Energy storage: Smartening up our electrical grid

Meet compressed air energy storage

Our electricity network is changing. On New Year’s Day this year, Ontario was producing more power than it needed. Our province is entering into the same situation that Denmark, Germany and others who have been struggling with significant supply and demand fluctuations. If we are going to maximize the value and efficiency of our electrical grid, we’re going to need a couple things.

1. Electrical grid information technology

An IT layer over the electrical grid will provide communication between demand and supply enabling changes in how, and when, we generate, and use electricity, and the efficiency by which we do it. Many smart grid technologies are focused on demand management: reducing electricity use or changing the times of day in which we use it. Although there’s an important role for demand management in reducing energy requirements, empowering and educating consumers, demand management alone does not make a smarter grid. I strongly believe that our future electrical grid must be based on a readily available, abundant supply of clean power.

For this to happen, IT solutions need to be deployed in combination with energy storage.

2. Electrical grid energy storage

We need to know when to store and when to dispatch renewable energy. We also need technologies that enable the storage. Without energy storage, smart grid technologies will only tell us what is going on with supply and demand — our ability to respond to changing conditions will still be limited. And our ability to include higher percentages of intermittent renewable energy into our mix of electricity generation will remain limited.

Ontario’s answer to clean energy storage

Ontario is home to companies watching where the puck is going on electricity infrastructure. They are improving and reinventing traditional energy storage technologies.

Last week in the Toronto Star, there was a good article written on Ontario start-up company and MaRS client, Hydrostor. Hydrostor is putting a new spin on the concept of compressed air energy storage. They have a plan to eliminate some of the traditional hurdles that this technology has faced in the past, such as geographical limitations. Think: underwater.

Clearly, energy storage is coming of age. What may have been too early a concept even just a few years ago is quickly becoming not only possible, but practical and a necessary next step as the future of our electricity infrastructure unfolds.