Resilient community microgrid with 10MWh flow battery gets California Energy Commission funding approved


The California Energy Commission (CEC) has approved funding for a solar-plus-storage microgrid project which will include Invinity Energy Systems’ largest flow battery to date.

The stock exchange-listed Anglo-American flow battery provider announced the CEC’s decision today, which was taken at a commission meeting yesterday. An Invinity 10MWh vanadium redox flow battery (VRFB) will be installed for the community of the Viejas Band of Kumeyaay Indians.

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The project is being carried out by Indian Energy, a Native American-owned business working on grid-scale battery storage and microgrid projects, with funding coming from the CEC’s Long-Duration Energy Storage Program.

The energy commission has determined that long-duration energy storage (LDES) will be a necessary component of California meeting its goals of net zero greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions and a fully renewable energy sector by 2040 and has funded various projects along these lines.

In 2020 as the programme opened, the CEC determined that at least 1GW of LDES will be needed on the California Independent System Operator (CAISO) grid.

The commission is also supporting microgrid projects that support community resilience from electricity grid outages. In California, energy supply is sometimes at risk in large swathes of the state, from the direct threat of extreme weather events such as heatwaves, to measures such as Public Safety Power Shutoffs (PSPS) where utilities de-energise power lines to prevent them causing or exacerbating wildfires.

For example, Indian Energy is working on another project which will install and then assess the use of four different types of non-lithium, alternative LDES technology. As reported by this site in January 2021, that includes flow battery, mechanical storage, supercapacitors and zinc hybrid cathode batteries.

Invinity has so far been awarded funding for at least four other California microgrids using its proprietary flow battery tech.

‘Very different tech to what customers are used to’

At last month’s RE+ 2022 solar PV and energy storage industry event which took place in the state, Invinity Energy Systems chief commercial officer Matt Harper told in an interview that the CEC is funding the projects to “really demonstrate the marriage of long-duration storage and microgrid resiliency together”.

“The concept being that each of those things were incredibly well proven. Everyone knew that flow batteries could run a long time, and everyone knew that microgrids tended to work really well. But by combining the two together, their thinking was that you could unlock a set of capabilities that would be really, really useful, especially for comparatively remote locations, and especially in regions where wildfires have become more and more of a challenge,” Harper said.

Harper gave the example of a project for another indigenous community, the Soboba Band of Indians, where an Invinity flow battery will be installed at a fire station, turning the fire station into a emergency hub people can go to if a wildfire hits the area. Day-to-day the battery will enable the fire station to be powered with solar energy stored in its electrolyte tanks.

Invinity has a few partners in California developing projects using the VRFB technology, like Webcor and GRID Alternatives – the latter focusing on bringing clean energy to low income or disadvantaged communities – as well as Indian Energy.

As well as providing the technology, the flow battery company also has a role to play in educating those partners about how to install and use it.

“What we have to do is to educate them about what our product is, how it works, how it goes in… all that kind of stuff, because we are very different from a lithium battery in many ways,” Harper said.

“Everything from the physical size of the system to the ways that you dispatch the battery, to the ways that you need to archive the data that’s coming off the battery itself are very different from what a lot of these developers are used to, even if they have a lot of storage in their portfolio already.”

It’s been a busy last few days for Invinity. As reported by earlier this week, it has just received a customer order for a 1.3MWh system for a data centre in Arizona, US.

Then yesterday, it announced another sale, this time in Belgium to energy and industrial equipment and services company Equans Belux. Four of Invinity’s VS3 flow battery units totalling 0.8MWh will be installed at an Equans facility.

Invinity said that Equans, owned by energy major Engie, will use the project as an “important reference point” to determine its suitability for rolling out to its own customers.

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