Solar battery project unveiled in St. Petersburg

05/27/08 Seán Kinane
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Solar power is one of the most cost-effective and least polluting forms of energy generation. But critics of solar say it will not provide a considerable proportion of the nation’s energy because it is an intermittent source of energy.

Today at USF St. Petersburg, Progress Energy unveiled two prototypes of what they call SEEDS – Sustainable Electric Energy Delivery System – that will store electricity generated from photovoltaic (PV) solar panels until it is needed.

PV panels can only capture sunlight during the day and they don’t operate at full capacity on overcast days. But demand for energy occurs all the time and energy demand often peaks at times of day when the sun is not directly overhead.

John Masiello is director of demand-side management and alternative energy programs at Progress Energy. He said that these oversized batteries are an efficient way to store energy, which is a key to making PV or wind viable energy sources.

Masiello said he uses a much smaller battery in his plug-in hybrid vehicle. Each night he plugs in the vehicle and charges the battery with about 5 kilowatt hours of energy at the off-peak cost of 55-cents and is able to travel 30 miles the next day on that charge.

Alex Domijan is a professor and the executive director of the Office of Research and Planning at the USF College of Engineering. The country currently uses 750 gigawatts of energy but that will increase three to four times over the next several years, according to Domijan. He said one of the most important challenges of the age is “our energy future,” and it could be met by this energy storage and delivery system.

Jeff Lyash, CEO and president of Progress Energy Florida, said no energy technology is perfect and that in order to solve the country’s energy needs, all sources must be considered.

But the SEEDS energy delivery system could solve the problem of intermittent power. The PV panels collect sunlight and convert it into electricity which charges the energy storage system. It’s about two meters tall and about four meters wide. The energy is stored in an electrolyte solution containing the metal vanadium in two tanks. One contains positively charged vanadium ions; the other contains excess electrons and negative vanadium ions. Electrodes collect the energy to be stored or delivered to appliances or the power grid.

One energy delivery system is on the USF St. Pete campus, the other is nearby at Albert Whitted Park and the solar energy captured during the day will be used to power lights at the park at night.

St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker said having alternatives to fossil fuels is important.

Despite innovations in clean renewable energies, conservation, coal, and nuclear power will still have to be important, according to Chris D’Elia, a professor of Environmental Science and Policy at USF St. Pete and the Interim vice chancellor for Academic Affairs.

An energy storage and delivery system is essential for what is known as a smart grid. Batteries collect and store energy generated by PV or wind or other distributive generation sources and the energy is released to the other users in the grid when needed. It can reduce the time of a power outage because power can be rerouted easily.

Kathy Harellson is the Coastal Task Force chair of the Suncoast Sierra Club and is their former chair. She said she likes the idea of decentralizing the power grid.

Just before the SEEDS energy system was unveiled, Gov. Charlie Crist participated in a discussion on the future of Florida’s power sources. Last summer, Crist held the first annual Climate Change Summit which resulted in several executive orders outlining initiatives the state will take to reduce global warming pollution. Crist said that this spring, the Legislature began putting those initiatives into law.

Photo by: Seán Kinane/WMNF

Power Center for Utility Exploration at USF

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