The recent oil surplus might seemingly spell doom for Canadians in the energy sector, but it’s not as gloomy when emerging technologies that allow more renewable energy to enter the power grid are brought into the picture. In the past, fossil fuels and renewable energy had been positioned as antithetical, where the latter had to fully replace the former in order to be considered viable. With climate change emerging as such a hot-button issue, finding ways to make renewables more sustainable and affordable without affecting performance or delivery to consumers have only grown in importance.

“Ten years ago, it was tough to make a business case for renewables, They were expensive, heavily subsidized and often unreliable. Good renewable opportunities that delivered returns to shareholders were few and far between.”

The 2015 United Nations Climate Conference led to the Paris Agreement, which is not yet binding but aims to avoid climate change by addressing global warming. While

Canadian Parliament could eventually ratify it, some of the country’s industry players are looking to do their part now.

New energy, new business

Shifting from coal, oil, gas, and nuclear takes time, yet the burgeoning clean energy sector has an opportunity now. Developing and manufacturing leading-edge products in Canada to not only meet the climate challenge at home, but to also export them globally and fight it abroad makes for a potential winning scenario for all sides.

“Ten years ago, it was tough to make a business case for renewables,” says Lino Luison, Vice President for Green Power, Transmission and Emerging Technology at Enbridge Inc. “They were expensive, heavily subsidized and often unreliable. Good renewable opportunities that delivered returns to shareholders were few and far between.”

Today that’s all changed, adds Luison. Growing market demand has triggered a technological revolution in renewables that has brought down costs to the point where they are competitive with the company’s traditional business. The company believes a greater balance between renewables and traditional makes strategic sense moving forward.

With assets in both traditional energy sources, such as oil and natural gas, along with renewables, it is looking to double its renewable energy output in the next five years.

“While we believe that fossil fuels are going to be around for a long time, there is no question that on the renewable and transmission side, there is enormous growth potential and a societal shift towards those types of investments,” he said. “We look at renewable opportunities in exactly the same way we look at pipelines — as low-risk, long-term investments.”

Investing in emerging energy technologies

Traditional energy technologies provide a steady, continual power supply to the electrical grid, whereas wind and solar power are intermittent due to changing day-to-day weather. The wind doesn’t always blow, and clouds sometimes block out the sun. Intermittent sources can whipsaw the grid, which can, in extreme cases, cause temporary blackouts.

“The result is not just a more stable and reliable grid, but a practical technology to increase the amount of renewable energy on that grid; and, in turn, providing a clear path to less reliance on high emission generators.”

Flywheel technology may help in that regard. It uses a rotor that spins and accelerates at a very high speed to store rotational energy, essentially capturing all the force and momentum it accumulated instead of losing it when the speed slows. For example, it’s storing kinetic energy instead of chemical, which is more typical of a standard electric battery.

And because it can store and discharge energy very rapidly, grids can use the full output from renewable generation sources during intermittent weather without upsetting their reliability. Flywheels can be efficient for managing grid stability so that grid operators can reach new levels of renewable energy reliability, while maintaining the predictable energy supply homes and businesses have come to rely on. For Enbridge, investing in Temporal Power — the company bringing this critical flywheel technology to the table —is important for the future of renewables.

“We’re using Canadian technology through several patents we hold on a fully recyclable flywheel battery — rechargeable thousands of times a year without any degradation, and designed to make the grid much more stable and efficient,” says Eric Murray, President and CEO of Temporal Power. “A more stable grid, in turn, allows operators to increase the amount of renewables delivered to the end user.”

Maintaining a steady power grid isn’t as seamless as it may seem, he adds. Temporal’s technology for short-term energy storage could help offset the strain for grid managers who must deal with an influx of demand when appliances like fridges, air-conditioners, and computers are running at peak times.

“The result is not just a more stable and reliable grid, but a practical technology to increase the amount of renewable energy on that grid; and, in turn, providing a clear path to less reliance on high emission generators,” Murray says. “That brings real environmental and economic benefits to end-users.”