Canada’s electricity grid is a vast network of generation and transmission infrastructure that powers our homes, businesses, and industry. Major fluctuations occur in electricity demand, with nighttime demand falling to about half that of daytime. Severe weather events and seasonal changes also cause variations. In Ontario, for example, peak electricity demand in the spring is around 14,000 megawatts (MW) compared to approximately 23,000 MW in the summer. Grid operators manage these fluctuations by using sophisticated energy modelling and communications systems.

If electrical energy was stored during times when production exceeded consumption and returned to the grid when supply fell below demand, Canada’s energy sector would benefit greatly.

“If we had cheap, ubiquitous storage, it would completely change how we think about our electric grid,” says Ron Dizy, Managing Director of the Advanced Energy Centre (AEC), a partnership between MaRS Discovery District, the Ontario Ministry of Energy, and the private sector.

Decoupling supply and demand

Energy storage makes it possible to decouple electricity supply and demand. By improving the flexibility of the grid it would unlock possibilities for the adoption of renewables such as wind and solar power — two inherently unpredictable energy sources — allowing the electricity sector to rely less on fossil fuels.

“When it comes to providing a clean, affordable, and reliable electricity system, energy storage technologies are part of the solution."

Until recently, energy storage technologies have been limited to a relatively moderate scale but recent innovations indicate greater capabilities and an opportunity to leverage energy storage assets to create a cleaner electricity system in Canada.

Canada’s electricity sector accounts for just 20 percent of the nation’s total energy consumption, with transportation and heat sectors making up the lion’s share. Transportation is the greatest source of carbon emissions in Canada. To work towards a renewable energy future, we must decarbonize transport fuels and gas. One method of storing energy is to convert electricity into hydrogen by electrolysis and use it later to power fuel cell vehicles.

“Hydrogen gas has a huge energy storage capability yet it carries no carbon into the energy system,” says Daryl Wilson, President and Chief Executive Officer at Hydrogenics. “When it is used in transport, the only emission is pure, clean water.”

Moving towards a renewable future

Adopting any new technology to create a level playing field for storage projects requires government support and robust policy implementation.

“When it comes to providing a clean, affordable, and reliable electricity system, energy storage technologies are part of the solution. Hydrogenics has already delivered zero emission solutions to utilities and rail transport in Europe,” says Wilson. “In Canada, government support and changes in the regulatory framework need to be updated to draw on the full value of these technologies.”

“With energy storage, there isn’t one technology that will solve all problems,” says Dizy from AEC. “You need a richness in the range of offerings. Collaboration between innovators and utilities to deliver innovative energy storage solutions has the potential to unlock significant savings, reliability, and value for Canada’s electricity system.”