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Redflow’s Hackett: 2016 is inflexion point for battery storage

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Simon Hackett, the executive chairman of Australian battery storage maker Redflow, says it is now clear that 2016 will be an inflexion point for the battery storage market in Australia, given huge interest from consumers and the rush of new products to the market.

Redflow is preparing to release its 10kWh zinc bromine “flow” battery, known as the ZCell, into the market in August, where it will be competing with a host of new lithium-ion batteries, some of which – such as Enphase – are already reporting significantly higher than anticipated sales.

hackett redflow batteryHackett is getting the same signals from customers. “It is going to be quicker than anyone thought,” he told RenewEconomy at the Energy Storage conference in Sydney. “Every sense I get at the moment is that this is finally the inflexion year, and it is going mad.”

Hackett says the market has Tesla – and its Powerwall product – to thank for bringing the market forward several years.

“It was always going to happen at some point, but one of the sexiest brands in the world has turned it (battery storage) into a dinner table conversation.

“When you do that … humans are herd animals … You will buy something and because you mention it, your friend nods their head and says I will think about it too. That’s how you get exponential take-up. We’re there. It’s now a dinner table conversation.”

To be sure, Hackett says that despite the huge interest, it is still an “early adopter” market. The ZCell retails at around $18,000 a system, but Hackett says that the early adopter is strong enough that it will flow through to the mass market as costs come down, which they will.

The key, he says, is ensuring that software that goes with the battery storage is smart enough to make it effective for the consumer – otherwise it will just be an early adopter market.

Hackett has installed battery storage in his office building in Adelaide, Base64, from where he is also charging his Tesla electric vehicles. More recently, he says, has added two ZCells to his home – replacing a lead acid battery storage array he installed in 2010 – which will support his 10kW of rooftop solar.

“I put 20kWh of lead acid in 2010, with 10kw of solar, when there was no business case. It was a $100,000 investment and it was the epitome of early adopter madness,” Hackett said.

“So I ripped the lead acid out and put the Redflow in as a solar self consumption exercise, so the batteries only charge when sun is shining and they defer drawing from the grid when the sun goes down. On a sunny day, we use about 5 per cent grid. On a rainy we use more, which is why disconnecting from the grid is not such a smart idea.”

But off grid does make sense to some. Redflow has also delivered its first batteries to a commercial customer, a landowner in Wilunga, south of Adelaide, who is looking to build a new home and was quoted $150,000 to string a line some 600m from the local poles and wires.

“So, for $40,000, he’s put in a kick-arse off grid power system with two of our batteries and a lot of solar panels, and he says thank you for giving me a business case. There is a whole city fringe thing where that works.”

Hackett says that the Redflow battery – though expensive for a single unit – competes with others on cost per kilowatt-hour, and is just at the start of the “cost down curve”, which will come from optimising the manufacturing process.

“The battle for Redflow hasn’t been to make it cheap, but to make it reliable and manufacturable. That nut we have now cracked, that is why we can do the cost downs,” Hackett says.

“Doing it the other way isn’t useful because we might end up with a cost effective battery that no one wants to buy. That was the pitfall of every electric vehicle manufacturer before Tesla. They wanted to make a cheap and cheerful EV from a company you never heard of, that is why they never sold them.

“Tesla did the high cost, aspirational stuff. You start with early adopters. There is no shortage of early adopters at the current pricing. Pricing is not the barrier, it is simply execution.”

Hackett also addressed the issue of safety of the zinc bromine flow battery. He says critics of new technology often overlook the pitfalls of the current one.



Zinc bromine, he says, is no more “nasty” than lead acid or lithium. And zinc bromine is a fire retardant. “As a chemical it is no worse than lead acid, you have got a built in fluid containment system and unless you physically break that sealed system, I don’t have a problem.”

He pointed to the long practice of filling cars at petrol stations. “People will complain about the downsides they perceive in EVs, while ignoring the volatile carcinogenic, inflammable fuels that you load into car each week.

“If you came into 2016, and the petrol filling mechanisms didn’t exist, they would be banned by OHS regulations.  

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  • Cooma Doug

    Watching QandA the other night and disappointed with Lambie. She talked about large base load and Nuclear being a solution for Tasmania.

    Now we all know that she is not respected in a technical arena of the power industry. But she has a vote in our senate.

    We need to educate the people like her and the public in simple terms. My response to her would be:
    We are talking nuclear Jackie. The difference is we take it off our roof next to our power points and it is very much safer and cheaper to deliver. Batteries are cheaper then poles and wires and todays technology makes large base load a bad idea.
    Now that the financial numbers are knocking on the door, surely we can put these denier arguments to bed.

    • suthnsun

      I hope so Doug

    • Phil

      A radioactive plume over Tassie would do wonders for their world exports of Oysters , salmon , beer , beef , lamb , honey , abalone , truffles, dairy , wine and a myriad of other foods.

      I certainly would not buy any of them.

      What’s in a brand ? Not much when it has a radioactive half life of a few million years.

      At least the residents could retreat to the mainland and shut the whole state down

      But hey for electricity that on paper might look to be slightly more affordable
      it’s all got to be worth the risk … and everyone gets fair compensation if it happens …right ?

      • Cooma Doug

        Well no its heaps more expensive

    • Brian Tehan

      Nuclear for Tasmania is ridiculous. All they need to do is put in more wind and pv and, with the existing hydro, they’ll have more power than they can use – which they can export to Victoria. Tasmania’s “base load” guarantee is their hydro. Surely every Tasmanian knows that?

