The great state of Tennessee is on the cutting edge of new energy storage tech, thanks partly to its role as the home of the Energy Department’s Oak Ridge National Laboratory. In the latest development, the lab has teamed up with the energy storage company UniEnergy Technologies and local utility EPB to evaluate an “islandable” microgrid consisting of the company’s vanadium flow battery and the utility’s 1-MW solar array.
The project, which also enlists Pacific Northwest National Laboratory and Sandia National Laboratories, has been designed with an eye toward adding another two megawatts of solar to EPB’s grid.
Cutting Edge Energy Storage: #thanksobama!
UniEnergy Technologies (UET) first crossed the CleanTechnica radar in 2013, when we noticed that Pacific Northwest National Laboratory was working with the company on a new high-density flow battery (if you follow the link, UET gets a mention at the end).
In 2014, our sister site Planetsave picked up the UET thread when the company installed its vanadium flow battery as part of an energy storage R&D project for Avista Utilities in Washington State.
By the summer of 2015, UET was feeling confident enough to take on Tesla’s much-publicized Powerwall battery:
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.
Later that summer, UET doubled down on that sentiment in an exclusive interview with CleanTechnica.
The Avista collaboration ramped up just last May with the addition of Northern Power Systems for power conversion, enabling UET’s flow battery to do this:
…support Avista’s customer Schweitzer Engineering Laboratories to provide power supply without interruptions, black start and four-cycle ride-through to SEL’s manufacturing plant.
For those of you new to the topic, a flow battery provides energy storage in the form of tanks holding specialized liquids. As depicted in the illustration that tops this article, they generate electricity when the liquids are pumped alongside each other, typically separated by a thin membrane.
Earlier generations of flow batteries were bulky affairs unfit for mass application, but technology improvements have begun to push them into the marketplace.
Solar + Energy Storage
UET’s new Tennessee project is designed to hone in on the challenges of grid-integrated energy storage and to tease out the benefits.
This project is part of the Energy Department’s Grid Modernization Initiative, so another group hug for US taxpayers.
For the demonstration, UET is providing its smaller model, the 100kW/400kWh ReFlex™. The battery will be integrated with EPB’s fiber communications network, which serves Chattanooga and the surrounding area.
Oak Ridge and the two other national labs will lend their analytical expertise to do this:
…provide analysis of the value streams, operational modes, and optimal utilization of the solar-plus-energy storage system. The three labs will also provide technical evaluation of ramping services, islanding support, and future sizing for an additional 2MW of planned PV.
This is just one project in the Obama Administration’s “aggressive” Grid Modernization program, btw. Alongside the specific aim of introducing more renew renewables into the grid, the program mission is to keep consumer costs down while providing for resilience and security:
The 10-year goals include reducing the cost of power outages by 10%, reducing reserve margins by a full 33% without sacrificing reliability, and halving the cost of wind and solar integration.
In terms of economic benefit, the Obama Administration is anticipating a $7 billion annual benefit to the US economy along with a deeper reward of fostering innovation and entrepreneurship.
The program got a $220 million shot of adrenaline just last January, when the Energy Department announced a new round of funding for 80 new modernization projects under the Grid Modernization Laboratory Consortium, which launched in 2014 to join the Energy Department and its national laboratories in a coordinated push to move the nation’s 20th century grid infrastructure into the current century.
Not for nothing, but as the host of Oak Ridge National Laboratory, the “red” state of Tennessee has been on the cutting edge of cleantech in numerous fields, including 3-D printing and graphene-enabled desalination.
Tennessee is also notorious as the state in which the Koch brothers factored into a 2014 legislative maneuver that killed off an important Nashville mass transit initiative.
Looks like the bros are playing whack-a-mole with green initiatives, though. That same year saw the launch of the Energy Department’s Chattanooga Smart Grid Initiative, which established Tennessee as a national test bed for renewable energy grid integration and paved the way for the new UET energy storage demo.
Images (screenshots): via UET (top), US Department of Energy (bottom).
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