In my last blog post I discussed the great energy storage innovations we have in Ontario and I set the stage for 2013 being an exciting year for MaRS companies working in this space.

Energy storage is the linchpin that will solve many problems experienced by electric utilities, such as handling growing demands from consumers, smoothing out the intermittent nature of wind and solar power, and responding to aging infrastructure concerns.

We are less than a month into 2013 and already one of MaRS’ cleantech companies has lived up to the high expectations I set. eCAMION recently announced the introduction of their first community energy storage (CES) unit onto the electricity grid. eCAMION’s solution combines lithium-ion batteries and intelligent controls to produce a state-of-the-art, modular energy solution that can provide backup power during outages and reduce stress on the grid during peak demand periods.

Their first CES installation site is in North York and is in partnership with Toronto Hydro. eCAMION’s North York site combines 48 modules with over 1,700 lithium-ion batteries (enough to power a house for over a week) and their intelligent controls in a unit slightly larger than a normal community transformer box.

Toronto Hydro introduces the first urban community energy storage project

The use of eCAMION’s devices doesn’t end at community storage. Smaller auxiliary power units can replace idling vehicle engines or diesel generators to power lights, computers, drills and more, eliminating a significant amount of pollution, greenhouse gas and noise. In addition to providing backup power to a community, eCAMION’s CES also provides a solution for an electric vehicle–charging infrastructure.

I sat down with eCAMION’s founder and CEO, Carmine Pizzurro, to ask him several questions about his company and the success they’ve had with the community energy storage unit.

What inspired you to tackle energy storage? 

It was three-fold. First we identified an issue and need with a willing partner who wanted to add storage to their smart-grid innovations. Second, through market research from MaRS market intelligence we identified a real market opportunity beyond Toronto. We provide scalable, flexible and modular energy storage to utilities. Finally, we have a burning desire to create manufacturing jobs in Ontario by commercializing community energy storage.

Can you explain your technology and the benefits it offers?

Community energy storage provides the ultimate tool for utilities to manage electric distribution system challenges, including the issues of aging infrastructure, asset utilization, distributed generation variability and intermittency, voltage regulation, generation/load balance and high-demand growths associated with electric vehicle charging.

By buffering uncertain supply and demand, and having dispatchable capacity on demand, energy storage has the potential of deferring or reducing significant capital spending, minimizing customer electricity rate impact, providing unhindered connection of renewable generation facilities and supporting a vibrant electric transport industry.

eCAMION’s platform features a battery management system, flexible and scalable module design, intelligent controls, and utility grid integration and co-ordination. Patent-pending innovations include battery cell crimping mechanisms, module design and cooling, and “grid-aware” intelligent controls that automate the CES’s operations based on local utility grid conditions.

The integrated system is the “perfect fit” for the electric utility infrastructure and can provide grid support for up to 150 homes, 500 kilowatts of distributed generation or a cluster of Level 2 and 3 electric vehicle-charging stations.

eCAMION’s CES unit in North York in partnership with Toronto Hydro

eCAMION recently announced a major milestone: the unveiling of the first energy storage system installed in a Toronto community. What can you tell me about this announcement and why it is important for Ontarians?

We are contributing to a smarter grid and reducing Ontario’s carbon footprint by better use of electricity. Today our solution enables Ontario local distribution companies (LDCs) to improve grid-asset utilization, defer capital expenditure and incorporate renewables into the grid. Looking ahead, we can use our CES unit to support electric vehicle-charging infrastructure and provide uninterruptible power supply and backup power for emergency situations as well as industrial, commercial and institutional facilities.

We have created 15 Ontario jobs and as we grow, we will create more skilled jobs for Ontarians. We will deliver two more CES units to Toronto Hydro later in 2013 and have many other projects in our pipeline to help deliver growth and jobs.

What are the biggest challenges in the energy storage space?

We are coming to a pivotal crossroad. With our consortium partners we have built community energy storage designed for LDCs and utilities. There is a lot of buzz about the need for storage, and Toronto Hydro and the Independent Electricity System Operator have led the way to actively make storage a reality.

Now we have to build a compelling business case so that the Ontario Energy Board, the Ministry of the Environment and other stakeholders can clearly see the benefits so that community energy storage can be added to an LDC/utilities asset mix that enables them to create a smarter and more efficient grid. The challenge is to get energy storage adopted by all the provinces’ LDCs.

What advice would you give entrepreneurs with energy storage innovations?

It is an exciting time and any energy storage innovation needs to be piloted and demonstrated in a real-life application, so look for a willing partner and then build a consortium. Consider applying to both provincial and federal bodies that supply grants, such as Sustainable Development Technology Canada, the Smart Grid Fund or ecoENERGY.

Also, bootstrap your company as much as possible until you gain commercial traction with your technology and have obtained real customers.

Jennifer Stoneburgh

Jennifer works with MaRS Cleantech Venture Services, assisting cleantech companies access valuable resources and mentorship. She has been focused on the cleantech ecosystem since graduating university, specifically helping new technology companies grow. She is active in the entrepreneur ecosystem, writing thought leadership pieces and organizing events with industry leaders. Prior to joining MaRS, Jennifer completed her master of engineering degree at McMaster University. See more…