  • john

    Simon has made some good points.
    Tesla has definitely had an effect on the techno literate, however for the mainstream they are still reading the WSJ or Forbes or watching Fox or reading some other of the rag outlets of Murdoch.
    Redfolw has a business case especially the zero charge to 100% charge without damage this works with illiterate consumers.
    Simon you need as you know sales to be able to get scale of reduction in manufacture.
    Just commenting on the $40 k off grid system that would give at least a 15kw solar and 15 to 20 kw battery system probably more.
    15 kw solar should produce at least 21000 kwH a year so does not need that size system
    Mind using that system it would be able to produce 57kwh a day way too large.

    • Ian

      1. Oversizing the solar array is a good idea as solar panels relative to storage are cheap. It’s better to underutilise peak electricity output in order to get maximum power requirements when solar conditions are not perfect, than to perfectly size solar and install more battery storage.

      2. I think Redflow is trying to compete with lithium on lithium’s terms when they could have intrinsically a much better storage capacity to power capacity ratio. Why size their storage tanks to match tesla’ lithium storage capacity when they could go much larger with more Zinc Bromide storage for the same KWp .

      With the same size reactor chamber and pumping system of an existing ZBM and bigger storage tanks of zinc bromide, the landowner in the example could have had more storage for not much more cost.

      • hydrophilia

        Yes, in many cases adding extra PV is far more effective than more storage. I probably toss out well over half of mine, but it is worth it to
        1) charge my batteries properly (I have no grid or generator and Lead-acid sulfates easily… although this article has different chemistry),
        2) handle cloudy days (sometimes this can last a week or so in my location… and I have very limited space for batteries),
        3) save money: my system was 100 watts and one battery (yes, I live on a boat). My choices were to add an extra 100 watts ($200/20 years) or add another battery ($100/year), and
        4) reduce technological risks: the PV has negligible and well-known maintenance costs while the Redflow battery is fairly new tech (“bleeding edge”) and may turn out to be costly: wise to limit investment to a reasonable level for now, as long as one can live within one’s power flow and income.

        • Ian

          Interesting, that you talk from experience, 100W is very frugal. Where there is water there is usually wind. Would you also have a wind turbine? What do you do to heat water for showering etc?

          • hydrophilia

            Wind would be nice at times, especially given the trade winds, but I’ve been avoiding the vibration and noise of a wind gen on a small boat.
            I typically heat shower water with a sun shower (black plastic bag) or wash at ambient temps (22degC, 70degF)…

  • Jacob

    Inflection?

    • hydrophilia

      infection (US English)=inflexion (Brit/Aus English)

      • Jacob

        Well TIL. Thanks

      • nakedChimp

        nice typo 😉

        • hydrophilia

          DOH!

          • Jo

            Well, but an exponential curve has no deflection point!

          • hydrophilia

            True. I interpret him as saying that the take-up curve, while being roughly exponential in many sections, is hitting a point in which the exponent changes, at least for a time.

  • Webber Depor

    calculator-man mod on:
    5kw rooftop solar = $5500, Zcell battery = $18000, TOTAL=$23500
    Monthly Electric Bill = $100, Monthly gasoline price = $120, TOTAL= $220

    Return on Investment: 23500/220/12 = 9 years *at best scenario

    *best scenario = assumed you would go off grid and fill your electric car with your home battery, always.

    • Jo

      You have calculated the payback time.
      Return on investment give you a percent value similar to an interest rate.

    • Mike Dill

      From what I remember, the current ZCell product is only 10kWh. What I was hoping to see from RedFlow was 3 to 4 kW, like the Z10, but with 20 to 40 kWh of storage that could back up my house for 2 or 3 days. In both cases it could be used as a daily use system.
      Since the larger cost is the membrane/ reaction assembly, adding more storage is relatively less expensive for flow batteries, as it only requires a larger storage tank and more fluid.
      Currently the EnPhase battery system is running about the same cost per kWh, but I am expecting the kWh costs for flow to decrease faster than Li-ion batteries.

      • Stephen

        Hi Mike Like you, I have been looking for
        a system with more storage capacity not necessarily high peak power output. With most other battery storage systems the cost goes up in proportion to the total storage (= more of the expensive electrolyte).

        But with ZCell I don’t see why there cannot be additional models with larger tanks of electrolyte solution at minimal extra cost. Surely most of the cost is in the electrode and control package.

        from the specifications on the ZCell

        https://faq.zcell.com/content/1/11/en-us/what-are-the-technical-specifications-of-a-zcell-battery.html

        and looking down at the Energy Capacity graph it looks like you can get just more than 10Kwh of storage if using power between 1-5Kw. This is where most of my power consumption is but a tank of electrolyte 2 or 3 times the size would mean I can outlast the shocking weather we have just had AND also be able to sell power back into the grid when all the utilities are having peak demand.

        Perhaps, a base model where we can buy the basic unit. ie. A ZCell and “plug in” extra tanks of electrolyte as we gain experience with the system and/or our power usage changes (extra people in the house). With the correct software and a manifold with tanks connected
        I can see this being a very flexible system.

  • We’ve spent a lot of time looking into Redflow and the Z-CELL and it looks pretty exciting:
    http://www.solarquotes.com.au/blog/redflows-zinc-bromide-zcell-battery-may-have-the-edge-over-lithium-ion/