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Ultrabattery goes online in frequency regulation

Thu, 11/15/2012 - 17:36 -- Ruth Williams

2-52aFinally to market, finally in service and finally delivering frequency regulation services. One of the ideas that inspired this author to launch Batteries and Energy Storage Technology (BEST)magazine is actually working— albeit as part of a US Department of Energy demonstration programme.

It is more than a decade since I heard CSIRO researcher Lan Lam describe the Ultrabattery concept. It is more than five years since tech business promoter John Wood of Ecoult told an audience of lead industry specialists that the Ultrabattery— the remarkable combination of lead?acid technology with a carbon negative offering faradaic and ionic properties— would lead the industry to the promised land.

It is at least three years since Sally Mikesiewicz, Chief Executive and Vice Chairman of East Penn Manufacturing beat a path to Wood’s door to obtain a license to develop the Ultrabattery in a stationary application (Furukawa in Japan has the licence for automotive work) because the company could see the massive potential in a lead?acid system that could cycle and cycle hundreds of thousands of times without any detriment.

And it’s taken a little more than 18 months to spend Department of Energy money and turn it into a working frequency regulation system. 

2-52bThe whole package is remarkably unremarkable in appearance— just four standard freight containers, each one containing 400 East Penn?built Ultrabattery cells arranged as four strings. These battery strings deliver 3 MW of power, through an inverter to the Pennsylvania-New Jersey-Maryland Interconnection, providing near instant and perfect frequency regulation, compared to gas and coal fired plants which have ramp rates as long as ten minutes or more.

The energy storage system is the second one to be launched out of 16 energy storage projects selected by the US Department of Energy under its Smart Grid Storage Demonstration Program. The US Department of Energy supported the project with US$2.2 million of funding under its American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009. Godfather to the project, Dr. Imre Gyuk, was on hand to give the system a start?up blessing last month along with another 100 or so local VIPs who turned up at Deka‘s Lyon station plant.

Mikesiewicz, a highly charismatic CEO told the audience that when she entered the family business more than 25 years ago in sales; she wondered whether lead?acid technology would sustain the company throughout her lifetime. The Ultrabattery has re?invigorated the industry, she believes, and she is ready to map out the next 100 years because of its potential to ‘stabilise’ renewable power generation.

2-53cBut quite how East Penn or Ecoult, now an East Penn subsidiary, will develop the Ultrabattery market is not entirely clear. Wood told BEST magazine that already there is more than 20 gigawatts of stationary energy storage in the USA in the form of standby batteries, in float mode, powering UPS and telecom systems.

He believes battery owners and operators could be encouraged to enter frequency regulation and peak shaving markets, by replacing their conventional backup systems with Ultrabatteries, and earn money on assets which are effectively simple insurance policies. They could be transformed into revenue generators.

Or East Penn could enter the frequency regulation market for itself, owning and operating more units thoughout the country and indeed the world.