Program Notes

There’s no doubt that the world is increasingly turning to renewable energy generation projects. Coal, and to a lesser extent natural gas, fueled power plants are slowly being replaced by solar projects and wind turbines. Countries in Europe, North America and China are announcing more and more renewable energy systems coming online.

The cost of solar panels has dropped dramatically in recent years. Wind turbines are being designed to generate higher levels of energy for the same cost and footprint.

However, there is one big bottleneck to the smooth transition to renewable energy. And that is the fact that the sun doesn’t always shine, the wind doesn’t always blow – so energy generated via these two clean energy sources is not as consistent, reliable, and can’t be ‘fired up’ as quickly as fossil fuel generation plants. This is an unfortunate reality that prevents us from completely closing down all fossil fuel generators.

The breakthrough that the renewable energy industry has been praying for is Energy Storage, the capability to capture and store electricity generated when the sun does shine, when the wind is strong enough to turn over the wind turbines. There are several technologies being developed: Flow systems that concentrate and then quickly release the embedded energy when needed. Think of a water tower that is quickly released to turnover a turbine.

Flywheels, mechanical systems that transfer energy from one ratio to a different ration. Think of changing gears on your bicycle. James Watt used a flywheel in his original steam engine design.

Then we come to batteries. Batteries come in all shapes, sizes and are made up of various chemicals that generate electric ions being pulled out of one chemical (lead) into another chemical (sulfuric acid), as in the case of your car battery.

Of course, we’ve all heard of lithium ion batteries. You’ll find them in your cell phone, tablet, computer, and hybrid car. But, that is just a small potential when compared to stationary power. Think of a giant battery at the end of your block – releasing power to you and your neighbours, instead of electricity being generated hundreds of kilometers away and brought to your house via transmission lines.

Aside from the obvious advantage of being able to call up power when needed (known as power shifting), large lithium batteries can help smooth out irregular transmission feeds, which (mostly unknown to the public) are notoriously variable – this is known as stabilization. The third advantage to powerful storage systems is to be used as backup power should the normal transmission system go down in the case of inclement weather. Much cleaner than gas or diesel generators which is the standard today.

The question for today’s EarthMatters is: Has large-scale energy storage’s time come? Are we ready to roll out stationary power systems in a meaningful way?

To help answer that question I’ll be speaking to Anthony Ganapathy, Chief Operating Officer, and Dave Del Mastro, President and CEO of Deltro Energy. Deltro has constructed a two-stage lithium ion stationary power system for Toronto Hydro. We’ll also look at some of the technology and constraints of lithium ion batteries through research conducted by Jeff Dahn, a professor at Dalhousie University. Jeff and his team are doing leading-edge research into the energy density of lithium batteries. Dahn’s research has garnered the interest of Elon Tusk and Tesla, so he must be doing something right. And to help bring power generation, and specifically the delivery and transmission of power into the 21st century, I refer to excerpts from an interview between Ron Pernick of Clean Edge and Jon Ceyts, Managing Director of the Rocky Mountain Institute and a Director at the Energy Web Foundation an international organization that is examining how blockchain technology can improve the transmission of electricity.

According to the Bloomberg New Energy Finance group, the energy storage market will grow to 125 Gw by 2030. More than $100 billion will be invested in the next 15 years. This is based on calculations that battery technology costs will fall to $120 per kWh.

So let’s dial that back a bit. According to market research firm IHS, the energy storage market in 2013 was less than one gigawatt (barely past the research lab stage). By 2017 there was still less than 10 Gw. One gigawatt is equal to 1000 megawatts. A typical wind turbine ranges between 1Mw and 3Mw. One gigawatt is enough to power 700,000 typical N.A. homes at a rate of 11,000 kWh per year.

In September of 2017, Elon Musk of Tesla made an outrageous bet to build a 100 Mw energy storage unit for the electricity board of South Australia – in less than 100 days. Otherwise, there would be no cost to the regional distribution system. South Australia has always had transmission consistency problems until they came across Musk’s public relations announcement. And Tesla did it. The cost was some $50 million USD.

In Britain, Battery Energy Storage Solutions constructed a similar system between March 2017 and the end of the year. The capacity of that system is reported to be 49 Mw.

Here in Canada, a consortium between Energy Efficiency Services Limited (owned by the Indian government) and UK-based EnergyPro, combined with battery storage provider Leclanche and its Canadian development partner Deltro Energy, based in Toronto. The $25 million project is set to bring a maximum of 28 Mw of storage online as in its final stages today.

I spoke to Andy Ganapathy and Dave Del Mastro of Deltro Energy recently.  

Episode #12


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