09 July 2020
At the heart of Energy Superhub Oxford is the largest hybrid battery ever built, helping make sure more of the electricity powering our lives comes from renewable sources. Ed Porter, of Invinity Energy Systems, explains the benefits of flow technology and his hopes for the energy transition over the next decade.
What does your role involve?
I look at new opportunities to explore the best applications for heavy cycling and non-degrading assets such as flow batteries.
What are the benefits of flow batteries?
Flow batteries can handle a very high throughout. The technology likes to be worked as hard as possible, which is why flow batteries are great for putting alongside lithium-ion. If there’s a way of splitting the work so that flow can do a lot of the high utilisation activity and lithium-ion can provide some of the peaking capability, then that’s a very good mix. Flow is also a very safe and very resilient technology.
Tell us more about Invinity Energy Systems
We’re the leading manufacturer of flow batteries worldwide. We provide flow batteries to Commercial & Industrial customers, utilities and electricity networks. We’re listed on the London Stock Exchange and we have operations in the UK, Canada, the US, South Africa and China.
What role are you playing in Energy Superhub Oxford?
We’re providing a 2MW/5MWh flow battery to be operated as a hybrid system alongside the 50MW lithium-ion battery being installed.
Why is this important work and what expertise do Invinity Energy Systems bring to the project?
The project will be a world-first at this scale and we bring not only our proprietary non-degrading and modular technology but also a wealth of experience in delivering these systems.
We are the first company in the world to have installed a flow-lithium hybrid system and have experience in this field. The project will help to demonstrate the value that flow technology can provide to lithium-ion systems, and show that flow batteries are ready to be deployed on world class energy storage projects, working alongside established market players such as Pivot Power, EDF Renewables and Wartsila.
What are you working on right now for the project?
Most of my work was focused on the early stages of the project in terms of development and contracting. But alongside the wider team we’re currently working on optimising the asset dispatch strategy.
What do you think is most exciting about Energy Superhub Oxford?
I believe that hybrid systems installed at projects such as ESO could play a key role in balancing our future grid. Not only will this be the largest flow battery to be deployed in the UK, but we’ll also be able to use the results to demonstrate the technology’s performance at scale and develop future projects.
What impact do you hope the project will have, in the UK and further afield?
ESO is a world-first and not only puts Oxford on the map in terms of a model for urban decarbonisation, but also demonstrates how the technology exists right now to achieve what was probably through nearly impossible just a few years ago.
At a macro-level the decarbonisation aspect of the project is incredibly important and the core reason why all of us working on the project get out of bed in the morning.
At a micro-level I hope the project demonstrates to developers the value of different forms of energy storage and the opportunity to match project requirements to technology characteristics. For example, if developers need a high throughout application or services such as dynamic regulation, I hope they would consider a flow battery as an option.
What changes to you hope to see in the energy sector over the next decade?
I hope we will see the last of coal in the EU through fair pricing of carbon emissions. We will also need varied energy storage projects and I hope we don’t see a one size fits all approach. If you need a high throughput or recyclability is crucial to the project, then I think flow should be an option. Or if you’re concerned about renewables curtailment on the grid, then power-to-X technology such as hydrogen could be a key solution.
What are the biggest challenges to achieving this and what gives you most cause for optimism?
Firstly, I hope lithium-ion doesn’t continue to dominate the status quo and that this project demonstrates the value of using flow or a hybrid approach.
Secondly, from a policy perspective, there are no structured subsidy schemes taking energy storage projects through each stage. We have to fight for every single line of market driven returns. That means it isn’t easy to get the first projects completed, but as soon as the market can see viable projects using the technology then the escalation and the speed of deployment will be rapid.
Projects like ESO give me a huge amount of optimism. They’re a great opportunity to look into the future and demonstrate innovative concepts. I’m very excited to show what flow can do at this scale.
How has lockdown been affecting the work of you and your team?
People seem to have more time for assessing projects. A lot of our customers have come to us and they’ve had the time to think about their longer-term future and to think about how they can make a positive impact. People haven’t forgotten about the climate emergency.
Do you see any positives coming out of this period for the low carbon transition?
The grid has been able to demonstrate, albeit with costs associated, that it can function effectively with very high levels of renewable penetration. That’s a really important thing to show, because it wasn’t that long ago that people were saying there’s a limit to how much renewable penetration there can be, maybe only 5 or 10%. We’ve shown that we can do much more and that’s really exciting.