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Redflow’s Hackett: Battery storage as common as broadband within 10 years

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IT guru Simon Hackett must be the number 1 fan of Tesla electric vehicles in Australia. He took delivery of the first Tesla Roadster in Australia in 2009, and now he drives the last Roadster delivered here.

He also took delivery of the first two long range, high performance Tesla Model S electric vehicles in Australia last year, and has two more on the way already as upgrades. One is the latest Tesla model P85D with its “almost frightening” acceleration, and he also has an order for one of the first Model X, the electric SUV with winged doors.

“I love these things,” Hackett says in an interview with RenewEconomy. “The model S has changed the conversation about EVs. ” So much so, he says, that electric motors will soon become a routine consideration when buying a car. Do consumers want petrol, diesel or electric?

And Hackett believes that Tesla’s intervention in the battery storage market will have a similar impact.  Within 10 years, he predicts, battery storage will be as commonplace in homes and businesses as broadband, which barely existed in 2000 but was widespread just a decade later in 2010.

But in this market, Hackett will not be the number 1 consumer of Tesla, but potentially the number 1 competitor, as the newly installed chairman (and largest shareholder) of Australian battery storage company Redflow.

“We are at the start of that 10 year cycle,” says Hackett. “I reckon that within 10 years, energy storage will become a routine design choice. It’s not an experiment. We are at the cusp of that becoming routine and normal and incredibly effective.”

Simon Hackett

Simon Hackett

Hackett took over as chairman of Redflow last week, and believes that Redflow has the technology with its “flow batteries” to compete against Tesla, and the myriad other developers of lithium-ion batteries.

“This is the company in Australia that is doing serious innovation in batteries,” Hackett says of Redflow. And he has put his money where his mouth is, and vice-versa.

His first big task is to use his IT skills, and those of his private company Base64, to write the smart software that will allow a plug and play version of Redflow’s zinc bromine “flow” batteries that is simple to use.

As Hackett explains it, the physics and the chemistry of the Redflow flow battery has largely been mastered, although continuing price and performance improvements. The focus is now on IT and software.

“The future of the energy storage and handling sector is increasingly about the deployment of smart and dynamic control mechanisms to manage energy flows,” he says. “Here’s the analogy: Redflow makes hard drives, and what I am designing here is a high availability file server for them to be put into. What you will get early next year is battery system that can be easily configured and also easily scaled up later, and managed with a web browser.”

A year ago, Redflow was barely considering the consumer market for battery storage, at least in Australia. But the rapidly falling feed-in tariffs, rising electricity bills and Tesla’s dramatic intervention, has created a huge amount of interest in the technology.

“Tesla put fire under idea and with the feed-in tariffs going away, batteries are getting cheap enough for consumers to take matters into their own hands,” Hackett says.

“People started ringing Redflow and saying ‘you have got a fabulous looking battery technology – can I plug it into my house’? So I am driving the IT design and architecture to make that happen.”

Redflow announced last week that recent continued successful test results, and progress in the manufacturing process have allowed Redflow to extend its battery warranty and lower the unit price so that the effective lifetime cost per delivered kilowatt-hour has fallen by almost 50 per cent.

Hackett says the cost may come down even more. That’s because the flow battery loves doing what other batteries cannot do – it thrives on full discharge and charge.

So much so, that the latest tests suggest that the battery will live longer than previously though. The battery will have warranty for 3,000 full 10 kilowatt-hour energy delivery cycles. Redflow believes they will be good for at least 4,000, because testing of the latest electrode stack iteration has returned excellent results. “We don’t yet know quite how long our latest electrode stack will last – we will need to do a lot more long term testing – but we’re quite sure that its a lot better than our preceding versions.”

That’s important because the key to the cost of battery storage is in its life cycle, not just the capital cost. It’s just like electrical appliances and solar panels: there are cheaper options but they might not last as long.

At the moment – over a 10 year period – Redflow estimates the cost of production at around US 20c/kWh. Even with the exchange rate taken into account, and given that solar electricity probably costs between 10-13c/Wh, that is putting the technology in the ball-park, where it starts to compete with the grid.

“If we get another halving of that number over time, then everything gets rather fascinating,” Hackett says. That, he notes, is where the price drops between the differential between peak and off peak pricing, and battery storage becomes no brainer in a country with high electricity costs, mostly driven by the high cost of the grid.

In anticipation of this, and in response to more rises in electricity prices, Hackett says the market is “going mad”.

