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.
“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.”