The First Energy Storage Project in an Urban Community

Credit: Vince Talotta
A few hulking black boxes outside of a community centre in Toronto may look unassuming, but they are actually the latest vanguard in the pursuit of a modern sustainable energy system in Ontario.

These super-sized batteries are part of the first community energy storage system to be installed directly into an urban community. Inside the boxes are many small batteries all linked together. The community energy storage system is connected to the grid and equipped with smart grid technology so that it can automatically monitor conditions to take in electricity during off-peak hours and release electricity when demand spikes or if the power goes out.

These days, the search for commercially viable energy storage solutions is king. It is technology like this that will help free us entirely from fossil fuels.

Integrating energy storage technologies with renewable power is the holy grail of the carbon free energy system of the future.

As some governments have started shifting their energy systems toward 100% renewable energy power, the need for paired storage solutions has become apparent. We need to connect generation and storage technologies in new ways in order to maintain a reliable, modern electricity grid.

An obvious aspect of wind and solar power is that the panels and turbines produce electricity when the sun shines or the wind blows. There are many solutions already in action across the world to design electrical grids suited to this intermittancy, but it presents different technical constraints than we're used to. Ontario's electrical grid is designed to have huge centralized generation centres that are always on (primarily hydro and nuclear power) complemented by gas or coal plants that can be ramped up or down as needed. When renewable sources start to take over the mix, we have to start thinking about the electrical grid a little differently. It needs to have more resilience at a community scale.

Despite the interest in storage technologies, there are few utility scale systems actually built and running.

Many countries are further ahead in the implementation of a renewable electricity system. Germany is discovering that baseload electricity generation - the lynchpin of the centralized system - is actually becoming a thing of the past. Flexible and dispatchable power that is able to closely meet the demand is what's needed, not baseload that can never be switched off. Renewable electricity fits the bill and can be paired with dispatchable biogas generation as well as storage technologies.

The community energy storage (CES) system at the Roding Arena and Community Centre can be part of this effort to pair renewables with storage capacity in pursuit of a 100% renewably powered electricity grid. Just three of the battery cells in this CES system can power a fridge for one hour. The whole CES is made up of 48 cells with a total of 500 kW of storage capacity and is capable of a powering a community centre, a light industrial complex or a residential street.

Despite the interest in storage technologies, there are few utility scale systems actually built and running. This one is a step in the right direction but strong commitment is needed to keep up with the race to build modern energy systems.