UTSA, NRG Energy and Microsoft announce new flow battery research initiative
The future of renewable energy will rely on many different kinds of technologies. But one technology is primed to play a bigger role. New research, announced yesterday at The University of Texas at San Antonio’s (UTSA) Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute (TSERI) indicates that batteries can help ease the transition to a grid increasingly powered by renewables.
Billed as the “Next-Gen Energy Storage Research Announcement,” senior leaders from Microsoft, power production giant NRG Energy, and various utility players converged on UTSA to discuss the role batteries can play as more renewable energy comes onto the grid. The research reveals new information about power efficiencies at different currents and how to operate batteries at scale. The research program, begun in spring 2016 and designed to continue until at least the spring of 2017, is looking at the performance and economic potential of flow battery technology in a variety of applications, from powering data centers to optimizing electric distribution grids.
“Our research to date has focused primarily on two critical questions – how well do flow batteries perform and what is their revenue potential if used at scale to provide ancillary services to the power grid,” said Dwain Rogers, Research Director at the Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute. “Initial testing is already unlocking potential strategies to participate in power markets when the flow battery is not in use for its primary application. This sort of world-class research aligns perfectly with UTSA’s drive to become a Tier One research university.”
Renewable energy made up 58% of all new generation additions in the world last year, but renewables still only account for 22% of total electricity generation in the world. This means there is a great deal of opportunity to grow the percentage of renewables on the grid – but there are also new challenges related to energy storage that need to be addressed.
With traditional sources of electricity, energy is stored in a lump of coal, a reservoir behind a hydroelectric dam, or in a fissionable isotope. It can be stored indefinitely and deployed to meet demand as needed. However, wind and solar generation resources only provide electricity when the wind blows or the sun shines. The lack of existing large-scale storage for energy produced from these resources requires innovation in the way each can be effectively integrated into the grid at high rates of penetration.
This challenge is precisely what is driving the research at the UTSA’s Texas Sustainable Energy Research Institute. Distributed generation technologies, including batteries, have the potential to reduce energy losses, improve reliability and minimize the need for costly investments in new infrastructure. Those benefits are attractive to companies like Microsoft, with large and growing energy needs to power their datacenters, as well as power companies like NRG, that are working to make the grid more reliable while also deploying more sustainable forms of energy generation, including renewables.