WA farm taps vanadium flow battery storage, solar – an Australian first

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A farm near Busselton WA has installed a 100kWh vanadium redox flow battery with solar to avoid paying for a new connection to the grid.

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One Step Off The Grid

A Western Australian farm near Busselton that has installed solar and battery storage to avoid paying for a new connection to the grid, has chosen a vanadium redox flow battery for the project, in what is believed to be a first for Australia.

The battery – a 100kWh CellCube built in Austria by Gildemeister and installed by Australian Vanadium Limited (AVL) subsidiary VSUN – will store the energy from a 15kW solar PV system, which the property’s owners hope will make them 90 per cent energy self-sufficient.

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AVL managing director, Vincent Algar, next to the CellCube vanadium redox flow battery.

According to AVL, VRFB have lower energy density compared to lithium-ion, but since the tanks can be scaled up to any size, have the ability to store a lot more total energy, so a well suited to stationary applications and to storing large amounts of renewable energy for later use.

Another advantage, says AVL, is that vanadium flow batteries can cycle more often and to greater depths of discharge (100%), giving them a longer life that li-ion batteries. They are also safer, in that they are not prone to the thermal runaway known to occur with lithium-ion.

The cost of the system, the solar and storage, was high – $164,000, says AVL – but evidently that cost was weighed against the cost of connecting a new building to the grid and found to be economic.

Farm owner, Lucy Stuart, said she planned to build a new house at the Busselton property, a farm which currently operates a small tree nursery with irrigation and power supplies.

“As part of building a new house, obviously, the first thing you look at is how to get grid power to the house,” she said.

“We started doing some research. The (CellCube)… will deliver power for the entire farm without us needing to then extend grid power to the house. So it’s starting to look cost-effective from that point of view.

“Then we found there are actually a lot of added benefits. We currently get single-phase power out to the farm – which is normal, that’s typical – but this system will produce three-phase power, which is what we’re getting in the city here.

“We can expand the workshop, if we can get that three-phase power,” Stuart said. “There are often interruptions to the power supply in rural areas and installing a vanadium battery will allow us to use appliances with a heavy draw-down, without having to time our usage around off-peak hours.

“And the third thing is a bonus, but it’s important to us – it might not be important to everyone – but we are fairly committed to sustainable, clean energy. So it’s the perfect three-point ‘tick in the box’ for us.”

“Theoretically, we hope to be 90 per cent self-sufficient with our power. We are also registered as a power exporter, so we can sell back to the grid. So, although that’s not initially our primary desire, it’s going to be a nice thing to have.”

AVL managing director Vincent Algar said he expected the Busselton farm installation to be the first of many on Australian farms, due to their capacity to store large amounts of solar and wind power.

“They are a perfect option for many off-grid farming operations, particularly in the more remote parts of WA,” Algar said.

Algar said one of the benefits of large battery storage systems like the CellCubes included the ability to time-shift up to 10 hours of power usage, by storing energy from the solar for later use.

Aside from farming, he said the storage systems would be economic for a range of industries, including mining and resources.

“Many WA farmers will find installing a vanadium battery, with appropriate solar panels, will be cheaper in the long term, than connecting to the grid or running diesel generators,” he said.

This article was originally published on One Step Off The Grid. To sign up for the weekly newsletter, click here.

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15 Comments
  1. JeffJL 3 years ago

    Noice.

    • DJR96 3 years ago

      Nice yes, but still damn pricey. About $60k too much…..

  2. nakedChimp 3 years ago

    hm.. 15kWp solar feeding 100kWh storage with a DOD of 100% and probably being the more costly position in all of this?
    Charging with solar from 0 to 100 will take 2-3 days.
    Must be some special use case as the numbers don’t make sense to me like that..

    • Kenshō 3 years ago

      I have a 1.5kW array feeding a 9.6kWh $2.2k AGM battery. I bought it as a transitionary battery aiming to not go below 20% to 30% DOD hoping it keeps going for 7 to 10 years before a catastrophic failure. Any experience with how long such batteries can go for at reduced capacity?

