What exactly is energy storage technology?
Energy storage technology captures energy produced and stores it for later use. Energy is stored through a variety of technologies including, but not limited to, pumped hydro, batteries, compressed air, hydrogen storage and thermal storage. The ability to store energy for later use allows increased regulation of the amount of power supplied to an energy system and contributes to the overall resilience of the power grid.
Why do we need energy storage?
Energy storage is flexible and can act as a generation, transmission, or distribution asset – sometimes in a single resource. Energy storage assets can augment any number of resources in an energy system. While energy storage is a great complement to the intermittent generation of renewable assets, it can also respond to fluctuations in grid demand, helping meet peaks in demand, and reducing the need for generators to increase production. Low-cost energy can be stored to supply the additional energy needed during these high-cost peaks, which in addition to increasing the energy available, reduces costs for consumers. Energy storage is also able to serve as a backup if power generation is interrupted, augmenting an energy system’s reliability and resilience, and helping to reduce the environmental impacts of increased energy demands.
How is energy storage useful on a grid scale?
Energy storage’s flexibility and its ability to complement existing systems, offer a range of benefits at the grid level. It improves the overall efficiency of the operation of the grid, helps meet high-cost demand during peak periods, and reduces grid congestion, which can cause damage to the grid. The ability to store this excess energy until it is needed also reduces the need to build additional power generation assets if existing transmission infrastructure may be hard-pressed to meet increases or changes in demand. Energy storage can solve this problem by storing the energy (possibly even sited near the generation source) and moving the energy to where it is needed prior to periods of congestion. Energy Storage also tends to gain less public opposition than more visible powerlines or other power generation projects.
What can we expect to see in terms of innovation in storage technology in the next 5-10 years?
Because energy storage tends to still be categorized as an “emerging technology,” an argument could be made that all energy storage technologies and applications are innovative. However, in the next five to ten years, as the costs of energy storage systems continue to decrease, it’s likely there will be a greater prevalence of all energy storage technologies. It’s possible in that time frame we might also see different battery storage chemistry, or different mechanical storage solutions, such as technologies harnessing kinetic or gravitational energy. Hydrogen storage options are also generating a lot of interest currently, which could present some interesting and innovative energy storage solutions in the coming years. Another area of interest that is ripe for innovation is long-duration energy storage (LDES), energy storage technologies that hold energy for longer periods of time, upwards of 24 hours or more. The great thing about energy storage in terms of innovation is that as ready as many technologies are to be incorporated into existing grids, the solutions today are just the beginning. It’s an area that is ripe for growth and innovation for a long time to come.
What actions have been taken by industry and government stakeholders to advance energy storage technologies in Canada? What more needs to be done?
The provinces in Canada that are ahead of the game (Ontario and Alberta) have taken steps to review existing legislation and regulation, in consultation with industry stakeholders, to identify barriers to the incorporation of energy storage and have started taking steps to remove those barriers. There continue to be conversations surrounding the timelines these provinces have laid out to fully enable energy storage, but they do have a plan or road map in place that provides a line of sight to advance energy storage in their jurisdiction. Other provinces could certainly look to these leading jurisdictions to support the development of similar road maps for their own provinces. In terms of the federal government, federal funding opportunities or guidance could be compelling levers to assist in that task. In terms of energy storage development for Canada, it’s less that more needs to be done and more that the processes being undertaken need to move faster because the energy storage industry is ready to meet the growing needs of Canada’s energy grids and to help Canada meet its net-zero goals!