An energy storage system based on the Aquion non-toxic ‘saltwater’ battery has been installed on a private estate in Northern Ireland, in what is believed to be the UK debut for the much-talked about technology.

Cornish company Wattstor installed the 25kWh system based on sodium ion batteries from US maker Aquion on the premises of Henbo Energy Storage, a newly launched storage installation company in Portadown, Northern Ireland.

Aquion claims its Aqueous Hybrid Ion batteries, launched for sale in 2014 globally, can be used at 100% discharge depth for up to 20 hours. In an installation announced at the very beginning of 2015, Aquion’s batteries were to be used in Hawaii to help residents of a private gated community to go “97% solar” on its micro-grid.

The battery is also the first energy storage battery to receive “Cradle to Cradle” certification for environmental sustainability – meaning it meets certain standards for the maximum use of available recycled materials and an optimisation of the amount of the product that can be recycled.

While many conversations on energy storage, especially at home and small commercial scale, have centred on lithium-ion or lead acid batteries, the promise of the non-toxic battery and its robustness in withstanding deep cycling and long duration storage has also aroused a great deal of interest. The only potential caveat is that the devices are relatively bulky, making it perhaps more suitable for installs in non-urban locations.

Wattstor director Michael Danes spoke to Solar Power Portal this morning and confirmed his company’s enthusiasm for the Aquion batteries, also hailing its long (expected) lifespan.

“These new batteries use a completely organic electrolyte in the form of salt water and have a potential lifespan of 15-20 years. In a market dominated by lead acid and lithium, it is encouraging to know that sustainable battery chemistries are being developed.”

Prior to this year’s Solar Energy UK show, it appeared the race was on to deploy the system in Britain and Northern Ireland, with Circuitree, a company designing its own storage systems around the Aquion battery also keen on being the first.

“Due to the abundant nature of materials in their construction, this allows us to deliver much greater capacity at lower cost, giving our customers increased energy independence, affordably, from a unique and sustainable product,” Circuitree’s James Dean told SPP's sister site, PV Tech Storage, which covers the international energy storage industry.

The install at Henbo Energy Storage took two Wattstor staff just a day and a half to complete. Wattstor worked with Solar PV Partners, which deals the Aquion AHI battery in the UK and Europe.

Storage and complimentary clean technologies as an avenue for solar industry survival

Wattstor has always been a multi-technology provider of clean and sustainable energy solutions, with a background in ecobuilding and PV. Nonetheless, managing director Mark Smith told SPP that in the run up to the expected solar FiT cuts, energy storage and other complementary technologies such as renewable heat could provide something of an avenue for the solar industry, including installers and distributors, to diversify into.

Similarly, James Dean told PV Tech Storage that Circuitree got into energy storage not only as a logical progression from solar, but also because there was a need to broaden the range of clean energy offerings available to UK consumers. Dean said however that it would not be as simple a value proposition as offering solar systems under a FiT scheme.

“It’s involved many hours of just reading and reading, weighing up the pros and cons of different things and finding the business models is the hard one because I think… with the FiTs and stuff, it’s very obvious how this works, what’s in it for everyone, the business model is pretty straightforward and it’s not rocket science to pick up,” Dean said.

“As you diversify into storage and different things, it’s the pace of inventing your own business models and finding the niches, getting into those and then as that spreads and costs reduce then you can see that expand but I think there’s going to be a few years of experimenting and having to think outside the box. You definitely have to think outside the box.

For both Wattstor and Circuitree – which was started up by Dean and the co-founder of his solar distributor business CPH Solar – the disappearance of the FiT will mean an emphasis on self-consumption of onsite generated PV power, as well as perhaps adding a combination of other clean energy technologies as appropriate.

“Rather than a blanket application it’s more on a case-by-case basis, so you look at, say a commercial client with a specific load or a specific energy profile, you can look at that and then you see where the opportunity is on a case-by-case basis rather than just saying, ‘yes, there you go, slap these onto your roof, there’s your return on investment’,” James Dean said.

“You can find the models from that but I think that at least initially at least, a lot more of a tailored service is going to be required, between the installer, supplier and the client. There’s going to be a lot of consultation that’s going to have to happen to find how best to help the customer.”

On a related note, you can read the thoughts of David Hunt of specialist recruiter for renewables, Hyperion Executive Search in the guest blog: “How many solar jobs will be saved by energy storage?”, published today.