Energy storage ready for prime time in remote communities
By Perry Hoffman
Renewable energy combined with energy storage is at a tipping point, according to Canadian Energy chief executive Craig Ballard. In an interview with Canadian Green Tech earlier this September, he explained that in addition to being technical viable, it presents positive economic value for remote communities looking to kick the diesel habit.
Canadian Energy provided a renewable energy, energy storage and generator system to the Arctic Research Foundation, the same team which recently discovered the HMS Terror. The successful finding of the ship was announced on September 15.
The conditions in which the system - an adapted Containerized Universal Battery or CUB - had to operate demonstrates it can work in the harshest conditions. This means a CUB is well suited for deployment in many remote communities whether they be grid connected or off grid. It is essentially a small shipping container with batteries, power electronics and battery management system that can be connected to renewable generation such as solar and wind. It can then also connect to the local grid.
Of course when talking of renewables and energy storage, the conversation always turns to costs. Ballard explained though that as the cost of renewable energy systems has dropped and the cost of batteries continue to decline, the economics of deploying a combined renewables+storage installation become more palatable. In fact, in the Far North, it makes sense.
A conservative estimate for diesel-based electricity in the North is $0.50 per kilowatt hour (kWh), said Ballard, adding “it’s not close” to the $0.25/kWh or even $0.20/kWh from the CUB.
“It’s hard for me to think of a situation where any remote community shouldn’t have a renewable-based system because the cost per kilowatt hour will be lower right now, starting today, without upfront investment. Not to mention much easier to maintain and much more reliable and much cleaner,” he said.
The business model that seems to be the most favourable for remote settings is a lease or power purchase agreement (PPA), noted Ballard. Rather than having to invest a lot of money upfront in a capital investment, communities can begin to see electricity cost savings immediately by simply paying less for renewable electricity under a PPA.
Asked whether he thinks a typical installation in a remote community could result in diesel fuel use reductions of between 20% and 30%, he responded that it’s more like 80% to 90%.
Despite the technical viability of renewables+energy storage and economics that are constantly improving due to dropping component costs, selling these types of systems into remote communities is no slam dunk. Ballard explained that getting past established supply chains is difficult.
“There’s always going to be a protection of the status quo to a certain degree and that’s something that every innovation and new technology has to fight. And I would say that’s what we’re up against more,” he said, describing hurdle as “‘this is how we’ve done it for the last 50 years’.”
But there are remote communities that have taken the plunge with renewables and energy storage. Canadian Energy is about to begin deploying such a system in an off-grid community in British Columbia. It has also done one for a community in Alberta.
Demand for the CUB had been rising, so much so that Canadian Energy had to move to larger facilities in Ontario where it’s CUB business is located. Remote communities are inquiring and wanting installations, commercial operations around the world are interested and regions such as South America and the Caribbean where there’s a high cost of electricity or access to the grid is less than stable want these types of systems.
It seems like it’s only a matter of time before remote communities all throughout Canada begin to make the transition to renewables and energy storage as they strive to reduce their reliance on diesel.
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