free html hit counter Peak Oil Debunked: 281. MORE ON FLOW BATTERIES

Tuesday, April 11, 2006


In #274, I briefly discussed flow batteries, and provided a link to Jim Fraser's explanation of how they operate. These batteries are capable of storing huge amounts of energy -- on the order of hundreds of MWh (enough energy to power 100,000 ordinary homes for a few hours).

A new article from the Toronto Star provides some details on the cost effectiveness of flow batteries compared to gas peaking plants:
While flow batteries are not new, the first dating back to the 19th century, interest has grown since the 1970s, and especially recently as they have become commercially viable for large-scale applications. They currently sell for approximately $500 per kWh of storage capacity, with incremental storage costs in large-scale systems of only $150 per kWh. In comparison, the cost of the 550 MW Portlands Energy Centre [a gas peaking plant] is projected to be $700 million.

Installation costs are difficult to compare, as generator size is measured in megawatts (MW) while batteries are measured in megawatt-hours (MWh). The installation cost of a generator, to be compared to a battery, would have to take into account the number of hours it is expected to operate. If the Portlands Energy Centre served a daily peak of five hours duration, installation would cost $255 for each daily kWh it produced. Installation of a five-hour flow battery would cost $220 per kWh. Working lifetimes of the systems are comparable.

Operating and maintenance costs of flow batteries are dramatically lower than those of gas-fired generation, at a tenth of a penny per kWh. The system operates automatically. The "fuel" for flow batteries is inexpensive energy purchased off-peak at about 3 cents per kWh. With energy losses of 25 to 30 per cent, total costs for delivery are about 4 cents per kWh.

Gas-fired generation, by contrast, fluctuates around 7 cents per kWh just for the fuel to produce it, with much higher operating and maintenance costs that can bring the total cost to 10 cents per kWh produced.
Flow batteries also have other advantages relative to gas peaking plants: short construction periods, zero emissions, low noise, few moving parts and smaller site footprint.

These batteries are a great idea, and in fact, may actually be too great of an idea. If they catch on, they're bound to step on the toes of the existing Big Gas industry and all the fat cats and speculators who've invested in gas futures and LNG. Now that every greedy scumbag around is positioned to profiteer on skyrocketing gas prices, the last thing they want to see is some slick, simple technology which slashes demand for gas.

In fact, it's very possible that the entrenched gas/utility industry has actually stepped in to derail the development of flow batteries. In the early 2000s, the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) was constructing a 120MWh flow battery in Columbus, Mississippi...
Developed as the Regenesys Project with the Tennessee Valley Authority and partly funded by the U.S. Department of Energy, the project generated tremendous interest through 2003. A 120 MWh peak system was to provide the power for 7,500 homes for 10 hours each day.

The project reached the point where electrolyte was being brought in. But when the energy company developing the process was purchased by a German firm, the project was suddenly halted.(Source: Toronto Star article)
From an AP report:
Posted on Tue, Dec. 09, 2003
Company pulls plug on power storage plant in Lowndes County
Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Miss. - Seven months after halting construction of a cutting edge, large-scale power storage plant here, Regenesys Technology Ltd. has pulled the plug on the $25 million Lowndes County project.

The company will no longer manufacture the technology needed to run the 12-megawatt plant that was being built off Mississippi 373 near Columbus Air Force Base.

Mark Kuntz, Regenesys' vice president of marketing and business development for U.S. operations, said German utility company RWE purchased its parent company, Innogy Technology Ventures Limited of Great Britain, and wishes to stop funding the technology.

"Upon review of overall strategy, the parent company decided that Regenesys Technology is not part of their core operation," Kuntz said.Source
Further info from the Guardian:
Innogy pulls plug on Regenesys
Tuesday December 16, 2003
The Guardian

Innogy, the energy group, has abandoned its Regenesys electricity storage project after its German parent, RWE, decided against investing the money needed to commercialise the technology.

"The whole project has stopped. Following a European-wide review of core projects, the decision was taken not to commit further funding to the Regenesys electricity storage scheme," a spokesman said yesterday. "While ongoing testing has proven the technology, we will not be committing the capital expenditure needed to take it to market," he added. (Source: same as above)
A similar 120MWh battery in Little Barford (UK) was almost complete when it was axed by the new owners (more information here). Here's a photo of the abandoned facility from the Google cache:
-- by JD


At Tuesday, April 11, 2006 at 4:55:00 AM PDT, Blogger russ said...

