Okay, so I’m sitting in a hotel meeting room listening to Robert F. Kennedy Jr. talk to members of Ontario’s Electricity Distributors Association and the high-profile environmental lawyer mentions that he’s on the advisory board of venture capital firm VantagePoint Venture Partners. That’s pretty cool, I thought. He talks about some of VantagePoint’s investments, including electric-car champion Better Place, solar-thermal power provider BrightSource, and energy storage company Premium Power. He then zeroes in on Massachusetts-based Premium Power and its zinc-bromide flow battery technology, which is touted as a fully recyclable/disposable, non-toxic battery based on zinc and salt water. The battery has three times the energy density of lead-acid, is cheaper, and has an operating life of 30 years with virtually unlimited ability to cycle. “It’s cheaper than using pump storage,” Kennedy claims, emphasizing that this technology can affordably store renewable energy like wind and solar power today — we don’t have to wait for future breakthroughs.
Then Kennedy throws out this zinger: The company has a $100 million order for its batteries from a Canadian utility, and another $100 million order from Duke Energy.
Wahhhh? I figured he mispoke, that he was exaggerating, and as an advisor confused some facts. After the speech, I sat down with him and asked him about that comment. He seemed a bit taken aback by my interest, but didn’t backtrack. I asked about the Canadian utility, and he confirmed but said he couldn’t name the utility. I asked about Duke, and he confirmed. He stuck to the $100-million figure for each order.
Now, there’s not much known about Premium Power, beyond VantagePoint’s investment. In 2006 the company was awarded a $500,000 grant through a trust overseen by the Massachusetts Technology Collaborative. The company said at the time it planned to use the money to “scale their stacks into a large-scale Zinc-Flow 9000 system suitable for integration with renewable-energy sources such as wind and PV for load-leveling.”
Now that’s intriguing. Premium Power’s Web site doesn’t mention the Zinc-Flow 9000, and strangely it has removed all past and present press releases from the site. Yet here we have Kennedy, an advisor to Premium Power’s top investor and certainly a man armed with a wealth of knowledge, talking about $200 million worth of energy-storage orders.
Hmmmm… this could be interesting.
One More Note: Kennedy also said Premium Power’s battery costs “less than” $200 per kilowatt-hour. That compares favorably to sodium-sulfur batteries from companies like Japan’s NGK, which cost about $250 per kilowatt-hour, and vanadium flow batteries from companies like Vancouver-based VRB Power, which cost about $400 per kilowatt-hour. If Premium’s zinc-bromide battery is truly half the price of the VRB battery, then the economics of such storage become much more compelling.