For all their many advantages, natural renewable energy sources – wind, solar – still suffer from the enduring problem of the intermittent nature of the source, and the need to have effective reserve supplies constantly available. REDT Energy are an Irish company whose innovative distributed flow battery storage system offers a viable and cost effective strategy for dealing with this problem.
Natural renewable energies are easy to harness and their utilization is hugely beneficial to the environment. The only problem is that they are intermittent and unpredictable, and hence the development of effective energy storage technologies is one of the crucial concerns for the entire renewables sector.
Having researched the problem for years, REDT Energy made a major breakthrough in 2008: using a chemical element called vanadium, the company developed their Vanadium Redox Flow battery system, a revolutionary technology that speeds up charging and re-charging, and crucially leads to an almost unlimited storage capacity for that rainy (or non-windy/sunny day) when reserve supplies are most needed.
Since then, the company has gone from strength to strength, installing their first system in Portugal in 2012, followed by more installations in County Mayo, and more planned for Southern Europe, Scotland, and beyond, in the near future. This year, REDT Energy were the winners of the IrishTimes/InterTradeIreland Innovation Award in the ‘Energy and Environment’ category. We talked to president and co-founder John Ward about the company’s revolutionary storage solutions, and what the future holds for REDT.
Could you give us a brief description of your background, and how you became involved in the renewable energies field?
I suppose I was always interested in the Science of Renewables. I always thought there had to be a better way to generate energy in a clean and sustainable manner. In around 2002, I built my first wind project, which is in Ballybofey, County Donegal. It was around this time that I started exploring the whole energy storage area and looking at various technologies that could store intermittent generation efficiently.
The problem with all of the other technologies I looked at was that they degraded quite considerably if charged and discharged a lot. Vanadium flow technology doesn’t, and it doesn’t degrade which was what I was looking for. The issue was that at that time the technology was not developed into a reliable product.
You have defined one of the major problems facing renewable energy with the question: “What do you do when the wind doesn’t blow?” Can you talk us through the problem of energy storage, and what type of solutions your company REDT Energy offers to deal with it?
Renewable power generation and in particular wind and solar energy have become technically advanced in the past 10 years, and are now at a price parity to fossil generation. Despite these technical advances these technologies have one primary failing; they are intermittent and do not provide the power necessary for modern electrical applications.
REDT’s patented VRFB system stores and generates energy efficiently and inexpensively, and addresses medium to large applications for renewable energy, distributed power generation and stand-alone installations. Above all it can provide a solution to the increasing problem of renewables intermittency management, greatly enhancing wind and solar power plant productivity and enabling firm power output for ease of grid connection at an extremely competitive price. Customers can expect a project investment payback in circa five years with all the benefits of stand-by power coupled with silent, emission free operation.
REDT won a prestigious Irish Times/IntertradeIreland Innovation Award this year. What kind of advice would you offer to others who are looking to break new ground and generate innovation in the renewable energy sector?
This innovation came from actual experience working with renewable energy. It identified a key area of work. We are as a society moving to a zero carbon electrical system. This creates significant opportunities for innovators to develop new technologies to achieve this. As a country we could have an economy which would have a size of billions of euro employing thousands of skilled Irish people, and just displace what fossil fuels we currently import .
My advice would be keep it small to begin with, manage your IP and determine what is core and what is not; develop a clear plan and collaborate with universities as they have significant assets such as labs, and personnel who can assist focused R&D ; keep it simple and don’t grow until you are ready to sell product. Oh, and never give up on your dream…
What kind of role can council and local government take in facilitating innovative developments in the renewable energy sector? Is it doing enough in this regard?
Councils and local Governments can provide low cost incubator space or assist in its provision, there is also a lot of scope for demonstration systems. There are significant demonstrations going on in South Dublin for example with smart grids and smarter housing. That is a prime example of what can be achieved and this would benefit everyone. I don’t think there is enough being done to support clean tech startups.
On-going innovation and development seems to be part and parcel of REDT’s business. What are some recent developments in your industry, and what does the future hold for your company?
We are constantly working on improving the system, the energy density of the electrolyte, the power rating and efficiency of the stack, the electrical control etc. It is an ongoing process.