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January 2014

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Aquion Energy's Aqueous Hybrid Ion (AHI™) Energy Storage is a solution for flexible micro-grids with inherently safe chemistry (salt water) that is non-flammable and non-explosive, and with no dangerous failure modes.

There are number of ways to measure the cost of energy when you are comparing, say solar photovoltaic vs. coal-fired power for example. When comparing simple cost per megawatt-hour over a 30-year power plant life-cycle, we are now at or near the point in the vast majority of locations around the world where solar and wind energy installations are a better value for power production over time than are non-renewable options such as coal, petroleum, nuclear, or even natural gas. This is not even taking an accounting of externalities and risks. But a major issue that is keeping solar and wind from dominating new power construction is the issue of dispatchability or peak-load potential. Dispatchable generation is that which can be turned off or on at any time and at nearly any capacity to meet fluctuations in demand. When there is a power outage for some reason, there needs to be a way to bring new sources quickly online.

Solar and wind are both making strides in addressing their variability when it comes to base load supply, with increased flexibility in the transmission grids and with some amount of inherent energy storage to modulate for the intermittent nature of the winds and the sun. For example, solid state thermal storage and sodium thermal storage are providing larger plants with the ability to produce a nearly constant supply of energy to match the performance of a nuclear plant. Reverse-hydro offers another, albeit geographically limited, option for large-scale storage.

But we are now on the verge of also seeing a battery technology revolution that will allow for on demand access to stored renewable energy capacity that will make it possible to imagine a more robust and flexible 100% renewable energy infrastructure that can free us from even the “bridge technology” of natural gas-fired peaking plants.

A prototype flow battery in Aziz's lab at Harvard School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. (Photo by Eliza Grinnell, SEAS Communications.)

There are a number of recent breakthrough technologies that promise mass energy storage with little environmental impact, such as Pittsburgh-based Aquion Energy’s modular salt water batteries (featured above: click the image for more information). And last week, research at Harvard University has shown proof of concept for a new and efficient family of organic flow batteries that use harmless and abundant organic materials similar in chemistry to the molecules that store energy in plants (in this case, rhubarb). From the Harvard article:

Flow batteries store energy in chemical fluids contained in external tanks—as with fuel cells—instead of within the battery container itself. The two main components—the electrochemical conversion hardware through which the fluids are flowed (which sets the peak power capacity), and the chemical storage tanks (which set the energy capacity)—may be independently sized. Thus the amount of energy that can be stored is limited only by the size of the tanks. The design permits larger amounts of energy to be stored at lower cost than with traditional batteries. […]

To store 50 hours of energy from a 1-megawatt power capacity wind turbine (50 megawatt-hours), a possible solution would be to buy traditional batteries with 50 megawatt-hours of energy storage, but they’d come with 50 megawatts of power capacity. Paying for 50 megawatts of power capacity when only 1 megawatt is necessary makes little economic sense.

For this reason, a growing number of engineers have focused their attention on flow battery technology. But until now, flow batteries have relied on chemicals that are expensive or difficult to maintain, driving up the energy storage costs.

The active components of electrolytes in most flow batteries have been metals. Vanadium is used in the most commercially advanced flow battery technology now in development, but its cost sets a rather high floor on the cost per kilowatt-hour at any scale. Other flow batteries contain precious metal electrocatalysts such as the platinum used in fuel cells.

The new flow battery developed by the Harvard team already performs as well as vanadium flow batteries, with chemicals that are significantly less expensive, and with no precious metal electrocatalyst.

“The whole world of electricity storage has been using metal ions in various charge states but there is a limited number that you can put into solution and use to store energy, and none of them can economically store massive amounts of renewable energy,” Gordon said [Roy G. Gordon is Harvard’s Thomas Dudley Cabot Professor of Chemistry and Professor of Materials Science]. “With organic molecules, we introduce a vast new set of possibilities. Some of them will be terrible and some will be really good. With these quinones we have the first ones that look really good.”

These new battery technologies are going to increase the ability of distributed clean energy microgrids to impact on the existing power landscape in all sorts of ways. With the inevitable application of salt water and flow batteries into the energy infrastructure of our future electrical grids, the questions are:

  • How will these storage units display themselves in our cityscapes?
  • Can we think creatively about how to integrate these modules into our architecture? Are there ways in which batteries can merge in functionality with state-changing insulation materials?
  • Are there opportunities to create beautiful parks and transport corridors while safely lining our landscapes with energy storage devices?
  • And of course, what role does public art have in the manifestation of energy storage infrastructures?
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    New York-based artist Eve Mosher takes the lead in speaking out about how the affects of global warming could potentially cause severe harm to our communities and homes—and inspires us to take action.

