Energy Storage: A Missing Link in Canada’s Energy Future
- Energy storage will enable us to integrate renewable but intermittent sources of energy into our energy system in a much more significant way and move towards greater electrification.
- Energy storage and Canada’s expertise in building independent off-grid energy systems in remote communities and challenging conditions represent a big export opportunity for Canada.
- The participation and ownership of energy projects by Indigenous communities and partners is mutually beneficial and ensures that communities are part of an energy project, and not just served by it.
40% of the jobs as they exist today are going to be obsolete in the next 10 years. We, as a country, need to create jobs and retrain and reskill displaced Canadians. Cleantech is a growing sector that can potentially capture some of the displaced labour force.
What is energy storage and why does it matter?
Water, food and energy are the three main resources that need to be managed around the world. But while water and food can be stored, we have not been able to store energy effectively. Once we develop the capability to store energy, we will be able to integrate renewable, intermittent energy sources like solar and wind into our energy system in a much more significant way. For example, the majority of wind energy is produced at night, but the problem is that peak electricity demand is not at night, it is during the day. Being able to capture the energy from that night time wind, store it in, for instance, compressed air energy projects, and hold it for 10 hours before releasing it when it is needed – that is what is exciting about energy storage.
“Once we develop the capability to store energy, we will be able to integrate renewable energy sources like solar and wind into our energy system in a much more significant way.”
In addition, finding ways to capture and store any excess energy that we waste in North America would make us a lot more energy efficient. Energy storage technology is a great candidate to grow our electricity sector and allow for the energy transition towards more electrification.
Storage is needed across the whole energy supply chain and our hydro facilities across Canada are great storage facilities. They can capture the water and release it when they need to, and that in essence is storage. But, storage is needed not just directly on the grid, but also behind the meter, helping commercial and industrial high-energy users reduce their costs.
What can the government do to support energy entrepreneurs?
Every study I have read says that pricing externalities changes behaviour, so carbon pricing will fairly tip the market away from environmental degradation. I admire Gordon Campbell’s work on carbon pricing in British Columbia more than a decade ago, and wish the whole country had copied it.
“Canada will need to make the energy transition in the next 50 years.”
Regulation is a real challenge, particularly in clean technology. We have the same regulations for big, small and start-up companies. I think there are ways in which we can give some of these new start-ups special assistance and permissions so that they can bring their products to market faster. Both the provincial and the federal governments can help to accelerate progress in this regard. Governments can help develop and encourage the sector, but the real action must take place between the universities, industry and the entrepreneurs.
We need to leverage Canada’s position as one of the top countries in the world in terms of clean technology. 13 out of 100 companies on the Global Cleantech 100 List are Canadian, which is fantastic for a country that only represents 2% of the global GDP. This is a point in time when we have a big opportunity to exponentially grow Canada’s cleantech industry. We can aggressively incorporate clean technology in waste management, water and air, essentially across the whole supply chain.
“This is a point in time when we have a big opportunity to exponentially grow Canada’s cleantech industry. We can aggressively incorporate clean technology in waste management, water and air, essentially across the whole supply chain.”
In terms of the cleantech industry’s impact on employment, 40% of the jobs as they exist today are going to be obsolete in the next 10 years. We, as a country, need to create jobs and retrain and reskill displaced Canadians. Cleantech is a growing sector that can potentially capture that displaced labour force. So, one piece of advice I would give to Canada on this front is to not be too conservative and adapt quickly to the changing environment that put cleantech at the forefront.
How can Canada’s cleantech entrepreneurs capture the global cleantech market?
Energy storage is a big opportunity for export to the United States, the UK, Germany and Italy. But it is difficult to price energy storage in the current energy markets because they have been very siloed. Revenue streams are based on one service only. Energy storage can provide a number of services. Energy storage is more than generation; it is also about load. So that combination and its flexibility needs to be priced and given revenue streams. Moreover, the developing world is looking for ways to leapfrog the electricity grid and not have to depend on centralized electricity grids. In China, there are no Bells, Teluses and big infrastructure, so they just went directly to wireless. I see Africa and India doing the same thing – decentralizing with microgrids – as a big opportunity for Canada. Canada can also be a real leader in the creation of smart cities. We have enormous talent in cleantech and have focused on it in many cities. So, we do have expertise in different technologies and approaches for smart urban design.
You sit on the board of one of Canada’s largest oil and gas companies. How is Canada’s oil and gas industry approaching the issues of energy efficiency and the energy transition?
The Canadian oil and gas industry is innovative and cost efficient, and has one of the most responsible safety and environmental standards in the world. There is an enormous amount of fossil fuel in our country and there is still an enormous amount needed globally. I still see decades of growth for our oil and gas industry as the world makes a transition to a lower carbon and emissions economy. The oil and gas industry is already reducing the amount of water it uses, is reducing the methane it releases, and is reducing the GHG emissions out of its barrels of oil and BTUs of gas. All that contributes to a cleaner, more effective fossil fuel. Canada is a stable country that can serve the world’s fossil fuel needs in the most economic and sustainable way. I like the innovation happening in this industry; carbon is now also a feedstock for other products and applications. We have the talent in Canada to create innovative ways to maximize this critical Canadian resource.
How important is community engagement for the energy sector?
NRStor has been working on a number of projects with the Inuit in the north and the First Nations. From my experience, I have come to think that the Indigenous people in our country can and should own energy. These communities require micro grids and Canada can become a global leader in remote community electrification if we figure out how to build the necessary systems in the north in challenging temperatures and weather patterns.
“We have to engage Indigenous communities to be a part of, and not just be served by, new energy projects. Getting off diesel in our remote communities is vital.”
We are working in a number of remote communities and want to help them get off diesel. They are totally dependent on diesel, which is enormously expensive and unhealthy for the community. With existing technology, we can reduce reliance on diesel by about 50% with a combination of wind, solar and battery technology, and we want the Indigenous people as partners with us. We have a huge opportunity to scale this up around the world.
Community partnership in these projects is integral to their success. For example, in Ontario, the decision to install windfarms everywhere did not involve local communities. It left multiple communities upset and fighting the projects. In contrast, communities became investors in wind turbines in Nova Scotia. This sense of community ownership, involvement and participation goes a long way. That is why we have to engage Indigenous communities to be a part of, and not just be served by, new energy projects. Getting off diesel in our remote communities is vital.
“If we listened more to Indigenous communities, we would be better off as a country because they have a long-term view of the world.”
I also see other benefits stemming from increased collaboration with Canada’s Indigenous communities. Everybody knows Canada has the most beautiful natural resources in the world, the cleanest water, and the greatest Indigenous communities that want to protect our environment. If we listened more to Indigenous communities, we would be better off as a country because they have a long-term view of the world.