New Battery Holds Promise for Substation Supplementation, Substitution

By Dave Flessner for Chattagnooga Times

(TNS) — Three months after activating its 4-acre solar array along Holtzclaw Avenue, utility provider EPB is tying the power generated by the sun into a new type of flow battery that officials hope could be a model for modernizing the power grid.

Chattanooga’s municipal power utility on Friday energized a 100 kilowatt vanadium redox flow battery that researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory developed and which Oak Ridge National Laboratory researchers will study.

The battery is a new type of technology that utilities could use to supplement or even substitute for some substations to ensure that electricity keeps flowing even when its generation source or transmission line is knocked offline.

“Because Chattanooga’s power distribution infrastructure combines a communitywide fiber optics network with more than 1,200 automated power management devices to form one of the most advanced smart grids in the country, we are well-positioned to serve as a living laboratory for testing new technologies and developing best practices that will help other utilities modernize their infrastructure,” EPB Chairman Joe Ferguson said.

The battery is capable of delivering up to four hours of power at a time. Although its power output of 100 kilowatts is a tiny fraction of EPB’s power load, the new device attracted plenty of political power during a dedication Friday.

Both of Tennessee’s U.S. senators — Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker — and two members of the U.S. House of Representatives — Reps. Chuck Fleischmann and Diane Black — praised the innovative technology and the DOE labs that provided the research for the commercial venture.

EPB’s project is a partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE), Oak Ridge National Laboratory, Sandia National Laboratories, and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory as part of the DOE’s Grid Modernization Lab Consortium program.

The battery system for the EPB project is provided by UniEnergy Technologies, a Seattle-based manufacturer that already has installed five other designs of the new battery type at other sites around the globe. The new flow batteries have an efficiency of more than 70 percent, meaning there is less than a 30 percent loss of the power put into the battery compared with the amount that comes out and is delivered when it is needed.

“This new battery system is a good example of how basic energy research at our national laboratories can bring together businesses and utilities to develop and deploy new energy technologies,” Alexander said.

Corker said the EPB partnership with DOE will help the utility “better understand energy storage and test new technologies in an effort to bring resilient and affordable electricity to Americans.”

If successful, EPB President David Wade said he hopes similar batteries could be installed across EPB’s grid.

EPB will use the battery system for solar integration, voltage regulation, back-up power, advanced microgrid operations and energy management. Working with ORNL, EPB hopes to hone the control strategies used to operate and maximize the value proposition for utilizing battery systems.

“This installation combines cutting-edge, long- duration storage technology with an outstanding communication network,” said Dr. Imre Gyuk, director of energy storage research in DOE’s Office of Electricity. “Chattanooga will serve as an example of innovative electrical infrastructure for Tennessee and the nation.”

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