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TID may pursue solar energy grant
A groundbreaking solar energy system, allowing producers to store non-peak energy for use during peak hours, could undergo testing in the Turlock Irrigation District.

The TID Board of Directors committed to partnering with Sunnyvale based EnerVault on Feb. 9 in pursuit of approximately $2 million in grant funding to develop the energy storage project.

The system would use technology developed by NASA in the 1970s known as a redox flow battery, which stores electricity in two separate tanks of liquid iron and chrome.

According to EnerVault, who is attempting to commercialize the technology, redox flow batteries provide an extremely safe way to store large amounts of energy. The separated tanks prevent the sort of catastrophic, explosive failures other large-scale batteries are prone to, they said.

EnerVault has already been awarded a $650,000 grant in New York state to develop their technology, in addition to a $9.7 million Department of Energy grant to build a large, 250 kilowatt, 1 kilowatt-hour project in Hickman.

The Turlock project would pair a small-scale, 10 kilowatt, 40 kilowatt-hour redox flow battery to two photovoltaic solar energy arrays. Turlock's JKB Energy and Mountain View based Skyline Solar would provide the arrays.

The experiment would look to determine the value that could be derived from storing solar energy generated during non-peak hours in the redox flow battery, and then releasing the electricity during times of higher demand. Solar plants currently suffer from an inability to control when energy is generated, as producers are at the mercy of the sun's rays.

"There's a big investment that goes into making silicon solar plants," said EnerVault CEO Craig Horne, "... By adding storage, we can leverage that silicon in a much more effective way."

The TID would provide a few hours of analytical support each week to help assess the project's output in addition to 12,000 to 14,000 square feet of land. In exchange, the District would receive all electricity generated free of charge, early data on the benefits of grid-scale energy storage, and experience with photovoltaic design.

Tuesday's agreement does not fully commit the TID to the project at this time. A final design and impact analysis, including a cost estimate, will come before the board should EnerVault be awarded the grant. The California Solar Initiative, a California Public Utility Commission program, is expected to determine grant winners in mid-May.