June 10, 2023
Power grid

Ontario plunged into energy storage as the electricity supply crisis loomed

Allison Jones, Canadian Press

Published Monday, December 26, 2022 10:06 AM EST

TORONTO – Ontario is staring down electricity supply woes, and in its rush to get more power, it’s plunging into the world of energy storage – a relatively unknown grid solution that experts say could also change how energy is used at home.

Behind the sprawling nuclear power plants and waterfalls that generate most of the province’s electricity lie batteries, underground caverns that store compressed air to generate electricity, and spinning flywheels waiting to store energy in times of low demand and inject it back into the system when needed. .

The province’s energy needs are growing rapidly as electric vehicles become more common and demand for power generation increases, while a large nuclear power plant, which supplies 14 percent of Ontario’s electricity, is slated to be decommissioned and other units are being renovated.

The government is working to extend the life of the Pickering nuclear power plant, plan an electricity import deal with Quebec, launch savings programs and — controversially — rely on more natural gas to fill the gap between supply and demand.

Independent Electricity System Operator officials say a key advantage of natural gas generation is that it can quickly ramp up and down to meet changes in demand. Energy storage can provide the same flexibility, industry representatives say.

Energy Minister Todd Smith has directed the IESO to secure 1,500 megawatts of new natural gas capacity between 2025 and 2027, as well as 2,500 megawatts of clean technology such as energy storage, which together would be enough to power the city of Toronto.

That’s a far cry from the 54 megawatts of energy storage currently in use on Ontario’s grid.

Smith said in an interview that it is the largest active energy storage acquisition in North America.

“We want to make sure we continue to increase clean generation as much as possible and continue to increase low-cost, reliable generation,” he said.

Rupp Carriveau, director of the Environmental Energy Institute at the University of Windsor, said the timing is good.

“The space is there, the technology is there, and the willingness of private industry to respond is there,” he said. “I know of many companies that have rubbed their hands together and considered this opportunity to build storage capacity.”

Justin Rangooni, executive director of Energy Storage Canada, said due to relatively tight schedules, the 2,500 megawatts will likely be mostly lithium batteries. But there are many other ways to store energy besides a simple battery.

“As we get into future acquisitions and over the years, you’ll start to see potentially pumped storage, compressed air, thermal storage and different battery chemistry,” he said.

Pumped storage refers to the use of electricity at peak times to pump water into a reservoir and slowly release it to run a turbine and generate electricity when it is needed. Compressed air works the same way, and old salt caves in Goderich, Ont., are used to store compressed air.

In thermal storages, electricity is used to heat water when the demand is low and when it is needed, the water stored in the tanks can be used as heat or hot water.

Flywheels are large wheels that can store kinetic energy that can be used to power a turbine and generate electricity. The Flywheel facility in Minto, Ontario also installed solar panels on its roof, becoming the first solar-storage hybrid facility in Ontario, said a senior IESO official.

Katherine Sparkes, IESO’s director of innovation, research and development, said it’s exciting from a grid perspective.

“As we look into the future and think about phasing out gas and electrification, one of the biggest challenges that all electric systems in North America and around the world are looking at is: how do you accommodate the increasing amounts of variable, renewable energy resources and just make better use of your grid assets,” he said .

“Hybrids, storage generator pairs allow you to deal with the variability of renewable energy sources, that is, store electricity when the sun is not shining or the wind is not blowing, and use it when needed.”

The small amount of storage already in the system will provide more fine-tuning to the power system, while the 2,500 megawatts will be a more “fundamental” part of the toolbox, Sparkes said.

But what’s currently online is far from the only warehouse in the province. Many commercial and industrial consumers, such as large manufacturing plants or downtown office buildings, use storage to manage their electricity usage and rely on battery power when prices are high.

The IESO sees this as an opportunity and has changed the market rules to allow these customers to feed energy back into the grid.

In addition, the IESO monitors the thousands of mobile batteries in electric vehicles that transport people around the province every day, but sit idle much of the time.

“If we can enable these batteries to work together in combination or with other types of technologies like solar or smart building systems in an assembly like a technology cluster, it becomes a virtual power plant,” Sparkes said.

Peak Power, a company that aims to “make power plants obsolete,” is running an electric vehicle pilot project in three downtown Toronto office buildings where car batteries can generate electricity to reduce the utility’s overall demand during peak hours using bi-directional chargers.

In that model, one vehicle can earn $8,000 a year, said founder and chief operating officer Matthew Sachs.

“Battery energy storage is changing the energy industry in the same way and for the same reasons that refrigeration changed the dairy industry,” he said.

“Because you had refrigeration, you could store your commodity and it changed the distribution channels for it. So I believe that energy storage will radically change energy distribution channels.

If every home has a solar panel, an electric vehicle and a home battery, it becomes a generating station, a decentralization that is not only more environmentally friendly, but also less dependent on the use of “monopolized utilities,” Sachs said.

In the next decade, electric vehicle energy demand is predicted to skyrocket, and Sachs said the grid cannot grow enough to meet the peak demand of hundreds of thousands of vehicles plugged in at the end of the workday. Authorities need to look for more incentives, such as time-of-use pricing and price signals, to smooth out demand, he said.

“It’s as big a risk as it is a big opportunity,” he said. “If we get it wrong, it costs us billions to fix it. If we get it right, it can save billions.”

Jack Gibbons, president of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, said the provincial and federal governments need to fund and install two-way chargers to take full advantage of electric vehicles.

“This is a huge missed opportunity,” he said.

“When EV owners feed electricity back into the grid during peak times, the grid should pay for their electricity, providing additional income for EV owners.”

As the industry prepares for more widespread use of storage in the power grid in just a couple of years, stakeholders say there are two main obstacles: regulatory uncertainty and supply chain issues.

“Getting this supply for these lithium batteries is challenging,” Rangooni of Energy Storage Canada said.

“It’s not a complete barrier, but it’s going to take some time because now … (you have) in addition to supply chain constraints, you’re also competing with the U.S., which is really accelerating the adoption of energy storage.”

This report by The Canadian Press was first published on December 26, 2022.

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