In this episode host Tyler Hamilton interviews Ron Dizy, managing director of the Advanced Energy Centre at the Mars Discovery District in Toronto. Discussion includes flywheel technology from Temporal Power, opportunities for Canadian cleantech companies in Chile and China, and how to reduce barriers that will help Canadian cleantech companies scale up.
Enbridge Inc. is emerging as major corporate venturing partners in the Canadian cleantech scene. It has already acquired more than $3 billion in renewable energy assets — a combination of solar, wind, geothermal and run-of-river hydro. It has invested in concentrated solar PV manufacturer Morgan Solar and hydrogen tech firm Hydrogenics. It has pursued innovative waste-heat capture at its compressor stations in combination with fuel cell technology. Now, it is throwing its financial support behind flywheel storage innovator Temporal Power.
Temporal, based in Mississauga, Ontario, announced this week it has completed a $10 million Series B equity financing, with Enbridge Emerging Technology Inc. one of the lead investors along with Northwater Intellectual Property Fund (which was also lead investor in the company’s Series A financing in July 2011). Northwater Capital, it should be noted, is the money behind NRStor, a company with plans to develop Canada’s first energy storage park. NRStor, using Temporal Power flywheels, has already won a contract with Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator, which will see the flywheels being used to provide regulation services on the provincial grid. Annette Verschuren, former CEO of Home Depot Canada, is heading up the NRStor initiative.
Temporal Power describes its flywheel technology as a “quantum leap forward” because of its capability of storing 50 times more energy than most flywheels and enabling a power output that is five times higher per unit than its nearest grid-scale competitor. “Using its proprietary flywheel energy storage technology, Temporal Power’s scalable power storage plants offer utilities and power generation companies the ability to deliver efficient and cost-effective fast response capabilities for balancing energy and improving power quality on the electrical grid,” the company said in a statement.
Globe and Mail today has a nice summary of the various energy storage initiatives going on in Ontario — from conventional pumped storage to Temporal’s flywheels and advanced compressed-air energy storage.
Calling it an “important milestone” in the evolution of Ontario’s electricity system, Paul Murphy, the president and chief executive of Ontario’s Independent Electricity System Operator, announced Thursday that energy and process storage technologies would be added to the mix of options available to provide regulation services to the province’s grid — that is, keeping supply and demand on the grid in constant balance, second-by-second. To start, the IESO has contracted to add 10 megawatts of regulation services to the mix via a combination of flywheel energy storage, battery storage and “process storage” — the latter being the by-the-second control of many industrial loads as a way to rapidly reduce and ramp up grid demand. It’s sometimes called aggregated demand-response.
It’s a first for Ontario, which until now has relied largely on electricity generation assets, such as natural gas-fired power plants, to provide grid-balancing services. The gradual integration of fast-reacting storage technologies will help reduce our reliance on fossil fuel generation. According to the IESO, “This quick response is becoming increasingly important to facilitate more renewable resources like wind and solar, whose output is variable in nature.”
Through competitive tender, three firms have been contracted to supply this first round of alternative regulation services. Toronto-based Enbala Power Networks will provide 4 megawatts of process storage, which will come from water plants, cold storage facilities, universities, hospitals, and any other industrial, commercial or institutional facilities that have large power loads that can be flexibly used and easily controlled — such as pumps, fans and refrigeration units. For more than a year, Enbala has been supplying its service to PJM Interconnection, which is the regional system operator for 13 U.S. states and one district in the U.S. northeast.
Another 2 megawatts will come through NRStor, which through a partnership with flywheel developer Temporal Power and Ontario Power Generation will integrated flywheel technology into the Ontario grid for the first time. The balance will come from RES Canada, part of renewable energy developer RES Group, which will construct a battery-based storage system in southwestern Ontario (home to many wind farms).
While the numbers are small — 10 megawatts is just a pimple on a elephant’s butt — it finally puts non-hydro storage on the map in Ontario, opening the door for more technologies and approaches, and ultimately many more megawatts and fewer emissions.
UPDATE: My Clean Break column this week has some more detail.
Oil and gas pipeline giant Enbridge Inc. has invested $5 million in Mississauga, Ont.-based Hydrogenics, a leading maker of proton-exchange membrane fuel cells and electrolysis systems for producing hydrogen gas from water.
