Solar and wind power are fast becoming a major source of electricity generation in Ontario, but there’s a problem: sunlight and wind patterns are unpredictable.
Weather cycles aren’t always in sync with the demand for electricity. Some days, we can generate more than enough power; other times, we’re starved for energy. Because of this, we still rely traditional power plants that run day and night to ensure capacity is always available to the grid when it’s needed.
What if, instead of selling excess energy to neighbouring states and provinces, we could store it for use on a rainy day? That’s the future envisioned by Ontario’s burgeoning energy storage industry.
The Need for Energy Storage
We’re all familiar with micro-scale energy storage, utilizing rechargeable batteries in smartphones and electric cars. Until now, electricity storage has been limited to this relatively modest capacity.
But advances in technology, reduced production costs, and a shift towards renewables in government policies have enabled the growth of a market for utility-scale energy storage in Canada and around the world. The global energy storage industry made significant milestones in 2015 and 2016. Now, energy storage systems are predicted to enter energy markets and become functional on our grid as soon as 2020.
Energy storage is a key ingredient in making renewable energy a viable and reliable part of the grid. By storing excess energy for later use, energy storage systems could reduce peak loads on the energy grid, provide backup capabilities, or kick to provide a boost when wind and solar production is low.
New energy storage technology could also enable the use of ‘virtual power plants’, which could replace the function of always-on capacity, like gas or nuclear plants, to keep the grid balanced. A virtual power plant could respond to grid signals and provide power to the network when needed. There are always grid-connected virtual power plants in Germany, the U.S. and Australia, and Canada switched on its first virtual power plant last year.
Utility-Scale Energy Storage in Canada
Ontario is leading the way in deploying energy storage systems in the field. The government has funded 34 megawatts of energy storage projects to date, ranging from batteries to flywheels to hydrogen storage technologies. The goal is to have 50 megawatts of energy storage operating in the province.
Recently, Canadian utility company Alectra Energy Solutions partnered with AMP solar to develop a large-scale energy storage service for commercial and industrial operations in Ontario. Together, they will build, own, and operate distributed on-site energy storage that will help customers reduce peak energy demand, cut costs, and better manage their energy overall.
Storage is a key part of making renewables like wind and solar a fully-integrated part of our electricity grid, making it cleaner and more efficient for everyone.