“The interest level is enormous. It feels like exactly what I was doing in internet terms 15 years ago. It is  early days and everything costs more than people would like it to, but volume increases will surely drive prices down.

“It’s like the early days of solar panels, when only true believers could  afford it. But that’s cool, they will tell their friends, and then when their friends get their (feed in) tariffs removed, they will add energy storage as the logical response.”

That’s when the consumers will decide to keep the electricity they generate from their solar panels and use it at night time. Morgan Stanley estimates that around 230,000 solar households in Victoria, South Australia and Victoria will come off premium feed in tariffs by the end of 2016.

Meanwhile, feed in tariffs for new installations continue to be cut, and fixed charges will continue to rise.

Hackett’s own house in Adelaide is “off grid capable. Which is to say that it has 10kW of  solar panels and 20kWh of battery storage (currently lead-acid, and soon to be replaced with Redflow batteries)”.

But as soon as the tariff changes and, say, fixed charges are jacked up high enough, he will reach the point where it becomes sensible to simple go off-grid. And he expects many others to follow.

base64He will do the same with his office complex in Adelaide. The building will soon take delivery of a 660kWh array of Redflow batteries. Hackett says that is enough energy to run the office building for several days.

In the first instance, he is going to fill the batteries up on off peak and run them during peak demand, to test the economics. The next option is to take the building off-grid, although that will likely need some 70kW of rooftop solar to be installed over the parking area.

“One reaction to electricity companies taking (feed in tariffs) away is to just say ‘I accept’. Taking tariffs away is a core driver for the future.”

Among the new innovations being introduced by Hackett is a decision to have Flextronics manufacture the battery electrode as well as the rest of the product.

He says this wil create the cleanest path to high volume manufacture, and will remove any risk that its Brisbane site will become a production-rate bottleneck in the future. And it will allow the Brisbane site to focus on battery R&D.

redflow battery flowHackett describes zinc bromine flow batteries as an “inside out” battery”– because the fluids live outside the battery rather than inside.  It doesn’t mind whether it it totally full or totally empty; it can run in temperatures from 5c to 45C.

“You don’t have to be nice to it. The battery electrode is being constantly refreshed by the electrolyte tanks. For the electrode stack, its like having packet of Tim Tams that never runs out.”

It can be turned off in any charge state, and can spring back to life within a few seconds when needed. At the base level you get a battery that lasts  several times longer than lead acid. And while lithium ion is a “sprinter”, flow batteries are “marathon runners”.

 

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  • Tim Forcey

    A question about Hackett’s house: Is it connected to the gas grid? Do users have reasons to “love the gas grid” and “hate the electricity grid”, or vice versa?

    • john

      I very much doubt is connected to the gas grid

    • Stan Hlegeris

      Who cares? The governments and companies involved in the electricity grid could by now have been well along the path to opening the grid for the free flow of the cheapest and cleanest electricity to all who want it. They could have built a sustainable business on charging a reasonable price for grid access.

      Instead they’ve chosen to obstruct this progress at every step. People will leave the grid sooner and in bigger numbers than the dumbo distributors believe, and the old business model will collapse.

      It’s a pity it has to happen that way, but I say the sooner, the better.

      The gas grid is just a bystander. If users can get the same jobs done with electricity generated and stored on-site, they won’t need gas, either.

      • Reality Bites

        So Stan what is your alternative plan to opening the grid for the free flow of the cheapest and cleanest electricity to all who want it? Just how do you make very expensive grid infrastructure and maintenance cheap? Do you have a money tree?!

        • Tinman_au

          Did you miss the bit where he said: “They could have built a sustainable business on charging a reasonable price for grid access.”

          • Mike Dill

            Small retailers will buy local distributed renewables, which will eliminate most of the network charges. Those renewable power sources already cost less than the network, and will soon cost less than even brown coal. Even Queensland is starting to see the truth. The economics of renewables will be the force for distributed renewable generation

        • TechinBris

          The Grid has the potential to couple together not only the generation and consumption, but also the storage of everyone who installs a battery onto their energy systems, or maybe where people have the option, micro-hydro turbine to kick in when the Market’s price is right.
          One of the biggest losses in the Power grid is the transmission of that power over long distances and it’s very leaky. Lots of close by energy generation and storage means the movement of the energy is as short as possible and less stresses as it is distributed over a large expanse of the network making it all a much more efficient system.
          There is far more to it than that and what I have written is overly simplified, but in general, it is the truth of the matter.

          • All fine in theory and said regularly now by the energy producers and retailers.

            The problem being what we see from companies like Ergon and so on who rightfully say stay of our grid.