Gotta say, I wasn’t expecting this announcement. I know Enbridge has invested in fuel-cell technology before, and I know it has purchased hundreds of megawatts of solar capacity, operates wind farms and is dabbling in geopower. And yes, it has invested some money into Toronto-based Morgan Solar. What surprises me about this announcement isn’t so much the investment itself, but how Enbridge plans to strategically collaborate with Hydrogenics to bring utility-scale energy storage to renewables in Ontario. You’d think this was about using renewables to generate hydrogen during off-peak hours, storing it, and then putting it through a fuel cell to generate electricity during peak hours. And perhaps this is the longer-term vision. But the way Enbridge describes this collaboration, it has little interest in fuel cells. Instead, it wants to generate hydrogen and inject it into its natural gas pipeline assets, “proportionally increasing the renewable energy content in natural gas pipelines.” In other words — the way I read it from the press release — it wants to reduce the carbon intensity of the natural gas in its pipelines by mixing it with hydrogen. That cleaner natural gas will then be burned in natural gas-fired plants, people’s home furnaces, etc…
Perhaps I’m missing something. If there’s someone from Enbridge reading this, please correct me if I’m wrong. (I’m right).
Here’s how the two companies describe their “Power-to-Gas” strategy in their press release:
With ‘Power-to-Gas’, the hydrogen produced during periods of excess renewable generation will be injected into the existing natural gas pipeline network, proportionally increasing the renewable energy content in natural gas pipelines for essentially the operating cost of the electrolyzer. Small quantities of hydrogen can be manageable in existing natural gas pipeline networks. With the significant scale of the natural gas pipeline network, these same quantities of hydrogen have a very meaningful impact on electricity energy storage potential. The natural gas pipeline network represents a vast energy storage system which already exists. The utility scale energy storage leverages existing natural gas pipeline and storage assets to enable improved operability for the electrical system. Furthermore, the economics are further improved by leveraging existing gas generators to bring this renewable energy back to the electrical grid where, and when, it is needed most.
The companies said they will initially focus on Ontario. And Hydrogenics will have the opportunity to participate in up to 50 per cent ownership in a build-own-operate model for energy storage services. I have no clue how the economics will work. I mean, if the hydrogen is being blended with natural gas how can Enbridge capture that value when it sells that gas? How will this work with Ontario’s feed-in-tariff program, which doesn’t have any rules or tiered (peak, off-peak) FIT rates to encourage energy storage services? I’m very curious to learn more about this (and will over the coming days).
What’s clear is that there is momentum building for energy storage solutions in Ontario. Hydro One is testing out Temporal Power flywheels to relieve congestion on its transmission lines. Toronto Hydro is piloting bulk lithium-ion battery storage and testing underwater compressed-air storage in Lake Ontario. Annette Verschuren, former chief executive of Home Depot Canada, is heading up a new venture called NRStor that wants to bring an energy storage park to Ontario. And word has it that the Ontario Ministry of Energy — or the Ontario Power Authority — is sitting on a large draft policy paper related to energy storage that will be released later this year. Perhaps we’ll get some clarity around energy storage after all. There seems to be enough activity in the province to suggest that something is going on behind the scenes to stimulate strong interest in energy storage.
NOTE: Just got my hands on a backgrounder Q&A from Hydrogenics that explains the above in more detail. A few interesting points, according to this backgrounder:
Injecting only small amounts of hydrogen into the gas grid (less than 5% by volume) offers significant potential. In large markets, like Ontario, the energy storage potential could provide power for over 160,000 homes. This is the equivalent of the new Niagara Tunnel hydro power project in Niagara Falls.
Every GJ of hydrogen produced by a Power-to-Gas application converting surplus renewable generation will displace one GJ of natural gas consumption with a commensurate reduction of 56kg of CO2 equivalent. The estimated annual GHG reduction from a 100MW Power-to-Gas project would be 25 CO2 equivalent kilotonnes.
The first stage will be to develop a 1 MW Power-to-Gas pilot project in Ontario to test the integrated system, develop gas network interconnections and work with the IESO and Canadian Gas Association to design the operating standards and market protocols to run a Power-to-Gas application. After developing commercial scale electrolyzer capability, Hydrogenics will have the opportunity to participate in up to 50% ownership in a build own operate model for energy storage projects with Enbridge.
