nor does it allow you to perform coincidental applications.

            You still have to prioritize the charge migration, in other words its not simultaneous. No utility or customer is going to compensate you for not performing

            This is something I have been saying all along but have been dismissed. My company is co developing a PV+storage project w/ multi-megawatts for renewable firming (smoothing), renewable shifting, peak shaving, frequency regulation, Voltage conservation, VAR management, energy scheduling(congestion relief), (proxy) spinning reserve, Black start capability

          • The Mogget

            Thanks! You are much more informative than this article.

          • bink

            i have learned to be calm if i want to be heard

      • Wayne Dibbley

        ? Flow batteries date back to the nineteenth century.

        This is essentially a lead acid battery except the electrolyte is pumped continuously through.

    • Marion Meads

      Wow, you can even hear the feather that is slowly wafting to the ground amidst the silence of the dumbfounding of everyone.

      Well, from the supply side of things when scaling up, Vanadium has an excellent advantage over lithium. It’s relative abundance in the earth’s crust is 11.18 times than that of lithium. It’s relative proportion (ppm, not weight) is 800% times than that of lithium. So there should be no problem in terms of raw material supplies, simply build more vanadium mines or extract it as additional byproduct from other mining operations. When there is more demand for it, it will be mined. Mine, mine, mine would be the mantra of China.

      • Bob_Wallace

        You thinking we’ll use flow batteries in EVs, Marion?

        • Marion Meads

          Maybe one day, if we can find a suitable unbreakable long lasting membrane. Recharging would literally be just changing your fluids, and would be as fast as dispensing gasoline.

          • bink

            Marion yes you will, very soon there is a vandium boride primary battery that can be recharged with hydrogen gas in less time then gasoline. the good thing is you are not trying to store hydrogen just using it for recharge. theoretically it has the highest energy density of all other chemicals. Also there are VRB companies going to market next year with 5 times magnitudes more power in the stack , exceeding current VRB or lithium. Energy density is also increased. Vionx (formely Primis Power is using a United Technologies power stack with double the power density of current


          • Bob_Wallace

            66-72% efficiency (from their website) is not very impressive.

            How is hydrogen used in the system? I can’t find anything on their site and some of their pages seem to not exist. How do they purpose to get around the inefficiency of hydrogen production?

          • bink

            not same company bob, I was giving her an example of a boride primary battery that could be recharged. A R&D company in Texas acquired the licensing for the primary boride battery and is sitting on it. they applied for small business program at DOE for use with drones last i heard. yes I was quite surprised to see such low efficiency for UT stack, especially with such an improvement in power. Just goes to show execution is everything.

          • Calamity_Jean

            I’m thinking it would take twice as long as a gasoline fillup, maybe four times. The used fluids would have to be drained out before the fresh fluids could be added. And there are two fluids to change.

      • Patrick James Bayham

        ask Apple or Panasonic to change they’ve invested in gigafactories and new lithium mines.

      • Aske B. Vammen

        I’m not an engineer or much into physics or chemistry, but what you says make little sense to me. Why are you comparing lithium? What I heard from an expert, is that the most scarce material of Li-ion batteries is cobalt. And if I remember right, he said that none of the materials are realistically scarce, because they’re also almost entirely recyclable. Are you sure you know what you’re talking about?

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