June 23, 2014
Vanadium: The Answer To Hawaii’s Sunshine Woes
Every state has problems. California has earthquakes. Seattle has constant rain. Kansas has tornadoes. Arizona has blistering heat. No matter where you’re traveling, and no matter how much residents may love their state, they can always find that one thing to complain about. Whether it’s an actual serious problem or one that residents laughingly poke fun at, you’re bound to find something wrong in every state. Some are certainly more difficult to pinpoint than others, especially states with the “vacation” vibe. Well, despite its sun-warmed beaches and reputation as a tropical getaway, Hawaii is facing a serious problem at the moment: too much sunshine. It sounds like a snarky joke, the kind of thing you’d say to someone from the Midwest as they longingly stare into the cool blue ocean — “Yeah, we got problems here, too. The sun just won’t stop shining.”
But as much as it sounds like a mean-spirited jab at those of us stateside who have to deal with crappy weather, an overabundance of sunshine really has started causing Hawaii a lot of problems, specifically with their solar grids. Since the location of Hawaii makes shipping fuels rather impractical, electricity there costs around triple what people pay for here in the Continental USA. With these kind of pricing for fossil fuels and coal, it’s no wonder that a whopping 10 percent of Hawaii’s citizens have turned to solar power. The problem with this, points out Hawaii’s electric supplier Heco, is that the solar power arrives all at once, hitting the wires in a surge between noon to four pm. Unfortunately, that’s not when people are really using their power. The supply is best after noon, but the demand peaks in the evening. However it’s not just the timing of the power, but also the voltage that is lacking, which effectively limits the power to a single community.
This doesn’t jive well.
Bill Radvak, the head of American Vanadium, thinks that the solution lies with an electrochemical solution that takes advantage of the properties of an alloy called vanadium. This is certainly an innovative idea, as vanadium has mostly been used to augment steel in the past. It is commonly found in the kinds of steel used to build bridges, or in other supportive roles where strength is important. However, when submerged in sulfuric acid along with a mixture of zinc and mercury, it provides the basis for an extremely stable battery — one that might be able to help ease Hawaii’s woes. These vanadium-based batteries can be constructed on a large-scale, much larger than any lithium battery, giving them the potential to hold the kinds of charges that these large-scale endeavors would require. Further, the vandium battery is capable of holding stable through 10,000 or so re-charges — five to ten times longer than their lithium counterparts.
The biggest question, of courses, is a matter of sustainability. Alexander Voigt, a German renewable energy entrepreneur, believes that vanadium will be a sustainable option, pointing to the various different ways in which it can be mined. He says that even in the event that mines begin slouching, there is always the possibility of slagging old vanadium-based steels, and even looking for unconventional means of finding the mineral — such as sea squirts.
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