Power grid

Ontario plunges into energy storage as electricity supply crisis looms

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Allison Jones, The Canadian Press

Posted Monday, December 26, 2022 10:06 am EST

TORONTO – Ontario is facing an electricity supply crisis and, in the midst of a race for more energy, is diving into the world of energy storage, a relatively unknown solution to the grid that experts say could also change the world. home energy use.

Beyond the sprawling nuclear 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 that hope to store power at times of low demand. and inject it back into the system when needed. .

The province’s energy needs are growing rapidly, with the proliferation of electric vehicles and increased demand for electricity in manufacturing on the horizon just as a large nuclear plant that supplies 14 percent of Ontario’s electricity and other units are being renovated.

The government is trying to extend the life of the Pickering nuclear generating station, planning a power import deal with Quebec, implementing conservation programs and, controversially, relying on more natural gas to fill the looming gap. between demand and supply.

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

Energy Minister Todd Smith has directed IESO to secure 1,500 megawatts of new natural gas capacity between 2025 and 2027, along with 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 in use on the Ontario grid right now.

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

“The one thing we want to make sure that we do is continue to add clean generation as much as possible, and affordable, clean generation that is reliable,” 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 a lot of companies that have been rubbing their hands, looking at this potential to build storage capacity.”

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

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

Pumped storage involves using electricity during off-peak periods to pump water into a reservoir and slowly releasing it to run a turbine and generate electricity when needed. Compressed air works in a similar way and old salt caverns in Goderich, Ontario are being used to store the compressed air.

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

Flywheels are large spinning tops that can store kinetic energy, which can be used to drive a turbine and produce electricity. A flywheel facility in Minto, Ontario, also had solar panels installed on its roof, becoming the first hybrid solar storage facility in Ontario, a senior IESO official said.

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

“As we look to the future and think about phasing out gas and electrification, one of the great challenges facing all power systems in North America and around the world is: how to accommodate increasing amounts of variable power and renewable? resources and make better use of your network assets,” he said.

“Hybrids, storage generation pairs, give you the opportunity to deal with the variability of renewables, to store electricity when the sun isn’t shining or the wind isn’t blowing, and use it when you need it.”

The small amount of storage already in the system provides more fine-tuning of the electrical system, while 2,500 megawatts will be a more “core” part of the toolkit, Sparkes said.

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

IESO sees that as an opportunity and has changed the market rules to allow those customers to feed power back into the grid.

In addition, IESO has its eye on the thousands of mobile batteries in electric vehicles that transport people around the province every day, but are not used most of the time.

“If we can allow those batteries to work together in aggregation, or work with other types of technologies like solar systems or smart buildings in one setup, as a group of technologies, that becomes a virtual power plant,” Sparkes said.

Peak Power, a company seeking to “make power plants obsolete,” is running an electric vehicle pilot project in three downtown Toronto office buildings where car batteries can provide electricity to reduce overall energy demand. installation during peak periods using bi-directional chargers.

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

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

“Since it had refrigeration, it could store its merchandise and that changed its distribution channels. So I think energy storage is going to radically change energy distribution channels.”

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

Over the next decade, demand for power from electric vehicles is projected to skyrocket, and Sachs said the grid cannot grow large enough to accommodate a peak demand of hundreds of thousands of vehicles connecting to charge at the end of the day. of the working day. Policymakers should look for more incentives such as airtime pricing and price signals to ensure demand levels off, he said.

“It is both a great risk and a great opportunity,” he said. “If we do it wrong, it will cost us billions to fix it. If we get it right, it can save us billions.”

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

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

“When EV owners are returning power to the grid at peak demand times, the grid should pay them for their electricity, and that provides an additional source of revenue for EV owners.”

As the industry prepares for broader use of grid storage in just a couple of years, the people involved say there are two main hurdles: regulatory uncertainty and supply chain issues.

“Getting that supply for those lithium batteries is going to be a challenge,” said Rangooni of Energy Storage Canada.

“It’s not a complete hurdle, but it will take some time because now… (you have) not only supply chain constraints, but you’re also competing with the US, 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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