As renewables grow, UWM, Port Washington firm, collaborate on a more flexible energy storage unit
As the U.N. Climate Change conference winds down early this week, there's more talk of accelerating the deployment of cleaner renewable energy.
Products that store that energy until it is needed are expected to be part of the equation. A local engineering company is teaming with UW-Milwaukee to develop an energy storage unit that they say is more flexible than others.
The company is Badger Technology Group, a midsized firm based in Port Washington. Company President Dan Wade is a big believer in energy storage systems — which typically are numerous rectangular metal boxes stacked, or side by side — with batteries inside them, often lithium-ion batteries.
The units are connected to a power source and more and more often in coming years, Wade predicts, a renewable one.
"This technology is where we are going as a society. To have solar, wind, renewable energy — whatever it might be — you need battery storage. If the sun's out during the day, you need it at night. If it's not a windy day, you need to store it from when it has been windy," Wade tells WUWM.
Big electric utilities are getting into energy storage. We Energies, for example, will have a unit connected to southeast Wisconsin's largest solar farm in rural Kenosha County that may begin generating electricity next year.
But Wade says his company has built what he calls a hybrid energy storage system that offers more flexibility for local users.
"Some people sell a one size fits all. They design something and you have to buy it. It's the old Henry Ford. He'd sell you a Model-T in any color you want, as long as it's black," Wade begins.
He continues: "Our product can be 200 kilowatt hours of one megawatt. We can daisy chain several of them together, put them in a series. So, we can have different sizes and different power requirements. Is it AC (alternating current) Is it DC? (direct current) Some of our customers require sudden bursts of power, like if a hurricane would knock out a grid, and they need to run critical systems for two to three hours. Others want to be able to sustain operations off the grid for maybe 30 days."
Badger Technology Group and the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee have a contract with the United States Air Force, to supply a hybrid energy storage system to a base in South Dakota.
For now, a prototype is being tested inside a shipping container trailer outside the UWM USR research building in Glendale.
We went out for a look.
"Ready?" asked Badger Technology's Chad McFadden, as he activated part of the storage unit. Cooling fans and some batteries kicked on.
McFadden talked more about the flexibility.
"The batteries themselves — you can have different chemistries, different densities. You have different use cases. In some cases, you might have a whole container of batteries like this. In other cases, you might have a small, suitcase-size container," Wade says.
Badger Technology and UWM are testing to see how long the storage unit takes to charge and discharge under different conditions. UWM Project Manager Joe Lentz is measuring voltage, current and power.
"It's very important to make sure the unit is balanced and operating as expected. Two, to make sure you're actually getting the voltage you'd expect for your loads. And then, for like peak load times, you want to make sure you can hit the peak capabilities of the unit," Lentz says.
Lentz works with UWM Professor Robert Cuzner, who directs UWM's Center for Sustainable Electrical Energy Systems. Cuzner says if the Air Force likes Badger Technology's storage unit, that will advance the center's work in two key areas.
"Yeah, we're trying to be in line with improving the planet and helping address global warming. At the same time, we're trying to address the security of the grid — to make sure it's secure, as you're doing it," Cuzner says.
Cuzner also says there's a potential economic upside for the Milwaukee area, which has several energy, power and energy control companies. Badger Technology says it hopes to ship its energy storage unit to the Air Force by next month.