Time to unlock Canada’s energy storage potential

By Justin Wahid Rangooni for Hill Times

While the federal government has taken initial steps to achieve a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050, it has become clear that energy storage will need to play a much bigger role for the government’s strategy to succeed.

The recently introduced Canadian Net-Zero Emissions Accountability Act aims to achieve a goal of net-zero emissions by 2050. Achieving this goal will require the modernization of Canada’s electricity system. While the federal government has taken initial steps toward this goal by phasing out coal and encouraging renewables and other zero-emission technologies, it has become clear that energy storage will need to play a much bigger role for the government’s strategy to succeed.

The election of president-elect Joe Biden south of the border gives added urgency to meeting this challenge. Biden’s platform includes “a historic investment in energy efficiency, clean energy, electrical systems and line infrastructure that makes it easier to electrify transportation, and new battery storage and transmission infrastructure that will address bottlenecks and unlock America’s full clean energy potential.” Energy storage is mentioned a number of times in Biden’s climate and energy policies, making it clear that it will be a major area of development. Many U.S. jurisdictions are already ahead of Canada in deploying energy storage to improve their energy systems. Canada may soon find itself even further behind.

Storage provides a diverse spectrum of benefits, reducing ratepayer costs, improving reliability and resiliency of the electrical grid, and mitigating climate change. As electricity demands fluctuate through the pandemic and the eventual recovery, storage can provide the cost-effective flexibility that we will need through these uncertain times.

Storage can reduce greenhouse gases (GHGs) by supporting increased renewables integration and optimizing existing assets on the system. Technologies such as solar and wind often produce electricity at low-demand periods. Storing this energy so it can be dispatched when needed during peak-demand periods will be the key to unlocking the potential of these zero-emitting sources.  Storage can also improve the efficiency of existing electricity resources, including transmission and distribution assets, to reduce the need for new infrastructure.

A study last month by the National Research Council found that in Ontario, a storage investment would reduce emissions by 11 per cent by 2030. And storage is highly cost-effective.

According to the global financial and asset management firm Lazard, storage costs have declined across most technologies, and it is gaining traction as a commercially viable solution to challenges created by intermittent energy resources such as solar or wind. Energy Storage Canada released a valuation study this year with Power Advisory LLC, that concluded if at least 1,000 MW of energy storage were fully enabled in Ontario that ratepayers would enjoy $2-billion in net savings over the next decade.

The potential for energy storage was recognized by Minister of Natural Resources Seamus O’Regan, who recently told our annual conference that “few areas offer greater potential for building that safer, greener more competitive future than energy storage.” And Canadian companies have led the way and can lead the way with storage technologies such as compressed air, batteries, power to gas, hydrogen, flywheels, and pumped hydro solutions, amongst others.  However, to date, federal energy and climate change programs have maintained a blind spot when it comes to unlocking this opportunity.

Addressing this “storage gap”—through targeted investments, and removing barriers in federal programming that discourage storage development—will be key to meeting the government’s new net-zero commitments, and to ensuring a resilient, cost-effective electricity system.

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