            The problem exists that so many inverters are non compliant and technically rogue which ruines it for good ones like SMA.

            The output of a lot of these solar inverters is 52Hz or worse.

            Let alone the PF the shape and purity of the sinewave and so on.

            This playing havoc with load control stations in every state.

            It’s for that reason that many energy companies don’t want homes feeding the grid.

            They can compensate for the dirty grid power from MW turbines because overall and with transmission losses plus load smoothing by consumers and sub stations to a large degree it’s with in acceptable limits.

            Now try applying that to how many million homes all chiming out one hell of a noise oh yes RFI being the other doozy.

            People forget or just don’t know these things take that into consideration and you get a better understanding why the power companies are the way they are.

            The whole thing to people becoming grid feed is that they should be 100% spot on in phase and so on.

          • TechinBris

            I have noticed most Inverters deliberately creep around a few hertz of the 50Hz. Most people do not realise that most equipment made for connection to the Grid is conformed to a standard of not being able to be made to function by a non-grid based power supply. The equipment is not allowed to be connected to the grid if it does not fit the criteria.
            Well, that is what I have been informed by some people in the industry and it does make sense, in the Commercial protectionist low risk environments that Corporations demand for themselves from their bought Politicians, while demanding everyone else has to shoulder the risks of anything that might be detrimental for them, though they are very inventive in how they use “Safety” in order to enact it all to their advantage, but ignore it for themselves in a reality if disadvantageous towards profit.

          • Exactly I was reading the requirements like you said. Early in the piece to keep my REC’s for me and do it all bang on spec I researched the SA Power networks requirements for compliance and I laughed thinking yep good very good u huh umm but I bet once the market gets flooded and by the time they realise so here we are.

            And the WCS has occured REC’s better known as STC’s are now worth the same as oil no correlation most would say Or is it?

            Cue in the hitchcock theme song.

            So in effect the whole thing is a mess they charge us more due to inflation shareholders and the current crock if crap lost consumers.

            Really never mind the fact that large amounts of subdivision is going on.

            That doesn’t count but they put the crowbar under the greens and say JUMP regardless.

            And consumers reading this remember this is all your fault 😛

            If it wasn’t for you none of this would occur and Trump says boo ya to wind turbines to.

          • TechinBris

            ROFL!
            Yep, when it all comes down to the nitty gritty, we only have ourselves to blame for the mess that we all find ourselves in. We should be more careful in choosing those who will represent us.
            I reckon we could get rid of them with our current levels of technology available and save ourselves some angst by making them redundant as they only are a corruption of us these days.

        • Amazing no bites where’s the nuclear nutters?

          They will have us believe that the same costs for mining uranium then add billions and the use of very expensive metals and technology results in this illusion of “cheap power”.

          When ever since the mains became saleable to the public and industry no such beast ever existed.

          Industry being the best example plants like ICI and so many others upon hitting our shores made the decision to have their own Boilers or purchase steam from neighbours and producing their own power because even in the early 1900s industrial tarrif was intolerable and just not viable. Companies like Coopers in this day and age have had to also.

      • Here here the fossil fueled hypocrites say that all these things are not viable to pull out of the ground.

        By all accounts the Lo Yang twins and most power stations should be demolished and replaced by shoe box housing.

        Have the polis huff and puff their hot air in front of the wind turbines.

        Shine torches on solar cells at night time here’s to living in hope.

    • Jacob

      Yes. Some of us love roasting with gas.

      And if the pipelines charge too much we can get gas bottles.

      Plus gas is nowhere near as sooty as coal.

      • TechinBris

        Make a biogas digestor and use your plant and kitchen wastes (plant matter has higher caloric energy than fecal matter) and the sludge than comes from out of it is great and clean to use raw on your garden to make it flourish. They are becoming very mainstream in India.

        • Spot on only main snag being pressurisation currently experimenting with a 90L poly drum.

          • TechinBris

            Pressurization is done by bricks on top of your holding container (or any weight. Use only natural gas pressures and natural gas jets as the smaller jets for propane are way too high pressure for the average Natural gas production at home. Don’t forget your flame blow-back protection and scrubbing is as simple as steel wool (less smell). None of this is hard.

          • Many thanks thought that was the case about the jets I read that with a few things including hydrogen which is the other extreme and block the airholes and not sure about jet change but certainly was expecting that.

            The gasometer as we know it is an art form almost because small scale varieties I tested went wayward fast.

            I think I missed something crucial.

