In a potential big win for renewable energy, Form Energy gets its first grid-scale battery installation

Jonathan Shieber
Electric energy sparks

Form Energy, which is developing what it calls ultra-low-cost, long-duration energy storage for the grid, has signed a contract with the Minnesota-based Great River Energy to develop a 1 megawatt, 150 megawatt hour pilot project.

The second-largest electric utility in the Minnesota, Great River Energy's installation in Cambridge, Minn. will be the first commercial deployment of the venture-backed battery technology developer's long-duration energy storage technology.

From Energy's battery system is significant for its ability to deliver 1 megawatt of power for 150 hours -- a huge leap over the lithium ion batteries currently in use for most grid-scale storage projects. Those battery systems can last for two- to four-hours.

The step change in the duration of energy delivery should allow energy storage projects to replace the peaking power plants that rely on coal and natural gas to smooth demand on the grid.

"Long duration energy storage solutions will play an entirely different role in a clean electricity system than the conventional battery storage systems being deployed at scale today," said Jesse Jenkins, an assistant professor at Princeton University who studies low-carbon energy systems engineering, in a statement. "Lithium-ion batteries are well suited to fast bursts of energy production, but they run out of energy after just a few hours. A true low-cost, long-duration energy storage solution that can sustain output for days, would fill gaps in wind and solar energy production that would otherwise require firing up a fossil-fueled power plant. A technology like that could make a reliable, affordable 100% renewable electricity system a real possibility,"

Backed with over $49 million in venture financing from investors including MIT's The Engine investment vehicle; Eni Next, the corporate venture capital arm of the Italian energy firm Eni Spa, and the Bill Gates-backed sustainability focused investment firm, Breakthrough Energy Ventures, Form Energy has developed a new storage technology called an "aqueous air" battery system.

"Our vision at Form Energy is to unlock the power of renewable energy to transform the grid with our proprietary long-duration storage. This project represents a bold step toward proving that vision of an affordable, renewable future is possible without sacrificing reliability," said Mateo Jaramillo, the chief executive of Form Energy, in a statement.

Form's pitch to utilities relies on more than just a groundbreaking energy storage technology, and includes an assessment of how best utilities can optimize their energy portfolios using a proprietary software analytics system. That software, was built to model high penetration renewables at a system level to figure out how storage can be combined with renewable energy to create a low-cost energy source that can deliver better returns to energy providers.

"Great River Energy is excited to partner with Form Energy on this important project. The electrical grid is increasingly supplied by renewable sources of energy. Commercially viable long-duration storage could increase reliability by ensuring that the power generated by renewable energy is available at all hours to serve our membership. Such storage could be particularly important during extreme weather conditions that last several days. Long-duration storage also provides an excellent hedge against volatile energy prices,” said Great River Energy Vice President and Chief Power Supply Officer Jon Brekke, in a statement.

Ultimately, this deployment is intended to be the first of many installations of Form Energy's battery systems, according to the statement from both companies.