Flow batteries almost sound too good to be true, but they are true. A flow battery leverages the ability of two specialized liquids to generate electricity when they meet each other, separated only by a thin membrane. Flow batteries can help bring more wind farms and solar arrays online, so it’s a bit of a surprise to see them popping up in U.S. states where politicians have been working to stymie investments in, well, wind farms and solar arrays.
Georgia Leads The Flow Battery Revolution, Despite Georgian Politicians
Flow batteries are not a new thing. The basic technology dates back to the 1970s, but earlier iterations were bedeviled by corrosion, among other issues.
Flow batteries were also a technology in search of an application, up until the wind and solar industries began to gather steam in the early 2000s. That application is now here, in the form of long duration storage solutions that enable intermittent energy resources to continue delivering electricity regardless of what the wind and sun are doing from hour to hour.
Lithium-ion battery arrays are still the conventional choice for storing wind and solar energy, but flow batteries are beginning to make some inroads, partly on account of their ability to store energy for long periods of time. Among other advantages, a flow battery can offer simplicity in systems operation as well as safety features.
That brings us to the state of Georgia, which is now the proud home of its first ever utility-scale flow battery. The new battery will serve as a model for similar facilities all over the country, even though Georgia Governor Brian Kemp is one of 19 Republican governors who signed up their states to something called the “Anti-ESG Alliance.”
ESG is short for the environmental, social, and governance principles that help guide 21st century businesses through the pitfalls of doing business in an era fraught by climate risks among other issues.
By a similar accounting, the Anti-ESG Alliance is short for business as usual. Although opposition to ESG investing is peppered with a mish-mosh argle-bargle of woke mobs coming for your freedoms, it all boils down to energy policy. The “E” in ESG is a dagger aimed straight at the heart of oil, gas, and coal stakeholders.
A New Vanadium Flow Battery For A Rural Electric Cooperative
Where were we? Oh right, Georgia’s first-ever flow battery is being hosted by the utility Snapping Shoals EMC, which serves fast-growing area of the state.
“The member-owned electric cooperative provides electric service to approximately 100,000 homes and businesses in an eight-county area that includes large portions of Newton, Henry, and Rockdale counties, as well as parts of DeKalb, Butts, Walton, Jasper, and Morgan counties,” Snapping Shoals says of itself.
If you caught that thing about an electric cooperative, that’s important. Snapping Shoals belongs to a sprawling network of member-owned utilities in the U.S., established under the Rural Electric Cooperative umbrella. Cooperatives were established during the Great Depression, when local communities organized to take advantage of new federally funded electrification opportunities that private-sector investors were ignoring.
As part of their charters, electric cooperatives have a community benefit mission that can enable them to explore new clean power and energy storage technologies.
They talk to each other, too, through the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. What Snapping Shoals learns from its flow battery in Georgia will not stay in Georgia.
Stryten Energy, the Georgia-based company that supplied the new battery, is already confident that the Snapping Shoals project is just the beginning.
“Stryten Energy’s partnership with Snapping Shoals will focus on demonstrating the VRFB’s [Vanadium Redox Flow Battery] energy storage capabilities, as well as evaluating additional use cases for the cutting-edge long-duration energy storage technology,” Stryten enthused in a press release earlier this week.
“The project represents the first VRFB energy storage system manufactured and installed in the state of Georgia,” they added, as if to tweak the nose of Governor Kemp and other ESG foes.
Ignoring The Anti-ESG Elephant In The Room
The anti-ESG movement seems to have some success in tamping down open talk of ESG as an investment strategy, but that doesn’t mean the clean energy revolution has gone away. Georgia is a case in point.
“As our field turns its eye to clean energy sources, we see Stryten Energy as a natural partner in harnessing the power of VRFB for long-duration energy storage,” says Shaun Mock, who is CEO and President of Snapping Shoals.
“We’re confident VRFB will be a game-changer in how we reliably and affordably store clean energy for our 100,000+ residential and business customers,” he adds.
Stryten also seems to have no intention of backing down from its decarbonization business model.
“Long-duration energy storage technologies are needed to support the widescale power generation from renewable energy sources. VRFB is ideally suited for this application,” explains Stryten CEO and President Mike Judd, who is already looking forward to demonstrating the flow battery advantage throughout the state.
As described by Judd, the Snapping Shoals project will show off the ability of flow battery technology to manage key grid tasks, including cost control, shaving peak demand, and avoiding curtailments.
“The partnership is another example of how Georgia is leading the way in the clean energy revolution,” Stryten reminds everyone. “The Department of Energy reports that Georgia has more than 3.6 gigawatts (GW) of solar, wind, and storage capacity. There is almost 1.1 GW of additional planned clean energy capacity in the works in the state, which will power more than 155,000 homes.”
Stryten is not the only one aiming to make the state of Georgia synonymous with flow batteries. Small-scale flow batteries for home energy storage are already inching into the residential market, and researchers at Georgia Tech have come up with a new space-saving design that could help accelerate the trend (see more CleanTechnica coverage here).
Next Steps For Flow Batteries
There are different approaches to the formulas that go into flow batteries. The hard, silvery-gray transition metal vanadium (not to be confused with vibranium) lends itself to simplicity in flow battery design because it can exist in four different states of oxidation. Stryten, for example, notes that its vanadium flow battery can operate for more than 20 years without losing storage capacity.
Still, science never sleeps, and the search for new, improved flow batteries continues.
One particularly interesting example is new “sugar battery” research at the U.S. Department of Energy’s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory. The research team is exploring how a simple sugar derived from starch can be used to enhance flow battery solutions.
As for Georgia, in June Energy Secretary Jennifer Granholm visited the state with a bundle of clean energy factoids in hand, including this one…
“Since the start of the Biden Administration, DOE has tracked more than $100 billion in new battery supply chain investments, including a whopping 19 facilities in Georgia, adding up to over $26 billion and over 23,000 jobs.”
…and this one:
“In the same period, DOE has tracked more than $5 billion in new solar manufacturing investments, including over $2.8 billion in Georgia. These new facilities will add over 4,100 new jobs to the state.”
Like they say, money talks. The rest face-plants.
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Photo: Georgia is on its way to becoming a renewable energy powerhouse, with an assist from the flow battery firm Stryten Energy.
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