MESS: Aiming to Take Cities Off the Grid

 MESS: Aiming to Take Cities Off the Grid


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The goal of MESS (Mass Energy Storage Solutions) sounds deceptively simple: “Take Pretoria off the grid.” But, of course, Pretoria is just the starting grounds. 

However, this ambitious goal has far-reaching implications that extend beyond the capital city, according to Leon de Beer, Co-founder of MESS. The overarching vision is to create mass storage solutions capable of addressing South Africa’s pressing energy crisis. “Our vision and MESS to build systems where we can take cities off the grid and save all the wasted energy that we have during the day.”

MESS’s vision includes harnessing wasted energy generated during the day, and using this energy at times when more energy is needed than can be generated. “Not every drop of sunlight is stored for use later on. And that is purely because storage is extremely expensive in lithium batteries.” The key – according to MESS – lies in vanadium. 

Martin Cooks, an industrial chemist working on this project, explained the core principles; the kilowattage in a vanadium flow battery remains constant, but the operating hours can be extended by increasing the volume of electrolytes in the system. To create an analogy, It’s a bit like having a bigger petrol tank in a car – the engine’s power stays the same, but you can drive for a longer distance because you have more fuel. Similarly, in the vanadium flow battery, maintaining a constant power output becomes more sustainable as the volume of electrolytes is increased.

“At the moment, every drop of generating power that Eskom has cannot be utilized. Because in the times when they are in excess capacity, the grid isn’t using all the power.”

This leads to a situation where there’s insufficient energy capacity during times of increased demand because the excess energy generated during periods of low demand couldn’t be stored. “That’s because they don’t have mass energy storage solutions that can enable it. If we could just use all the excess capacity that Eskom had, we could get rid of load shedding without adding any extra generation capacity.”

Normalizing these advanced technological systems is a crucial step, says Leon. He draws a parallel with everyday technology, stating, “We need to make seemingly extremely high [technological] technology more commonplace. Your car is quite a complicated piece of technology, but they’re everywhere.” In essence, the goal is to make these highly advanced energy storage systems an integral part of everyday life, paving the way for a more sustainable and efficient energy future in South Africa and beyond.

Teagan Cloete

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