Why the world needs flow batteries

Here’s what you need to know about flow batteries: how they work, what innovation is happening in the market, who buys these batteries, and what are the benefits?

The alternative option for energy storage makers: off-grid

When electric vehicles merely trickle into the market and utilities move at a snail’s pace when it comes to buying grid-tied batteries, where can an energy storage developer turn? To the somewhat generic, but decidely non-power-grid-connected “off grid market,” according to a new report.

Primus Power Raises $11M for Grid Flow Batteries

Large tanks filled with fluids could be the next low-cost way to provide energy storage for the power grid. A company called Primus Power is developing so-called flow batteries, and has now raised a round of $11 million from a group of venture capitalists.

How California’s Landmark Energy Storage Bill Works

Energy storage — if you’re going to have intermittent wind and solar powering even a fraction of the country’s energy needs, you’re going to need it as backup, the experts agree. But right now grid-scale energy storage is a challenge, without clear regulatory and market mechanisms as to how to make it pay for itself.
But a new bill in the California legislature could force the issue. Assembly Bill 2514 (pdf), written by state Rep. Nancy Skinner and backed by state Attorney General Jerry Brown, would require that the state’s utilities match 2.25 percent of their peak loads with energy storage by 2014, and 5 percent by 2020 — a goal that could equate to about 3,400 MW of storage capacity in the next 10 years.
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Made in China: Prudent Energy Lands $22M For Flow Batteries

We’ve been tracking plenty of stories that underscore China’s growing might in cleantech, and here’s another one. Prudent Energy, the subsidiary of China’s JD Holdings, said Tuesday that it has raised a $22 million Series C round to build out its Beijing manufacturing capacity for vanadium redox flow batteries and to “drive the company’s steady growth into the U.S.A. and elsewhere,” according to a release.
Until recently, those batteries were being developed in Vancouver, Canada by a company called VRB Power Systems — that is, until Prudent Energy bought out the struggling company’s assets in Jan. 2009. Apparently new investors Northern Light Venture Capital and Sequoia Capital China, and existing investors DFJ and DT Capital, think Canadian technology and Chinese manufacturing are a winning combination.
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Funds Trickle Into Flow Batteries, EnerVault Raises First Round

Expect to see more attention on flow batteries in 2010, as investors, utilities and entrepreneurs look to the technology as a way to provide low cost energy storage to the power grid alongside the addition of clean power. Take EnerVault, a flow battery company we profiled last May. The startup recently raised its first round of $3.5 million in venture funding, from Oceanshore Ventures and U.S. Invest, according to a regulatory filing. (Previously the company won a $650,000 grant from the NY State Energy Research and Development Agency (NYSERDA)).

According to an executive summary from EnerVault, the company plans to use the funding to build a prototype that can demonstrate that their flow battery technology can scale to megawatts, as well as for adding on staff and attracting new customers. Once the prototype is built, EnerVault says it will look for follow-on and government funding to build a full-scale field-deployable system.
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Verizon Makes It Easier to Transfer Music Between PC and Phone

Verizon (s vz) yesterday announced a new software tool that moves media from computers to handsets over USB. V CAST Media Manager, powered by Smith Micro Software, transfers photos, videos and music from a Windows PC to a number of supported phones and can keep both devices in sync. A quick glance at the supported phones shows nearly a dozen feature-phones and music-centric devices, so I see the need for such software. Also supported, however, is the BlackBerry Storm (s rimm), which might be better served with the BlackBerry Media Sync application. And Verizon says additional phones will be supported soon, including Google Android (s goog) devices. V CAST Media Manager features include:

Pictures and Videos:

  • Save the pictures and videos created with your phone onto your computer
  • Transfer files between your computer and your phone
  • Touch up your photos with intuitive editing tools
  • Create photo albums and slideshows
  • Email pictures to friends and family


  • Transfer songs and playlists from your computer to your phone
  • Rip and burn CDs
  • Add to your collection by browsing the millions of MP3s in the Verizon Wireless Media store

While there’s no charge for the V CAST Media Manager software, it does have at least one major limitation. When browsing the FAQs, I noticed this one:

“V CAST Media Manager also allows you to transfer DRM-free files from your computer to your phone; however, DRM and DRM-free files are not able to be transferred from the phone to a computer.”

Essentially, any music you purchase directly on your handset can’t be moved to the PC with this software solution. That includes DRM-free music, which is simply tragic. My gut says that Verizon would rather sell you the song a second time as opposed to have you share it across multiple devices.

Apple’s Official iPhone 3G Unlock

While most iPhone users are aware of unofficial unlock methods, you may be surprised to discover that it’s possible to legally unlock your device, courtesy of Apple (s aapl).

The above image is the not-often-seen official unlock notification, as displayed in iTunes. The dialogue succinctly confirms that the user’s iPhone, in this case a 3G, has been unlocked and can now be used on any carrier. Note the Apple logo at the top left — this is a result of an official unlock sanctioned by Apple.
Read on to find out how I legally unlocked my iPhone 3G.
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Notable News in the Tech World

Twitter is everywhere — everywhere, that is, but China. Government censors in the world’s most populous country have closed its Great Firewall ahead of the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen Square massacre in order to “shield” citizens from online dissent and pro-democracy web sites. In addition to Twitter, some of the sites most recently added to the list of those being blocked include Flickr, Hotmail and Live.com (possibly including newly launched Bing?). YouTube, Blogspot and the Chinese version of WordPress were already on it.

Notable Quote

Allow me to say this: Get over it already. I might not appear to be a Twitter snob, but I am a big enough jerk to tell you to suck it up! Ha! But seriously, quit crying. You know what seems like the central message of these complaints is? It’s the same thing with most Twitter-related complaints: ‘You don’t follow me and you don’t use Twitter the way I, Self-Appointed Social Media Guru, use Twitter.’ Better to be seen as a snob than a self-absorbed whiner, I say. There’s no crying in Twitter.” – AdAge journalist Ken Wheaton, after readers complained about the mag’s list of “25 Media People You Should Follow on Twitter.

Notable News

Dish Network ordered to pay $103 million plus interest to TiVo in a years-old patent infringement case (Associated Press)

Apple’s flagship retail store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan booked $440 million in yearly sales (NY Post)

Orthopedists are reporting cases of “cell phone elbow,” a repetitive strain injury caused by holding a cell phone for too long (CNN)