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Redflow thinks big again on batteries, targets Asia telco market

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Australian battery storage maker Redflow has a new target market for its large-scale zinc-bromine flow batteries, after the Brisbane-based company this week revealed it was pursuing “massive potential demand” in Asia’s telecommunications sector.

The ASX-listed company, which spent much of 2016 positioning itself as a contender for Australia’s burgeoning residential battery storage market, says it is successfully selling its larger-scale batteries in Asian countries where telecommunications have leap-frogged copper lines into wireless telephony and broadband.

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“Many Asian nations have jumped straight to cellular network-based phone and Internet services because they lack the copper-based communication networks that exist in countries like Australia,” the company said in a statement on Tuesday.

“As a result, Redflow is pursuing a massive potential demand in Asia for its zinc-bromine flow batteries to power mobile telecommunication towers located in areas without reliable electricity supplies.”

Redflow, whose clever, but not particularly compact, technology originally targeted the commercial and grid-scale energy storage market, has recently made a concerted grab for the hotly contested residential market, under the stewardship of new CEO Simon Hackett.

The focus back on telecoms and mobile tower storage could indicate a step back from the residential strategy, as cheaper and more compact lithium-ion competitors like Tesla make it tougher for companies like Redflow to compete on the home battery front.

An emailed statement from Redflow denied today’s announcement was any sort of change in strategy, but rather a return of focus to the commercial battery line, after a year where “huge interest” in the company’s ZCell and residential batteries cast a shadow over that part of the business.

“Redflow is not merely a residential energy storage participant,” Hackett reminded shareholders at Redflow’s AGM in Brisbane last November.

“Our origins are in the telecommunications, commercial and industrial realms, and residential energy storage under our ZCell brand is merely an additional market segment that adds to those existing market opportunities for our company.”

Certainly, when it comes to larger-scale commercial and remote applications, Reflow’s chemistry gives it a few serious advantages over some of its competitors.

In Asia, for example, the company says its 48-volt 10kWh flow batteries are a natural fit, with their ability to operate in hot conditions without active cooling; 100 per cent depth of discharge on a daily basis; long-term storage at any state of charge, from empty to full, without damaging the battery; and construction materials with minimal resale value, making them less attractive to thieves.

Andrew Dempster, Redflow’s global sales director said the company had integration partners in India, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand and the Philippines, each of which had sold small systems to telecommunication companies to trial in the field.

“This is a huge opportunity for us,” Dempster said. “A country like Indonesia has something like 85,000 telecom towers, many of which require battery backup because of unreliable electricity supplies.

“We recognise that selling successfully in Asia provides some unique challenges that require local knowledge and a lot of patience. Redflow has a senior sales executive with on-the-ground experience working in Indonesia who has helped us to engage successfully with partners in the region.

“A key to Asia is patience. If you rush, you put yourself in the hands of the wrong partners. Success comes from finding a good partner and developing that relationship on a personal and a corporate level. It’s about recognising what they want from the partnership, which is often more than just sales.”

Kempster also noted that selling in the region could also produce some surprises. “For example, the CEO of a large telco once asked me ‘how much does your battery weigh?’” he recalled.

“Not sure if the right answer was ‘heavy’ or ‘light’, I tentatively replied ‘240kg’ while expecting him to say ‘that’s too heavy!’ His response surprised me. ‘Great,’ he said, ‘it won’t get stolen’.

“This CEO loved our Redflow battery because its robustness, weight and unique construction materials are an advantage in his market segment.”  

  • George Darroch

    If their product is appropriately priced, I don’t see why not!

  • Chris Drongers

    Why isn’t the Redflow battery being upscaled to MWhr x (say) 250kW?

    Is there something in the battery chemistry or membrane stack that doesn’t multiply up? If Redflex won’t go large the vanadium flow batteries are already doing so.

    • Rod

      I think this is a couple of years old.
      Not sure if the results have been published
      http://solar-energy.uq.edu.au/power-systems-engineering

      • Chris Drongers

        I still do not know why the Redflow stack is not coupled with thousand gallon tanks of electrolyte? Why bear the cost of daisy-chaining whole tank/stack/pump combinations when a large tank/a few parallel stack/common pumps would work?

        • Rod

          You may have a point. I’m not that conversant with the technology though. I think the one in the QU study was proof of concept and I think there is another one at Hackett’s business premises in Adelaide.

        • Phil

          I believe there are 2 types of technology with flow batteries according to this

          1 supports a bigger electrolyte tank. The other does not

          http://energystorage.org/energy-storage/technologies/redox-flow-batteries

    • solarguy

      It has already, just multiple ZBM3 units to any size.

  • Phil

    I think Redflow are “clutching at straws” here.

    Cell towers don’t lose power every day so the business model benefits ( and costs) of a flow battery based on a full discharge and recharge every day make no sense in a mostly “float” backup environment.

    Also India has horrendous duty costs on imported products NOT made in India. And there are manufacturers in India that make perfectly good DIN standard AGM OPzV batteries that have a 20 year float life , and probably easily 10 years on a typical 3rd world power grid (excluding war zones) where the power is off 10% of the time.And these OPzV batteries are half the cost of flow technology for the same AH based on 30% MAX D.O.D .

    • Tommyk82 .

      It’s not just about losing power, there’s also the integration of solar or regulation of a generator to consider. These towers already use lead acid and try to deal with all the associated problems. I’ve got no issue with lead acid but there are a lot of advantages with the Z cell you aren’t considering in the pricing, not least of which the capacity to log in remotely to evaluate battery health

      • Phil

        You can put lead acid Batteries momentarily onto an electronic dummy load and the telemetry would indicate the available current as a test routine under automation or manual control.

        Most don’t bother to do this as the MPPT (solar) or Available Mains Chargers show the battery voltage status at all times. The technology of lead Acid is very stable and reliable.

        They normally DO an annual full dummy load test of Lead Acid batteries . But that is part of a lot of other annual service work too such as tightening connections , cleaning equipment rack fans , servicing air con units etc

        Flow batteries have a lot more to go wrong in them including electronics and mechanical pumps. And you need 2 of them for continuity of the 48 volt DC supply as there is a “cleaning cycle” where no output is possible even if the battery has charge.

        Data on that cycle here . https://faq.zcell.com/content/9/50/en-us/working-with-the-periodic-zcell-self_maintenance-cycle.html

  • eddierothmanisatool

    #RFXfail