As the world’s sixth-largest electricity producer and third-largest electricity exporter, Canada is an electricity heavyweight. And with a grid that is already 83 per cent emission-free, the country seems well positioned for meeting ambitious net-zero and economic ambitions.
However, the Canadian Climate Institute (formerly the Canadian Institute for Climate Choices) predicts that the electrification of Canada’s grid – which involves connecting an increasing number of electric vehicles (EVs), heating systems and industries to a clean electricity grid – will require the production of roughly twice as much non-emitting electricity as it does today in just under three decades.
However, when we talk about expanding Canada’s electricity grid, we tend to focus strictly on increasing the generation of clean electricity, which according to Justin Rangooni, executive director of Energy Storage Canada, will not be enough. We must also knit the system together through the large-scale build-out of diverse forms of energy storage, which can optimize generation assets and help to advance Canada on its path to carbon neutrality.
“Canada has set an ambitious goal to achieve a net-zero electricity system by 2035, the success of which depends on energy storage,” he says. “The versatility of energy storage is going to be absolutely essential to meeting the needs of more end-use electricity, an increasing volume of which will be generated by intermittent renewable and non-emitting resources.”
The issues of how to expand hydropower capacity, where to best locate solar panels and wind turbines, or how to maximize the potential of new fuels such as hydrogen and ammonia are important. Yet Mr. Rangooni emphasizes the importance of viewing the energy system as a single entity, including the need for the system to be able “to even out variations in supply and demand.”
A recent Energy Storage Canada report estimates that the installed capacity of energy storage required to get Canada to net zero will need to be in the range of 8 to 12 gigawatts (GW) nationally by 2035. With today’s national built capacity sitting at less than 1 gigawatt, Mr. Rangooni maintains we have a big gap to close.
“But we need to close it if we are going to successfully realize the dual imperatives of meeting more of our energy end-use needs with electricity, and of enlarging the proportion of that electricity that comes from renewables and other non-emitting resources,” he says.
Furthermore, Mr. Rangooni explains, the variety of energy sources across the country means that the “versatility of energy storage technologies will be crucial to ensuring Canada is able to meet the electricity needs of all its provinces, through maximizing the capability and efficiency of existing and new generation, transmission and distribution infrastructure.”
Energy storage can help level out supply to urban centres or capacity constrained areas without additional transmission systems upgrades. It can address the intermittent nature of wind and solar generation. Even for baseload resources like nuclear, energy storage can help provide more consistent and cost-effective production that isn’t constrained by hourly demand rates.
“As a whole,” says Mr. Rangooni, “energy storage resources are a versatile, reliable and growing group of technologies that offer a range of stability-enhancing services to electricity systems, extending beyond the essential benefit of flexible capacity.”
However, because energy storage was not a key consideration when electricity regulatory frameworks in Canada were created, it is generally perceived as an incumbent or new clean technology to add to the grid. According to Mr. Rangooni, this means that in order to effectively deploy energy storage assets, policy-makers and government agencies need to co-ordinate a revamp of regulatory and legislative frameworks to accommodate them.
“Currently, we lack even basic regulatory definitions of energy storage in some provinces, as well as clear expectations and processes relating to the crucial issues of project siting and inter-connections with electricity grids,” he adds.
“The variety and versatility of energy storage resources make them a critical component of a net-zero electricity grid – a component without which Canada will not reach its net-zero goals. We’ve seen some exciting progress over the course of 2022, and we’re keen to see what 2023 holds for the sector in Canada as we continue to aim for 2035.”
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