      • solarguy 3 years ago

        Hate to be the bearer of bad news, but AGM batteries are unlikely to last anymore than 3.5yrs at that DOD, unless their of very high quality, but even then not too much better.Sorry.

        • Kenshō 3 years ago

          heh mate, yes that’s the manufacturers specs although wouldn’t that be when the battery is down to 80% of its new capacity? I got double the size I needed so I’m asking more about how many years this type of battery will keep going before a catastrophic failure?

          • solarguy 3 years ago

            Yeah 80-85%. Are you saying you have total capacity of 19.2kwh?

          • Kenshō 3 years ago

            No just the 9.6kWh tho its only to escape export/import merry-go-round mainly during the day so pretty oversized for my current needs. Property only uses 5.5kWh total in summer so its all currently a small system. My overnight usage in summer is 1.5kWh.

          • solarguy 3 years ago

            It will last 3.5yrs approx., if cycled every day and get to 80-85% of new capacity. I’ve got some Ritar’s, some power my mower, some power lights, their ok.

      • nakedChimp 3 years ago

        Yeah, what solarguy wrote. You get about 2000 cycles out of AGM at those DODs before they drop below 80% of original capacity.
        If you keep them around 20-25 deg it will help a lot and also not to be too aggressive on the final charge voltages.

        On work we got remote sensor stations that use AGMs and I designed them with 20% DOD for approx 6-8 years until they need replacement. By then we’ll switch to LiFePO4 I guess.

        • Kenshō 3 years ago

          Once they slip below 80% of their original rating, is there any reason I can’t just keep going? There’s plenty of battery capacity. It’s only the likelihood of a catastrophic failure like a shorted cell I’m concerned about.. Why can’t I just keep going until the battery balancer starts alarming that it can’t bring the batteries into balance? When is that likely to happen?

        • Kenshō 3 years ago

          Since capacity isn’t my primary issue, I imagine catastrophic failure will end the life of one string of batteries. My current understanding is a cell in one battery will likely eventually short circuit with age, making the voltage across that battery low, making the voltage across those in series with it high. When this happens, the battery balancer will attempt to balance out the mid-point voltage and if it can’t, it will alarm. As long as I’m around and hear the alarm, the problematic battery and one other can be disconnected and then the remaining two batteries can soldier on with the battery bank operating at half capacity – which in my application it probably will be able to do. If the leftover battery is preserved with my small maintenance charger, it could even be used to replace the next catastrophic failure. That’s my understanding of what will end the life of this type of battery bank. I imagine its luck, exactly how closely engineered the resistances are and hence how long the batteries get down the track. If I get 7 years I’ll be pretty happy. By then I’ll have other battery banks on other solar systems sharing the property load.

    • solarguy 3 years ago

      Their loads may not be too high. 15kwp will make around 60kwh/day in winter and up to 97kwh summer. Flow batteries are not harmed by not being fully charged, so it may be enough most of the time.
      If it was my system I would have doubled the PV, if affordable.

  3. Kenshō 3 years ago

    Wow !00kWh is a huge amount of storage, the same rating as the 100kWh Powerpack, although I don’t know if the Powerpack rating is for use of the whole 100kWh. I don’t know if the flow battery reduces in capacity like many other batteries, though perhaps the approach is making sure the future is looked after as well as additional PV and wind. Perhaps the large battery is also needed to draw the amps needed for their three phase applications, whether that’s three phase water pumping or machinery.. Being rural, they will also have the added security of power if poles and wires come down in wind or fire.

  4. Kenshō 3 years ago

    I reckon it would also be great to hear honest assessment of battery banks by people and how they went in looking after it. e.g. On One Step Off the Grid, Richard Di Natale told us he’s already got 10 years from his gel batteries and was hoping for another winter and summer. With all the people coming off FIT’s, and everybody else, I think its important to know what to expect and how to get the battery to pay for itself and whether people are having success with it.

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