Wow. That is super bizarre. A whole website could be devoted to supposedly "halted" energy projects.

It seems we can only count on the Japanese, who have absolutely no oil or gas interests, to carry out new energy technology.

At Tuesday, April 11, 2006 at 7:04:00 AM PDT, Blogger Thomas said...

I never thought you would rank among conspiracy theorists... ;-)

I admit, it does sound odd to pull the plug on an already funded (I guess) project, after feasibility has been proven..?

Well, after all, RWE is a major GAS company, selling gas, gas storage and gas fired electricity.

I first heard about flow batteries 6 years ago, but always thought they were inferior. Well, back then I also thought fuel cells would rule the future in a hydrogen economy. I don't anymore!

A flow battery facility is certainly much more efficient than placing battery capacity in every home. Unless, of course, the batteries are already there, in the shape of an EV or plug-in hybrid.

I wonder what peak load charges are with today's gas prices. I have a sneaky suspicion that most cost analyses are made using old (10-year-mean) data. This is of course reasonable, I'd just like to know how the economy balances right now.

Let's not forget, these devices save fuel and green house gasses!


At Tuesday, April 11, 2006 at 12:45:00 PM PDT, Blogger Freak said...

Has anyone got any info on whether flow batteries scale down?

At Tuesday, April 11, 2006 at 3:18:00 PM PDT, Blogger BlackSun said...

This does seem like a conspiracy theory, but I can't argue the premise. I think it's true for a lot of energy conservation measures. People are apathetic in the first place. Add to that the inertia of vested interests, and you don't even need a conspiracy.

I suspect when things get bad enough in the gas industry, or when wind power producers need these things to compete with coal and nuclear base-load power generators, flow-batteries will get built.

At Tuesday, April 11, 2006 at 5:44:00 PM PDT, Blogger Big Jay said...

So on the previous post about flow batteries I guess I didn't catch the significance. Probably because it was the first time I heard about the technology.

Flow batteries are cool.

But it does sound like a conspiracy is up. I love it when a conspiracy theory comes together.

Freak, you should post your question on the peak oil debunked forum.

But the biggest thing I don't understand is this: Why would a utility pull the plug on this? It doesn't make any sense if it was good technology. Peak demand issues are the utility company's biggest nightmare. If flow batteries are so much cheaper to produce and manage, you'd think a utility company would jump at the chance to implement the technology, store power at night during off peak times, and use the storage to supplement peak demand load. A utility company would have every incentive to do that.

At Wednesday, April 12, 2006 at 12:20:00 AM PDT, Blogger Morgan said...

Unfortunately in highly regulated industries like energy, those kinds of tactics could conceivably work for a while. If a company has the only license to operate in an area, they can control the type pf energy generation without any fear of a competitor coming in and doing it better and cheaper.

If we loosened up regulations and let some people compete, there would be plenty of opportunity to test these in the market, and one company couldn't stop it. Which is ironic, as the government "solution" is exactly the problem.

At Sunday, September 10, 2006 at 10:05:00 PM PDT, Blogger Thaidiamond said...

Sorry, no conspiracy...

Yes, while RWE did announced it halted ongoing funding of the Regenesys project as it was no longer part of its core strategy, the story does, apparantly have a happy ending.

REW sold an exclusive license to VRB Power and plan to redeploy the tehnology which is similar to VRB's vanadium-based flow batteries.

"“We are pleased to take the progress of the past ten years and position it with a company like VRB Power which has the skill set to succeed”, said David Threlfall, CEO of npower Retail and former Managing Director of the Regenesys project for RWE npower.

The full press release (dated 24 Sept. 2004) can be found at

VRB Power Systems Inc. (TSX-V: VRB) is pleased to announce the completion of a transaction with RWE npower PLC, a leading integrated UK energy business and subsidiary of German based parent company RWE AG, whereby VRB Power will purchase an exclusive global license to the intellectual property and acquire all the related physical assets and inventory surrounding the Regenesys electricity storage technology.


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