Massive battery enables green energy system

The battery of the future is here.

By Bill Marshall

The long-awaited era of cleaner, cheaper energy is dawning, and Saint John Energy’s new utility-scale battery is a key component in this environmentally and economically responsible future.

The 1.25-megawatt lithium-ion battery, the largest of its kind in Atlantic Canada, is the same technology that’s being used in innovative energy-storage projects around the world, from Tasmania to Toronto and beyond.

The utility is a local leader in a global movement towards a green-energy future.

This sort of large-scale battery is crucial to our power system if we want to truly deal with climate change and take full advantage of renewable energy.

The concept is simple: Capture the cleanest, lowest-cost energy and use it in high-demand times, decreasing our reliance on the fossil-fuel-powered sources that are causing climate change. 

While the idea is straightforward, the technology itself is complicated – and advancing rapidly. Utility-scale batteries have come a long way in recent years. They’re safer, more efficient and more reliable than ever. Meanwhile, manufacturing advances have sent prices dropping, making them a very cost-efficient energy-storage option and a key component in a cleaner energy future.

Battery by the Numbers

Saint John Energy will invest approximately $1.5 million on its new utility-scale battery.

That may look like a lot of money for a single storage option, but the economics of it are actually very good.

Integrated with the utility’s artificial intelligence control program, part of its progressive Smart Energy initiative, the new battery will help reduce monthly peak demand. If Saint John Energy can save up enough off-peak energy and then use it during peak times, there are potential savings up to $200,000 a year.

In simple payback terms, that’s about 7.5 years to cover the battery’s purchase price.

And there’s more.

It’s good for the environment AND the economy. Over time, there’s no doubt the battery will help lower power costs for consumers.

Factor in renewable energy sources and the economics of the battery get even better. The Burchill Wind Project, proposed for Spruce Lake Industrial Park, could mean up to another $30,000 a year in savings, reducing payback on the battery by another year and all of that is before factoring the support from the federal government.

Of course, no one can control the wind. When it blows above a certain threshold, energy is generated. When it doesn’t, well, it isn’t.  This is where the battery comes in. Saint John Energy will be able to store clean, cheap intermittent wind power, releasing it onto the grid at peak times, when demand is greatest, such as the morning and evening rush.

Instead of combustion-fueled backup plants having to be fired up to meet peak demand, stored green energy can flow. It’s good for the environment AND the economy. Over time, there’s no doubt the battery will help lower power costs for consumers. 

Part of a Larger Shift

The electrical system as we know it is changing, and rapidly. In part, that’s because it is one of the easiest sectors to get off carbon.

plants such as Belledune, which burns coal, are still going to need to operate for the foreseeable future. But with renewables, it could operate a lot less.

While airlines don’t (yet) have an alternative to jet fuel, utilities have a range of clean, green options to complement or displace fossil fuels. Instead of gas or coal-fired plants, solar, wind and hydro are increasingly economically attractive options. And wind energy, for which there’s great potential in the Maritimes, is one of the most cost-effective sources of renewable energy in the world.

This unfolding process of decarbonization and transformation isn’t going to happen overnight. It will be a process. In the winter, for instance, when demand is high, plants such as Belledune, which burns coal, are still going to need to operate for the foreseeable future. But with renewables, it could operate a lot less. And as the generation and storage of renewables improves, we’ll come to rely on plants such as Belledune less and less.

Future-Ready

Saint John Energy has been preparing for this energy revolution for a while. It has had smart meters, which communicate directly with the utility, for nearly 15 years. Its Smart Energy initiative will modernize the grid, using digital technology and data to more efficiently predict, generate, store and distribute power.

The utility is a local leader in a global movement towards a green-energy future. One in which electric vehicles are the norm. Where customers are both energy producers and consumers, tapped into a two-way grid where they can both draw power and share the surplus generated from residential renewables. This is a future of smart devices that communicate with the grid for optimum efficiency. One in which artificial intelligence and machine learning to maximize the production and distribution of electricity across the city.

Saint John Energy is on the vanguard of leading us forward. Its new utility-scale battery is part of the future of power.

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Bill Marshall is a past President of the New Brunswick System Operator, a past Director of Strategic Planning with NB Power and has consulted widely in the power sector throughout eastern Canada for the past eleven years through his company WKM Energy Consultants Inc.