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OPINION: Could a battery in Sarnia help recharge green energy strategy?

George Mathewson When it comes to sources of alternative energy, Ontario has shown that creating electricity is easy. The hard part is storing it.
2015-06-25 13.26.47

George Mathewson

When it comes to sources of alternative energy, Ontario has shown that creating electricity is easy.

The hard part is storing it.

Which is why, when the wind blows and the sun shines, the province sometimes, infuriatingly, must sell our excess power generation at a loss to U.S. utilities.

But cutting-edge technology proposed for Sarnia that would connect what is essentially a giant battery pack to the power grid could help change that.

City council agreed last week to lease a piece of city-owned land to a company called Renewable Energy Systems Canada Inc., which hopes to build an energy storage facility at the water pollution control plant on St. Andrews Street.

The half-acre site is across the road from a transformer station operated by Bluewater Power, whose affiliate company, Electek Power Services, is also part of the proposal.

The multi-million dollar plan is to install batteries with a total power rating of 5 megawatts behind a chain-link fence. It would be similar to a 4-MW facility the company built last year in Strathroy, RES’s first in Ontario and second in North America.

The Independent Electricity System Operator is entertaining proposals for various types of energy storage systems, and could approve the Sarnia project as early as August.

Energy storage is the missing link for many clean power technologies. Without a way to store electricity to smooth out the supply and demand, renewables like wind and solar can’t close the gap on fossil fuels.

The Strathroy site features two 20-ton batteries housed in what look like ocean shipping containers. The batteries store excess energy using what the company calls “inherently safe” lithium iron phosphate technology, and feeds it back into the grid when needed.

A 5-MW battery at Sarnia would be a drop in the bucket of the North American power grid. But Ontario, for better or worse, is committed to expanding renewable energy sources, and it needs to start somewhere on the storage problem.

The project could benefit Bluewater Power and local industry, but more importantly build on Sarnia’s growing reputation for innovative alternatives, said Peter Hungerford, the city’s director of economic development.

“It shows the willingness of this area to get into leading technology and be a leader, not be follower,” he said.

If the technology does proves efficient and storage batteries begin popping up across the province they could make wind and solar more cost-effective compared to baseload producers like natural gas and nuclear.

Who knows, maybe one day we’ll actually use all the power we produce instead of giving it away to our neighbours to the south.

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