Vanadium specialist CellCube wins E.On deal for Swedish microgrid

E.On has picked CellCube to provide vanadium storage for its Simris scheme in Sweden (Pic source: E.On)

E.On has picked CellCube to provide vanadium storage for its Simris scheme in Sweden (Pic source: E.On)

BY RICHARD HEAP:

The Swedish village of Simris has only 150 households. However, according to German utility E.On, it is also an example of how companies can build smart grids.

Last October, the company launched a pilot project to power Simris using only wind and solar projects. The village’s smart grid is made up of an old wind farm of 500kW by German manufacturer Enercon, 400kW of solar panels, and an 800kW battery system.

Now it wants to do more to fix a problem discussed in this softly-spoken promo video. In short, the 800kW battery is too small to store all of the excess electricity produced in Simris. I’ll let the video take it from there:

Why not build a bigger battery, then? Well, at the moment it’s too expensive I’m afraid and, due to this general problem, around Europe a lot of green energy being produced is wasted.”

Less than 12 months later, it appears to have found a solution. Last week, E.On signed a deal that it said would help to address this, and may show a way that generators of wind and solar power could use more of the electricity produced by their project.

Enerox, part of CellCube Energy Storage Systems, is going to supply the Germany utility’s subsidiary E.On Energidistribution with a long-duration energy storagesystem. This is set to add an extra 1,800kWh of useable storage capacity to the Simris community smart grid.

Demijan Panic, innovation manager at E.On Decentral Energy Systems, said its work at Simris had shown a local energy system was a “technically viable alternative to the large-scale power system in providing clean renewable energy”. Now it is set to take “one step further” by increasing the system’s storage capacity.

Meanwhile, CellCube said this would help E.On to overcome fluctuating production of electricity from renewables, and talked up the benefits of its vanadium redox flow battery in providing the long-term and reliable baseload supply that Simris needs.

It is due to be installed this year, and CellCube president Stefan Schauss said it was designed to supply excess power for between eight and 16 hours.

Virtues of vanadium

I’m still new to the world of energy storage, so I’m not yet completely au fait with my vanadiums and my lithiums. If you want to set me right, you can contact me at: richard@energystoragereport.info

That said, from what I’ve read so far, there seems to be great potential in vanadium redox flow batteries to help renewable energy producers to better match supply and demand at their schemes.

In an interview with Energy Storage Report, Schauss explained that CellCube focused on vanadium-based systems because they could create energy from excess produced by wind and solar farms for many hours.

The potential of vanadium batteries was highlighted in this report, published by Orbis Research in June. It said that vanadium redox flow batteries are distinct in the storagemarket because they can deliver their power instantly and store up to hundreds of megawatts of energy useable in peak hours.

It added that vanadium batteries also lasted longer and so were well suited for industrial and utility applications; and forecast a combined annual growth rate of 59.7% each year from 2018 to 2022 in this part of the storage market. It said that the size of the vanadium market stood at $142.1m in 2017, but would grow massively.

We would expect CellCube to talk positively about their own technology – but there does appear to be great potential for growth in vanadium-based storage systems. For example, there’s an 800MWh battery in China is being made using vanadium.

Mining for opportunities

The company has been involved in vanadium for many years. It was started in 1999 and took eight years to bring its technology to market, and in 2008 was pairing small systems with wind turbines and solar panels.

The business started life as Gildemeister, which was later rebranded as DMG Mori. In 2016, DMG spun out its energy and energy storage arm into a new company, which was acquired by Stina Resources in a deal that completed in May 2018. Stina took over CellCube and established a subsidiary in Austria, called Enerox.

It has now built over 130 installations in 24 countries, and is looking to pair with schemes of 50MW-100MW each. So far, 85% of installations have been with solar, but Schauss said it is now seeing interest from onshore and offshore wind firms too.

One of the most interesting aspects from our perspective is that CellCube owns a vanadium mine in Nevada in the US, which can produce all of the vanadium that it needs in its systems. This means that it is fully vertically-integrated and can deliver its systems without the vagaries of having to buy vanadium from other suppliers.

It isn’t the only company in the vanadium market, though – and, just as CellCube has changed hands, we would expect to see other consolidation as the market grows.

We are also seeing interest from mining giants who want to branch out into battery manufacturing, with players in the lithium sector including Lithium Australia, Jiangxi Ganfeng and Canada’s High Power Exploration. We expect to see similar in the vanadium industry too, and buyouts are likely to be a popular option.

And with firms like E.On investing in battery storage, there’ll no doubt be utilities looking at these deals too.

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