My latest Clean Break column in the Toronto Star…
Annette Verschuren, the former chief executive of Home Depot Canada who once worked for the agency in charge of Nova Scotia’s coal mines, has dedicated the next phase of her career to being an enabler of renewable energy.
Verschuren announced last week that she is taking on the role of executive chair at energy storage start-up NRStor Inc., which was created to help commercialize new energy storage technologies and has an ambitious plan to set up the first energy storage park in Canada, most likely in Ontario.
“This sector has always been an interest to me,” Verschuren said in an interview. After leaving Home Depot Canada, she spent a lot of time travelling — visited 15 countries, in fact — and got to see both the potential and challenges of deploying renewable energy in jurisdictions that could benefit from it most. “Energy storage is the missing link.”
NRStor itself is the creation of Toronto-based Northwater Capital Management Inc., an early stage investor in a number of clean technologies, including energy storage. One of its major investments to date includes Newton, Mass.-based General Compression Inc., a pioneer in the development of compressed-air energy storage systems.
Such systems use off-peak, surplus or intermittent electricity supply to compress and inject air into underground storage areas, such as depleted oil and gas reservoirs or salt caverns. At peak times when the electricity is needed most, the air is released and drives a power-generating turbine as it decompresses and expands.
General Compression has figured out a way to do this without assistance from fossil fuels and in a way that emits virtually no carbon emissions. In a partnership with ConocoPhillips, the company is developing a 2-megawatt demonstration project in Texas that can back up wind farms by absorbing their excess energy and dispatching it when needed.
It’s not perfect. For every 100 units of energy that goes into what is essentially a compressed-air “battery” only 70 to 75 units come back out. But such “round-trip efficiency,” as it’s called, is consistent with chemical batteries and other storage technologies.
Another Northwater investment is Mississauga-based Temporal Power Inc., developer of a highly efficient flywheel energy storage system that I first wrote about in April 2011.
Flywheels are basically large cylindrical masses in a protective housing that are designed to spin in a near frictionless environment. Electricity used to spin the mass is stored as kinetic energy — that is, the spinning itself — and when that rotating mass is connected to a generator the energy is converted back into electricity.
Jeff Veltri, founder and chief technology officer of Temporal, says the less friction there is the more efficient the device. His flywheel system has such low friction, he claims, that it can hold up to 95 per cent of its charge for several hours — a breakthrough if demonstrated in real-world conditions. The company is collaborating with Hydro One on a pilot project to prove just that.
Verschuren said the energy storage park NRStor plans to build will incorporate both General Compression’s and Temporal Power’s technologies. The company is also looking at a variety of battery technologies. She insisted this isn’t going to be just another demonstration project.
“This storage park would be a commercial operation,” she said. “I’m very interested in making money, making things happen, at the same time recognizing what problems are in the world and how we can solve them.”
Sites across Canada are under consideration, but she hinted the timing may be right in Ontario. There are plenty of salt caverns and depleted gas fields in southwestern Ontario that could prove ideal for compressed-air energy storage. The area has plenty of wind farms that could be greatly enhanced with backup storage, and the transmission infrastructure is there.
Ontario could also benefit tremendously — particularly these days. Lower energy demand as a result of a slowing economy, uncharacteristically warm winter weather, summer conservation efforts, rain-charged hydro resources, inflexible nuclear power stations, and intermittent wind resources all add up to more occurrences of power surpluses.
Instead of paying other jurisdictions to take the excess power we generate, why not store it and use it for ourselves when we need it most?
Unfortunately, getting a multi-megawatt storage park built in Ontario won’t happen overnight. Regulations, for one, need changing. We need clearer rules that determine how storage operators can buy and sell what is essentially an electricity service.
“My job is to set this up,” said Verschuren. “We’ll put a plan together, logically, and we’ll be working closely with the regulatory environment to get those rules in place.”
It won’t be easy. Home Depot might sell storage solutions to new homeowners, but adding shelving and closet space is nothing like the buying, storing and selling of megawatt-hours on a grid.
And just how many megawatts does Verschuren see her storage park reaching? “We want to go to 2,000 megawatts,” which is close to the size of two nuclear power reactors in Ontario, she said. “But it will be a stepped up process.”
Ambitious — and welcome. Glad somebody is giving it a shot, and helping pave the way for others to follow.