Centre for Urban Energy tackling Toronto’s energy storage problem

CUE's battery site at the corner of Dundas and Mutual Streets.  (Sissi Wang)

CUE’s battery site at the corner of Dundas and Mutual Streets. (Courtesy CUE)

Ryerson’s Centre for Urban Energy (CUE) is months away from completing a first-of-its-kind energy storage project with the potential to revolutionize Toronto’s electricity grid.

Right now, the province has no means of storing the mass amounts of renewable energy it produces through hydroelectricity, wind and solar generators.

The solution to this problem, as CUE researchers see it, is to store energy produced during off-peak hours in chemical form using a new battery technology by Canadian company Electrovaya.

In a joint effort between CUE, Electrovaya, Toronto Hydro, Hydro One and a number of other stakeholders, the energy storage prototype will have its home on campus.

The 1.1 megawatt-hour battery bank — which is the size of a TTC bus — will fill the empty lot at the northwest corner of Dundas Street and Mutual Street.

The battery bank will connect to the CUE and the City of Toronto’s electricity grid, and supply stored energy to the building during peak hours.

During off-peak hours, it will capture excess energy from the grid and store it for later use.

The battery bank is also expected to power 200 houses in the area for five hours per day.

“(The battery storage system) will bring to the grid better operation with higher efficiency, lower cost and reduce pollution,” CUE’s academic director Bala Venkatesh said in an email.

“It will provide energy during peak hours, displacing expensive and polluting … plants.”

The new energy storage technology, Lithium Ion SuperPolymer batteries, have a number of advantages, said Dr. Bhanu Opathella, the lead researcher of CUE’s battery storage project.

To start, they have a high energy density, meaning you can store more energy in one battery, and don’t require regular maintenance like lead-acid batteries.

Power quality problems often arise when electricity is generated from renewable sources. The portable lithium-ion battery has a built-in converter, correcting power quality problems that many other storage systems cannot, said Opathella.

Opathella has been visiting Electrovaya’s manufacturing facility in Mississauga over the last two years to conduct tests to ensure the technology is safe.

He said the tests have gone well, and the task is now for his five-person research team to produce technical and economic models for the battery to aid future researchers and companies.

CUE’s role is to test the battery for power grid application. Opathella says this project is one of the first of its kind being tested on a city’s electricity grid.

Governments around the world are moving toward producing and consuming a larger percentage of electricity from renewable sources.

By 2030, renewables are expected to account for 48 per cent of the total power generation worldwide, according to the Ontario Ministry of Energy’s Long-Term Energy Plan released in 2013.

Ontario is rich in renewable energy sources. Currently, 23 per cent of our electricity is generated through harnessing hydroelectricity (20 per cent), wind, solar and biomass (three per cent) energy.

During the night, a large amount of wind energy is generated in Ontario, but not used.

The idea of a storage system is to stockpile the energy generated during off-peak, low-demand hours and delivering it to homes and buildings during peak, high-demand hours.

As the province seeks to up its renewable energy production, the need for a large-scale energy storage system becomes urgent.
Without such a storage system, electricity generated from fluctuating sources like wind and solar cannot be effectively utilized, said Opathalla.

In fact, it’s costing us money.

He said Ontario pays to export excess renewable energy to neighbouring provinces and the U.S.

“We are trying to solve the bigger picture problem using a futuristic view,” said Opathella. “We are not focusing on a particular problem or source, but rather accounting for all renewable sources on a city scale.”

To implement this storage system in a city like Toronto, Opathella says there would need to be hundreds, if not thousands, of battery banks.

Opathalla says the biggest barrier to introducing these battery banks city-wide lies in their high cost, since they are currently not mass-manufactured.

The total fund allocated for the energy storage project, including the cost of batteries, is $8 million.

Electricity distribution companies, like project partners Toronto Hydro and Hydro One, are interested in its large-scale application.

Toronto Hydro put in equipment to measure the effectiveness of the added storage system to the grid.

They will be monitoring and analyzing the data collected from smart meters after the battery bank is installed.

Other energy companies already expressed interest in the research team’s findings.

The testing site is expected to be fully operational by early 2015.

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