Post 3: Why better power storage is the key to a greener grid in Ontario

Post 3 of 3

Previous posts in this series have looked at why Ontario’s power grid is becoming less green, through more use of natural gas to generate power. We also looked at the role renewable energy plays in helping the province build a carbon-neutral grid.

Historically, power utilities have worked on the model “We’ll produce power when you need it.” This means that every time you plug in your kettle, the amount of power generated increases just a tiny bit, to meet the increase in power demand.

But with the growing penetration of renewable energy and the need to back away from reliance on gas-fired power as a way to level out supply, there must be a way to store power they provide when the wind blows and the sun shines, for times when they aren’t able to produce.

So, utilities are having to get good at storing power.

One of the oldest technologies for this is pumped power, in which water is pumped from a lower reservoir to a higher reservoir when power is cheaply available, and then released to power a turbine when demand for power is greater, so the water flows back into the lower reservoir. Pumped power only works if the topography is right, and can involve moving large amounts of earth or rock, so it has never been much of a player in power generation.

Other power storage technologies involve massive flywheels, compressing air, and weights being raised and lowered.

Batteries are the most common solution offered. These have their own problems, including the large amounts of metals that must be mined, and the energy costs of turning metal ore into batteries. There’s the threat of fires and malfunctions during the product’s life. Then, the issue of end-of-life disposal.

Building a network with enough batteries to supply peak power to a grid the size of Ontario’s will be a monumental task. There’s hope that used EV batteries can find a second life storing power for utility use, and that a growing network of EVs can be hooked up in a way that they sell power back to the grid at times of peak demand.

Batteries seem to be the only technology that’s able to fulfill two needs: (1) supplying flexible power to meet peak load in a way that doesn’t involve carbon emissions, and (2) making the “non-dispatchable” aspect of renewable energy less of a problem, so renewables can add to the power grid without destabilizing it.

What you can do
*Inform yourself on the issues – using reliable online information sources.
*Write to, or phone, your Member of Provincial Parliament to say that you don’t want to see expanded fossil-fuel generation in Ontario.
*Write or phone the same message to your local power supply utility (such as Toronto Hydro).

Bonus: Follow the energy saving tips from Bullfrog Power.