Energy Storage Canada (Updated 2019)
Storing energy in Canada is currently a challenge due to the cost and technological challenge of storing it in a distributed way. Even at the utility scale, it’s extremely difficult – no utility in Canada currently had the capacity to store large amounts of electricity. That is except for Ontario Power Generation which literally does so by pumping water up-hill and then letting it flow back downhill in a method called Pump Storage Hydro (PSH).
This article discusses three ways that Canadians are currently storing their electricity in the context of solar photovoltaic systems. Energy storage is necessary because solar systems will often produce more energy than is used at any given time.
Excess energy produced during the day can be stored for use at night, and theoretically, excess energy produced during the summer can be stored for use in the winter. The problem is that when energy is generated, it must be used immediately or stored in a costly process.
While a ‘battery’ is likely the first storage solution that comes to mind, the most popular storage solution that’s currently used by Canadians is ‘virtually storage’ by sending it back to the electrical grid.
Remaining connected to the grid may not appear to be a storage solution – but in fact, it’s an extremely useful service that it provides. All excess energy from a solar system (produced during the day and during the summer) can be sent back to the grid and credited to your utility billing account.
These credits can then be applied against your energy usage during periods when your solar system is producing less than is needed (during the night and during the winter). This process is called ‘Net Metering’ and serves the exact same function as a battery back-up.
This is also why utility companies still make you pay your base monthly fee when you remain connected to the grid even if your net energy usage is zero – because you’re using their infrastructure for energy storage!
Using a battery is the second most popular option for energy backup here in Canada, but it’s still relatively uncommon. This is mostly because battery systems have not yet caught up to the significant improvements in energy generation technology and because batteries still remain relatively expensive.
However, with the advent of electric vehicles – battery technology is due to improve rapidly into the foreseeable future.
If you do get a battery, there are several benefits of doing so:
- Collect energy during the day (with a solar system or from the grid) for use in the evening
- Provides cost savings for those on Time-of-Use (TOU) rates
- Store energy to charge your Electric Vehicle (EV)
- Store energy in case of a brown-outs or to protect your high voltage electronics
- Store energy, then sell it back to the grid during peak demand (smart city only)
- Store energy, then sell it to your peers (P2P Trading, smart city only)
It should be noted that most people who invest in a battery storage device like the Tesla Powerwall 2 or the ElectrIQ Battery still remain connected to the energy grid. This is because most batteries can only store a couple days worth of energy – meaning that your solar system would not be able to get you through the winter.
Therefore, investing in battery packs to go ‘off-grid’ is only useful if the cost of trenching a new power line to your acreage far exceeds the cost of several battery packs. Using a battery while remaining connected to the grid is currently the only smart choice for most homeowners.
The final way to store electricity in Canada is by charging an electric vehicle. And while this may first appear like a ‘half-solution’ to the problem, in some ways it’s actually superior to using a home battery – it’s just more expensive.
Take the Tesla Model X for example, the base level model has an energy storage capacity of 100kWh, 7.5x greater than the Tesla Powerwall 2. Now just imagine if this energy could be sent back to your home for use. Well, that’s exactly what’s happening – manufacturers are now making electric vehicle (EV) batteries with bi-flow battery ports so that they can be discharge to a home battery when needed. (Note, this is currently only possible with the LEAF and Bolt)
Consider the fact that most EVs are also going to be autonomous (self-driving) and we can extrapolate to some really interesting future possibilities – something that’s explored more in our energy smart cities article.
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