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Flow batteries gaining traction in energy storage market

Fri, 05/27/2016 - 13:19 -- Paul Crompton
Flow batteries gaining traction in energy storage market

Megawatt deployment of flow battery systems is set to reach ten times the number it was last year, according to energy storage consultants Swanbarton.

Already in the first half of this year around 100MWs of flow battery systems have been deployed— around 60MWs more than in 2015.

And with ‘big orders’ for the technology being made in China, this year’s total is expected to reach 300MW— the same as lithium-ion seven years ago.

Growth has rocketed as more companies opt for the technology over lithium-ion for mid-size commercial and small grid scale applications such as community energy projects and sub-stations.

Anthony Price, director and consultant at Swanbarton, highlighted the technology’s growing market share ahead of next week’s International Flow Battery Forum (IFBF).

Price, who organizes IFBF, told BBB that he was confident that this year’s orders would reach more than 300 MW.

“The trouble is there’s no such thing as a solid figure, just market estimates. What we can do is look at the number of companies and projects going on,” he said.

“So we look at the big projects, and when you add in the zinc-bromide that takes you up to 100MW. And then there’s people in China making big orders and that will take it up to around 300MW.”

The jump in flow battery projects was due to the success of installations last year, said Price.

“Now that there’s operating experience of how it works people are gaining more confidence to do bigger systems, so if there’s a need for a lot of power it’s not a huge technical risk going up to 20MW.”

However, Price does not think flow batteries will become the market choice over lithium-ion batteries in small-scale applications such as electric vehicles and domestic energy storage systems.

“I’d love to say it will take over lithium-ion batteries but I think it’s going to be a different market space.

“You have to decide if it’s going to be long duration or short duration system. Over the years people have used lithium-ion batteries for short duration needs because it’s been cheaper.”

Price also highlighted flow battery’s sustainability credentials. He said: “If you look at the total life-time of lithium there’s still not a proper recycling infrastructure in place, and that’s a bit of a downer on sustainability.

“However, if you take flow batteries, when the electrolyte is taken out at the end it’s still as good as it was in the beginning, so it can be re-sold or re-used.”

Leading flow battery company’s include Sumitomo Electric Industries of Japan.

The company recently installed a 30 MW/60 MWh flow battery at an electricity substation in Japan to provide frequency control and balance renewable generation. 

Across the world flow battery manufacturers such as US firm UET has installed projects in North America, Germany and received an order from Italian network operator, Terna.  

Price said: “Each year I am amazed at the enthusiasm for long duration energy storage such as flow batteries. 

“The R&D is impressive, but it is even more impressive to see companies delivering flow battery projects that are balancing loads, maintaining network frequency, overcoming constraints in the network and giving independence to self-producers of electricity.” 

“Made of plastic, with virtually no fire risk, with long lifetimes and high level of recyclability, the declining costs of flow batteries means that we are likely to see more of these coming into service soon.”