Innovation in Energy Storage

Microgrid projects get a second wind from ES technology

By Manuel H. Lazerov

For the last decade, project developers like Jabez have been dealing with municipalities and other governmental organizations promoting the advantages of using microgrid technology to reduce dependence on public utilities and to add reliability to aging power infrastructure. Microgrids can take pressure off of the utility and even make older power infrastructure more reliable.

When I spoke with Nick Masucci at Jabez Energy, LLC, in Norwalk Iowa, he stressed how on- or off-grid projects return value and create jobs and sustainable investments. He said that there has been rapid evolution in the renewable energy business, which is not only an environmentally sound decision, but a smart economic one as well. The cost of alternative energy sources has been declining, which makes conversion from carbon-based solutions more compelling every day, even without government subsidies.

Mr. Masucci also said that the resistance to new and proven technology is also a decision, sometimes one with adverse consequences. He mentioned the recent blackout in New York City as a reminder of the increasing urgency to address the need to upgrade our infrastructure so that it is more efficient and economically sustainable. Our first responders and military need to rely upon the grid, including everyone else.

Jabez’s challenge, he said, has been to overcome many of the limitations of lithium-based energy storage systems. Developers and EPCs have looked hard at lithium-based energy storage systems. Unfortunately, they have emissions hazards, materials disposal issues, and an explosion risk. The frequency of battery replacement and decommissioning costs are high due to the volatility of the lithium battery component. Battery life and cycling times are also limitations, and recycling constitutes a major expense.

Since energy storage is a very important component of any renewable or combined heat and power (CHP) project, here is what is vital: A proper system should combine multiple CHP and renewable power sources and store that power for deployment at optimum intervals such as power peak times each day. By properly peak shaving the demand, those peak use charges can be brought down substantially. Properly designed systems will hold and release power in four hour intervals or more daily without degrading the battery or losing full power capability. A truly reliable system must be scalable and stackable which enables Off the Shelf Balance of Plant (BOP) components to be easy to support and maintain at lower cost.

The most viable solution for Jabez is the flow battery energy storage technology. The iron flow battery storage system is unlike lithium-based systems in many ways. First, it is environmentally friendly and 100 percent recyclable. This flow battery has no toxic materials, and no risk of explosion or fire. The batteries are sealed with a “no maintenance” electrolyte system made of saline solution.

The system is basically made up of iron and recyclable plastic housing and filled with the electrolyte with no additives or augmentation for the life of the equipment. This allows for longer life and cycling capabilities boasting a 40+ year asset life with a midlife refurbish. It’s the only system, of which he is aware, that matches the age performance of the solar, wind and CHP devices.

Mr. Masucci said there are several versions of the technology, based on the size of the project. For smaller uses like hospitals, universities, industrial plants, or municipality projects, they may come as prepackaged 50 to 100KW power rated systems with 400kwh, which come with 4+ hour cycle durations and take about 3-6 months to build. One may need to add or redeploy the unit in order to take advantage of its full ROI. Systems like the Jabez system are capable of doing this.

For larger projects like power utility, hydroelectric, and large megawatt wind and solar energy fields including CHP it must be scalable without limitation to 10, 50, or even 100 MW. In all these cases the market is moving to longer and longer cycle durations because of this demand. Large capital projects like these require no hidden liabilities and no hidden soft costs to keep levelized cost of power below .05 per kwh and project build costs near $300 per kwh. And finally, the system must be bankable, providing a minimum 10-year warranty based on a performance guarantee.

Most don’t know that iron flow battery technology is already past its second generation design with IP and proprietary technology established. More than four energy storage units including power projects have already been built in the U.S., and four more will be completed in 2019.

Manuel H. Lazerov is the President of Infrastructure Financial, Inc. He may be reached at lazerov@infrastructure