Vanadium: The somewhat mysterious metal that will store and release the solar revolution's power.
Last week we shared with you that sunny Hawaii has the edge on solar installation, but utilities are becoming reluctant to tie the solar power to the grid, saying the power overwhelms the grid.
As we said last week, Hawaii has to get a lot of things from somewhere else including the fuel to power its electric plants. Thus Hawaiian electric customers pay three to four times the continental United States average, depending upon which Hawaiian island they reside.
As the BBC magazine article puts it, “Hawaii's electricity monopoly, Heco, fears parts of the grid could become dangerously swamped by a glut of mid-day power.”
A Scientific American article detailed the woes of a couple: William Walker and his wife, Mi Chong, who installed solar panels to lower their $250 a month electric bill. When the utility refused to hook the couple’s system to the grid, they did not hook the panels and are now paying $300 in payments for the solar system.
As Scientific American reports, “The Hawaii development comes amid battles in California, Arizona and Colorado over the future of net energy metering (NEM). That policy—which exists in some form in 43 states and the District of Columbia—lets households with renewable energy earn bill credits for surplus power delivered to the grid.”
In April, we detailed some of the threats to grid-tied systems and the promises that Arizona and California have made to those who already have solar systems. Part of the power collection and distribution solution may be vanadium batteries. If the excess power generated by solar is collected by the batteries, experts say it would not stress the grid.
The BBC quotes says Bill Radvak, the Canadian head of American Vanadium, America's only vanadium mining company and the producer of CellCube batteries.
"California's got a major problem," Radvak says. "The amount of solar that's coming on-stream is just truly remarkable, but it all hits the system between noon and 4pm." Radvak thinks “an electrochemical solution that exploits the special properties of vanadium” is the solution to the problem of stressed electric grids.
Most of us have heard of vanadium steel—just a smidge of vanadium—0.15%—makes steel stronger and more resilient. It was also the ingredient that helped make third-century Damascus blades legendary.
Vanadium batteries could store power fed into the grid during the sunniest parts of the day, which are also the times of day that customers use the most electricity.
Target customers for the vanadium batteries are mass transit and other significant energy users. Radvak says the Metropolitan Transport Authority, which runs New York's subway and has just signed a pilot deal for the company's CellCube batteries.
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