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Microgrids: How Vanadium Flow Batteries Expand Applications

By John Davis

Growing demand for reliable energy, aging utility infrastructures, rising energy costs, and energy resource shortages are a few reasons microgrids are soaring in popularity now.

Microgrids are small electricity networks that can connect to the larger grid or disconnect and operate independently with their power source. 

The US Military has long believed that microgrids are an effective way to secure and stabilize the operation of critical facilities – reducing their vulnerability to grid outages, cyber-attacks, and even physical infrastructure attacks.

The Public Sector is Also Seeing the Value of Microgrids

For instance, in California, where utility companies often must enforce rolling blackouts (or brownouts) during peak energy usage, microgrids can allow communities to keep their power on.

Also, remote communities left without power for extended periods following natural disasters can bridge the gap with a microgrid. 

Microgrids are also valuable to telecom companies that need a backup power supply to keep their telecommunications systems functioning around the clock.

So how are so many more microgrids being created now? What has changed in the marketplace that has made microgrids so much easier to create?

The Answer Lies With “Vanadium Flow Batteries”

Vanadium flow batteries, have commercial advantages over other energy storage systems because of their inherent efficiencies and life cycles that do not exist with other energy storage technologies.

That’s why US Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm tweeted the following: “Flow batteries keep the energy flowin’ more reliably …that’s why they’re good for grid storage, and that’s why we’re investing $$ in them! Cleaner, more efficient energy for all.”

It’s also why Dr. Ted Roberts, an internationally recognized expert and innovator in electrochemical technology, favors vanadium flow batteries, which have long cycle life and are easily recyclable.

He says they are well suited for stationary electricity storage, such as storing solar energy during daytime hours and then using it at night. 

Thanks to the massive potential of vanadium flow batteries, cutting-edge companies have developed a revolutionary suite of battery-related products that can economically store and supply large amounts of electrical energy on demand.

At the same time, the products also incorporate long life, low maintenance costs, and are scalable from both power and energy capacity perspectives.

Going With the Flow

So what exactly is a vanadium flow battery? A flow battery is a type of rechargeable battery in which the energy is stored chemically in liquid electrolytes. Unlike conventional batteries that hold all their reactive materials within the cells, a flow battery keeps the electrolyte in tanks.

The electrolyte pumps through the cells, generating electric energy through a chemical reaction that occurs as the electrolyte passes through the cell stack.

The liquid is then returned to the tanks. There are two electrolytes, a positively charged one and a negatively charged one. 

Vanadium Can Naturally Exist in Four Different Oxidation States

Each electrolyte tank is charged with vanadium in a different redox couple. The two electrolytes do not mix but are separated in the cell stack by a thin membrane that only allows selected ions to flow through.

Also, in the cells are very stable carbon electrodes manufactured to a proprietary process and formulation, where chemical energy transfer to electrical energy takes place. The reactions only involve the change of state of oxidation of the vanadium pentoxide, and the electrodes do not change physically or chemically.

Additionally, the presence of vanadium in both electrolyte tanks does not lead to cross-contamination of the metal species, as it takes place with any other technology using different metals. Therefore a large number of charge and discharge cycles, more than 20,000 cycles, may be performed without any significant decrease in capacity.

supporting microgrids

Image courtesy: StorEn Technologies

Vanadium Flow Batteries Are Making All the Difference!

For on-grid applications, vanadium flow batteries fulfill many roles, including traditional battery backup and shifting energy use to a lower time of use rate.

In remote locations, these batteries work well at sites that use a ‘hybrid’ or cycling approach where a diesel generator combines with renewable energy such as wind or solar to power cellular and microwave sites.

In this market, vanadium flow batteries offer immediate benefits such as lower life cycle costs, minimal maintenance, and longer discharge capabilities, with end users experiencing short payback cycles for many systems.

The additional environmental benefits include a significant reduction in diesel emissions and minimal disposal concerns.

A More Environmentally-Friendly Power Solution

Currently, many telecommunications service providers rely on diesel generators as a primary electrical power source at remote telecom sites where utility power is unavailable.

For example, diesel generators often provide primary power to microwave transmission stations located on top of mountains or remote islands.

Now with vanadium flow batteries, that power can be obtained in a much greener manner. Flow batteries reduce diesel engine runtime, increase efficiency, reduce fuel consumption and costs, and minimize emissions from carbon-based fuels.

In fact, Connexus Energy recently signed an agreement with vanadium flow battery maker StorEn Technologies to operate a 20KW/100KWhr Vanadium Flow Battery system in a live environment at Connexus’s main office. Vanadium flow batteries will be used in various utility-based applications, including microgrids, EC charging support, solar support, and more.

We Need Microgrids

The need for microgrids to supply backup power and to replace less-efficient lead/acid batteries is growing by the day. Vanadium flow batteries are proving to be the ideal power source for these small grids delivering benefits like: 

  • Increased reliability
  • Improved longevity of the backup power system
  • And dramatically improved performance through rapid charge cycling

Only vanadium flow battery technology allows industries to cost-effectively “inventory” electricity on a large scale and then utilize this electrical energy on demand. 

Also, unlike other battery technologies, it does not lose capacity after thousands of charge and discharge cycles.

StorEn tech supports microgrids

Image courtesy: StorEn Technologies

To learn much more about vanadium flow battery technology and leading vanadium flow battery maker StorEn Technologies, you can subscribe to our newsletter here and follow the company on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Instagram.

You can invest in the company here.

 

This article is supported by StorEn Technologies.

 
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