All about Utility-Scale Battery Storage in Canada
The Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) recently approved the largest energy storage projects in Canada. The TERIC Power storage power plants will feature two 20 MW lithium-ion battery plants near Rycroft and Wainwright. Coming on the heels of this announcement was TransAlta’s opening of its own 20 MW battery storage project, dubbed “WindCharger”. The facility is Alberta’s first utility-scale battery storage project, and uses Tesla’s Megapack lithium-ion technology. Advancements in energy storage bode good news for the widespread use of renewable energy. Here’s why.
What is Utility-Scale Battery Storage?
Utility or Grid-Scale Battery Storage is essentially what it sounds like: a giant battery. It’s an industrial power battery that stores energy so that it can be accessed for use when needed.
Picture the battery that’s in your cellphone, keeping in mind that energy cannot be created or destroyed but transformed from one permutation to another. When you plug your phone into an outlet, the electric current then prompts a chemical reaction in the battery, converting the electrical energy into chemical potential energy. When you’re ready to use your phone, the chemicals in the battery undo the reaction, releasing the electrical energy for use. Large scale battery storage works in much the same way, transforming much more electrical energy harnessed from any source into another form that can release enough electricity later on, to power a town.
As of writing this, the largest battery in the world is the Hornsdale Power Reserve in South Australia that was constructed in 2017 with a capacity of 100 MW and later expanded in 2020 to 150 MW. Before the upgrade, it was estimated to be able to power 30,000 homes for eight hours.
Types of Energy Storage Systems
Not all batteries use chemical energy to store energy. There are a variety of ways grid power batteries harness potential energy.
Pumped Hydraulic Storage (PHS): Water is pumped from a low reservoir to a high one as potential energy. When the electricity is needed, the water is allowed to fall and turn a generator, releasing the energy.
Electrical ⇾ Potential ⇾ Kinetic ⇾ Electrical
Advanced Battery Energy Storage (ABES): This is— quite literally— a giant battery. This is the most likely your best option for home energy storage (unless you have a waterfall in your backyard). The chemical solutions most used are lead-acid, lithium-ion or the newer saltwater batteries.
Electrical ⇾ Chemical ⇾ Electrical
Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES): Compressed air underground is heated as natural gas combusts in a separate chamber. This heated air then rises to drive a generator. This model of heating air separately from the combustion (the diabatic method) generates triples the electricity yield per natural gas input, leading to 40-60% reduction in CO2, and is more efficient by 42-55%.
Electrical ⇾ Thermal Energy ⇾ Kinetic ⇾ Electrical
Flywheel Energy Storage (FES): Electrical energy drives a wheel spinning in a frictionless chamber. When energy is needed the speed of the wheel is reduced and increases as it is being charged.
Electrical ⇾ Kinetic ⇾ Electrical
The Pros and Cons of Grid Energy Storage
Electrical energy storage is good for the overall efficiency of energy production and consumption, but it’s especially a boon for the development of renewable energy. For one, the fear people have regarding the instability of certain renewable energy, will be abated as excess energy can be stored for times when it isn’t as readily available. Such as solar energy during high noon being stored for cloudy days.
It’s also able to act as a reserve for utility demand. During off-peak hours, power plants are able to store large amounts of energy to be released during periods of high demand. It also protects consumers and vital industries from power outages, thus reducing the need for electricity generators to have peak generation capacity (meaning that you don’t need generators to have 10 MW capacity, for example, to meet consumer demand, as grid-connected batteries would be able to save the surplus energy from off-peak hours to supplement demand).
Grid-connected storage systems that are supplied by a wide variety of energy sources can integrate all the surplus electricity into one unit. After all, electricity is electricity, whether it comes from renewables like geothermal, wind or solar energy or fossil fuels. So, grid storage that is supplied by multiple sources can reserve a significant amount of energy to be distributed as needed.
However, battery technology is far from perfect. As a matter of fact, the transformation of energy is never 100% efficient, meaning that with each transformation some energy is lost. Thinking back to your phone battery, have you ever noticed that it heats up significantly when it’s using a lot of energy? That heat is energy that’s lost and that your phone doesn’t get to use as electricity. Another energy storage problem to face is the fact that the capacity to store energy — particularly in chemical cells— degrade over time as the chemicals increasingly become non-reactive. This is similar to how old phones are unable to hold a charge as they did when they were new.
The expansion of the grid will require additional infrastructure, financial resources and space to implement, and will increase the complexity of the electricity distribution system; especially as it concerns safety for people working with or living near these large-scale batteries and the proper recycling and disposal of the metals.
Nevertheless, endeavours such as this benefit from economy of scale, as further development powers new research to further develop storage technologies and make their manufacturing competitive and drives down the cost of other Grid-Scale Energy Storage projects.
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