    Her project, the HighWaterLine, is an initiative that is inspiring people from all over the world to take action in order to protect their homes from the ramifications of climate change. Using the results and research of modern scientists, Mosher draws white lines around key flood line areas of New York—this effort thus showing just how each community could potentially be impacted by rising water levels.

    Mosher was inspired to do this out of the love for her home, as she didn’t want to see New York consumed by water. She claims that New York has a significant risk of flooding due to its geological location: it is made up of multiple islands, making rising water levels all the more dangerous and close to home. Most New Yorkers were not aware of this reality, and very much celebrated and became interested in Mosher’s HighWaterLine project.

    There is something very significant to notice about Mosher’s work, and those acting to prevent climate complications have not yet acquired this talent. This is Mosher’s ability to make the scary potentialities of climate change less frightening, thus making people more likely to act and become excited rather than just afraid, confused, and passive.

    Mosher does not blame anyone for current climate issues, and she does not scare the public either. The goal of her work is really meant to create a dialogue between people and their communities about how they can protect their homes from the affects of climate change.

    Though Mosher has created HighWaterLines in major cities around the world, including The Hague, San Francisco, and Dublin, she does not seek to create HighWaterLines on a global scale on her own. She wants people to take action for their own homes, thus strengthening community environmental connection, power, and responsibility to the land on a personal level.

    A guide designed to get the public started on creating HighWaterLines in their own communities can be found here, along with more information about the inspiring work of Eve Mosher: High Water Action Guide.

    Photo from: The Third Ray

    Information taken from the PDF file linked above and from Eve Mosher’s Youtube Video


    Copenhagen Powered by Art
    LAGI Design Competition for Copenhagen is now open for entries until May 18, 2014

    The Land Art Generator Initiative (LAGI), Refshaleøen Holding, and the IT University of Copenhagen have launched the third edition of this groundbreaking design competition with $20,000 IN PRIZE MONEY. The competition will culminate into a beautiful publication featuring the top 50 design solutions, an exhibition in Copenhagen at the Design Society in partnership with the Danish Design Centre in October of 2014, and the possibility of renewable energy sculptures built around Denmark.

    Click HERE to go directly to the LAGI 2014 homepage and register for free.

    Imagine a work of iconic public art on a grand scale situated in the backdrop to one of the most photographed places on the planet. And now imagine this work of art contributing clean electricity to the city grid equivalent to that consumed by hundreds or even thousands of homes. Each day—while walking below its beautiful spinning and swooping gestures of functional solar and wind harvesting armatures—visitors are being educated about emerging green technologies and getting inspired about the beauty of our sustainable future.

    LAGI 2014 Copenhagen would like to make this vision a reality. We’re inviting designers from around the world to submit their ideas for what aesthetic renewable energy of sustainable cities looks like. The competition is free to enter and open to everyone. The view from the Little Mermaid to the LAGI 2014 design site—Refshaleøen—will inspire teams around the world.

    The competition is made possible by generous support from The Capital Region of Denmark and from The Culture and Leisure Committee of the City of Copenhagen. LAGI 2014 is fortunate to have the Danish Minister of Environment, Ida Auken, as its Ambassador, and to have the endorsement of the Danish Minister of Climate, Energy, and Building, Martin Lidegaard.

    The complete list of partners includes: IT University of Copenhagen, Energy Futures, Refshaleøen Holding, Green Cities, Sharing Copenhagen, Danish Design Centre, Information Studies at Aarhus University, Alexandra Institute, and Shawati’ Magazine.

    LAGI 2014 could not come to Copenhagen at a more opportune moment! As the city (the European Green Capital of 2014) moves towards carbon neutral status by 2025 the debate over the aesthetic manifestation and human interaction component of our new energy infrastructure is becoming increasingly important to the planning strategies required to attain zero-carbon sustainability goals. LAGI is delighted to be an event partner of Sharing Copenhagen, the official celebration of Copenhagen’s status of 2014 European Green Capital.

    Thank you for your participation and KIND SUPPORT.

    We are looking forward to seeing your inspiring ideas!

    This year, LAGI has partnered with municipalities throughout Denmark who have expressed an interest in constructing renewable energy-generating public artwork in their cities.

    Click HERE to learn more and to download the Green Cities supplemental document. There you will find information about specific sites in Albertslund, Allerød, Kolding, and Herning. These four cities, which are all Green Cities partners, have identified sites within their municipalities as potential locations for land art generators and they are interested in working with LAGI participating teams. **LAGI 2014 Green Cities Partnership is in addition to the LAGI 2014 Design Competition and is not a part of the 2014 LAGI Design Brief.


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