            Yes on the sulphur scrubber the blowback arrestor can also double as the co2 scrubber to some degree yet water changes might need to be more frequent.

            Just thinking of doing a carbon or sand possibly the sawdust filter also.

            But that’s for when I get really bored looking at the 10L water bottles with them in mind.

          • TechinBris

            Perfection isn’t required, but necessity is the Mother of invention. Remember, keep it stupidly simple and avoid moving parts as much as possible.
            For me, I am just embedding all this information in my head for the days that may come when this information is the difference between embedded hardship created by someone’s inhumanity to others for surviving their denial of basic human rights (All their actions point to this, to date) and the survival for our communities regardless of their actions (which we have always managed to do). Why make it harder for yourself than one has to. :)

      • Yes and have you seen the price of swap and go bottles?

        Refills of your own 8Kg bottle must be close to $30 I’m guessing as it’s been years since I had it done.

        Many servos will no longer do Refills due to safety and cost.

        Works out more hassle than its worth especially if swap and go can make them a better deal.

        As for bigger kleen energy and so on bottles out in the country many don’t have a choice but knowing some one who did it here in Adelaide metro for years they turfed it years ago not viable.

        Schools and small businesses used to use them also.

        Now look how many do.

    • Unless he is running cogen I don’t see the validity of your question as gas is on par per KJ of energy used price wise.

      As most only use it for heating or cooking and wind up just as unhappy about bill shock PASS I refuse to have the explosion hazard on site.

      On a lighter note if it’s viable or even legal have a look on YouTube about natural gas modification of petrol generators.

      In the event of a disaster FEMA made studies on ways people could have power when petrol and diesel aren’t available that is one of them.

      The gas grid turned out to be the least affected in a lot of cases.

      Not a great solution most would think.

      Expand on that thought further I will throw two other keywords for your research enjoyment.

      Gasification yes the very one people remember from war and pre war days.

      Methane digesters.

      I issue the obvious legal and full safety disclaimers for those wishing to experiment.

      Enjoy.

      • Oops don’t read the part about the digester bail time lol. Gas hazards I know Nothhhhhhhhing.

  • Stewart

    I love this Australian, Brisbane based company. This is the new smarts of our economy and to think its happening under the purvey of the most anti innovative government of all time kind of makes me proud. Go you good thing!

  • john

    The first usage of the Battery before refit shows a cost of 20c KwH after the refit the second period gives a price of 12c or averaged at 16c.
    The displaced power which would be more expensive take 25c to 30c as an average it will of course pay for the unit and the refit before the first refit is due so effectively the unit will pay for itself inside the 10.5 years if the 4000 cycles can be achieved

  • Mike Dill

    I want the flow battery as a 2 to 3 day store to supplement and replace lead and lithium, and to cover the 5% of the time when 1 day of storage is not enough.
    My daily usage is mostly below 20KWH, so I need a flow battery than can store 60KWH and deliver it at 1 to 2 KW per hour.
    I need 2 or 3 KW for the peak loads, and a 2KWH Li-ion pack to mange those peaks is easily accomplished.
    Different storage schemes have different strengths. I like Redflow, and I hope that they can provide a solution that will work for my type of installation.

  • Brad Sherman

    One question I have for the purveyors of any battery technology is: how do you dispose of it at the end of its useful life? I hope they are working towards full recycling because last time I checked the Redflow has to be handled as hazardous waste (I assume because of the Bromine) and safe disposal of discarded batteries is a major consideration for me.

    • TechinBris

      There is always the good old alkaline NiFe Batteries. When the electrolyte has done its day, change it and dilute the old electrolyte somewhat and put it on the garden to fertilise it.
      The Cells can last a hundred years, you have to just replace the electrolyte every decade or so. The plus is they are very robust. Downside is they can’t give high energy surges of demand, so you might need a hybrid battery to cope with burst of high demand when it is required.

  • Mr Hacket you’ve done it again!

    Legendary status achieved and not a moment to soon I have gone of the grid and my prior consumption was between 20-30 odd kWh Bill price going into the thousands per anum.

    Electricity is one of the things I had to say goodbye to in order to survive and it’s the second round I am fed up with lo yang twins and co getting top $ for burning lignite coal.

    Yet Alinta couldn’t make it viable via Port Augusta.

    Who can figure.

    The energy companies are forseeing their own doom and it breaks my heart as I sit in 40C days cursing their existence.

    I have been watching the renewable and alternate energy markets for some time.

    Now finally we have technology comparable to the vanadium redox but better smaller and cheaper.

    Bravo sign me up.