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. Continue reading $200 million in orders for Premium Power?
My Clean Break column today takes a look at the shortcomings of wind power and the need for economical storage. On the latter point, the last half of my column discusses an Alberta-based company called Lancaster Wind Systems (no Web site yet, sorry), which is building a new kind of wind turbine that has all its components and complexity at the base of the turbine, not in the nacelle. At the same time, it is developing a system that “locally stores wind energy using a hydraulic accumulator in conventional high-pressure pipeline storage banks, enabling its use as on-demand peak power.”
Lancaster won’t go into much detail about this, preferring to wait until it has filed all its patents. But CEO Daniel Kenway says the plan is to take knowledge and expertise in the Alberta oil patch, as well as manufacturing capabilities, and apply them to wind-energy systems. Intriguing. He also says a first project, partly funded by Sustainable Development Technology Canada, will demonstrate a 1-megawatt turbine with a 2-megawatt-hour storage capability. After which the company plans to scale up by “orders of magnitude.” Kenway says two configurations are possible: storage paired to a single turbine, or a larger-scale storage system paired with clusters of turbines. The latter, obviously, would prove more economical because of economies of scale. But he says the single-turbine storage system could prove useful in remote communities that are dependent on diesel generators.
As Kenway told me in an interview (and this comment wasn’t in the column), “If you choose your components correctly, it turns out it’s possible to store as much as a few hours worth of energy at the side of the turbines. How we do that I would leave as a secret for a little while. But the notion is that in the end all of what we’re using are elements of technology already commonly found in Alberta. It’s not like we’ve discovered some new vanadium cell or some speculative thing. It’s a case of using good engineering principles and novel integration.” The only detail he gave is that the initial stage of the energy storage conversion process has to do with pressurization in a hydraulic circuit. Beyond that, we’re left guessing.
The result is dispatchable wind energy, and the goal is to achieve the same degree of reliability and efficiencies as found with coal or nuclear plants. Kenway says with economies of scale means the cost of the storage would be about 10 per cent of the cost of the turbines, and capital efficiency could reach about 85 per cent. “When you start looking at how much money you spend on the means of energy production, versus how much money you spend on storage, and how you allocate your capital ratios, that interplay (let’s you) effectively put most of the grid on renewable energy,” he says.
T. Boone Pickens may be interested in this one. Lancaster is working with the Wind Energy Institute of Canada and the University of Alberta on the SDTC project. One of the most interesting aspects of its planned storage system is the fact that it can be retrofitted to existing turbines or wind farms. In other words, if the company’s system works as planned at the costs forecasted, the tens of thousands of wind turbines already in operation around the world can be coupled with storage.
Now wouldn’t that be wonderful?