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Speeding Energy Storage to the Grid: Going Slow to Go Fast

battery degradation Scientists Nigel Browning and Layla Mehdi use a scanning electron microscope at Pacific Northwest National Labs to examine the inside of a battery as it charges and discharges.

Flow batteries seem to be the best solution to fill the short-term energy storage gap at grid scale, but despite a prodigious amount of development, the industry as a whole still lacks the in-depth understanding and the full data sets required to effectively make reliable decisions about deployment.

This lack of knowledge poses a barrier to faster adoption of flow battery-based energy storage solutions. Lack of information on degradation, performance testing, and expected short- and long-term chemical side effects — such data holes are causing hesitation among potential adopters. In the case of early adopters with testbeds or working operational installations, incomplete data may jeopardize a large investment.

While this is by no means saying that currently deployed solutions are ineffective or risky, utility and grid-related evaluation and purchasing staff are not chemical engineers. Despite having a long checklist of IRENA-style requirements that any vendor must meet — from energy density to ambient condition tolerance — these staff may not always be aware of what questions to ask from the chemistry side to effectively evaluate a new product.

Video Courtesy Pacific Northwest National Labs

Part of the solution to speeding this promising technology to market is to conduct as much research and analysis early on. This is important for several reasons. First, it’s important for the industry to have an initial group of products that are known and stable. This goal requires good design tools, modeling, optimization and significant testing – at each interval of the development process. Reliable in-depth data will enable developers, manufacturers and integrators to provide proven products upon which to build and improve performance.

Second, battery development itself is only part of the equation. Control software and other software/hardware interfaces also play a key role in time-to-market. Performance analysis is key for the chemical engineering community to look at now, during development, so that control software can be developed in parallel or quickly afterwards.

Finally, in addition to stimulating even more demand for renewable energy, the practice of better testing and characterization can also assist in fostering new business opportunities through the development of new tools, best design practices, standards evolution, and related equipment.

About Tom Breunig (203 Articles)
Tom Breunig is principal at Cleantech Concepts, a market research firm tracking R&D projects in the cleantech sector. He is a technology industry veteran and former international marketing and communications executive who has worked with organizations in semiconductor design, water monitoring, energy efficiency and environmental sensing. He has spoken at numerous technology and energy conferences.
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