Uncovering the Hidden Potential of Energy Storage- An Interview with NRStor

Last week, I had the opportunity to sit down for an interview with Jennifer Manning and Shivani Chotalia from NRStor Inc. NRStor is an energy storage project developer in Toronto. Even though energy storage has long been hailed as the holy grail of renewable energy penetration, many people have a limited understanding of storage technologies, and their importance in our transition to a clean energy world. I was excited to get the chance to gain some of this understanding from a local company that specializes in energy storage systems.

We chatted about the role of energy storage in decarbonizing our energy system, the barriers holding back large scale energy storage deployment in Canada, NRStor’s outlook for the future of energy storage and the up-and-coming launch of Tesla’s Powerwall.

Jennifer Manning, General Counsel at NRStor
Shivani Chotalia, Analyst at NRStor

 NRStor Inc: Who are they and what do they do?

NRStor is an energy storage developer based in Toronto that focuses on accelerating the development of industry-leading energy storage technologies in Canada. According to Jennifer and Shivani, NRStor helps to commercialize storage technologies, and partners with a variety of technology suppliers that manufacture energy storage systems (including flywheels, compressed air energy storage and lithium-ion batteries). They also work with communities to design storage systems, helping to solve a range of common energy-related problems.

Temporal Power’s Flywheel energy storage system

Energy storage: What is its role in a sustainable and decarbonized energy system?

Many jurisdictions around the world have set goals to dramatically increase renewable energy on their grids- Vancouver is planning to be 100% renewable energy-powered by 2050, Hawaii by 2045 and San Diego by 2035. Jennifer noted that although these are all excellent goals, relying solely on renewable energy technologies would not be sufficient to achieve them. Because of the intermittent nature of renewables, pairing them with energy storage will help communities reach these targets by allowing them to maximize the potential of their renewable energy resources, thus playing an integral role in the transition to a cleaner energy system that is 100% renewable.

According to Jennifer, storage also presents an opportunity to disrupt the traditional centralized energy model. Residential and behind-the-meter storage can allow consumers to have more control of their own energy usage, allowing them to manage their own generation and storage. As energy storage technology improves and the costs continue to decrease, the business case for storage becomes more and more compelling. In 10-15 years, energy storage systems could even become a norm in Canadian households.

Policy, finance, and awareness: Top barriers preventing wide scale deployment

Since energy storage is still relatively new, many policies affecting storage have not yet evolved to recognize the value it can provide. Jennifer mentioned that in Alberta, an energy storage system would be double-charged as both a generator of electricity and a load. She emphasized that out-dated regulations need to catch up to eliminate such policy-related barriers.

Financing for energy storage projects also remains a challenge. Since early projects tend to be small in size and are coupled with novel technology, investment institutions tend to be more hesitant to take the risk. However, given that these early projects will often become stepping-stones to larger projects, Jennifer highlighted that it’s a necessary piece in order for the technologies to be proven out. NRStor’s first project with the IESO has a 3-year term. The project that they recently won in the IESO’s second phase of energy storage procurements was a 10-year contract. Since these storage technologies usually have 20-year life span, there is much room for improvement to increase the economic viability of these systems.

Another hurdle is knowledge and awareness. As storage technologies are still quite new and rather technically complex, many people are unaware of the various technologies, or still wrapping their heads around how they work. Jennifer thinks that for the public to get excited about the benefits of storage systems, they first need to understand them. Lastly, she commented that on the technical front, there are not many obstacles as the technology is constantly being revised and improved.

Tesla Powerwall’s arrival in Canada

Tesla’s Powerwall- a lithium-ion, wall-mounted battery storage system

This spring, NRStor is launching a new company in partnership with Opus One Solutions to distribute the Tesla Powerwall across Canada. The Powerwall is an innovative energy storage battery created by Tesla Motors that can harness energy through solar panels to be stored and used by homeowners at a later time, giving people more control over their own energy usage. This means being able to control when they are using electricity from the grid, and when they are using locally available stored electricity. While homeowners can use their Powerwall without having solar panels, those who pair the Powerwall with rooftop solar generation can increase their self-consumption of stored renewable energy, ensuring that their electricity source is clean, reliable and emissions-free.

Looking forward: NRStor’s outlook for the future of energy storage

2016 is promising to be a big year for energy storage in the country, starting with the upcoming release of Tesla Powerwall in Canada – there has been a lot of interest and buzz surrounding this technology since it was launched last year by Tesla’s CEO Elon Musk, and it is a project that Jennifer and Shivani are both very excited about.

Schematic of a microgrid

Jennifer informed me that they are also involved in a partnership with MaRS to bring microgrids to remote communities in northern Ontario and help reduce their dependence on diesel fuel. Not only is diesel harmful to human and environmental health, it is also very costly for the communities who, unfortunately, depend on them for their livelihood. Jennifer hopes that by working closely with community partners to address these issues, they will soon see some significant improvements in energy security in Canada’s north.

Fun facts about energy storage

  • There are many different energy storage technologies, and more are being researched and developed as we speak. Some researchers are even looking at the energy storage potential of leaves, banana peels and melon skins!
  • Here in Toronto, an innovative energy storage project is Hydrostor’s underwater compressed air technology, which uses renewable energy to compress air, then stores it in giant underwater “balloons” for later use.
  • NRStor commissioned a study that found that an addition of 1000 MW of energy storage on Ontario’s grid could result in $6.5 - $8.3 billions of savings to consumers over 20 years, and reduce carbon emissions by up to 87 million tonnes- a win-win situation!

With the Canadian government’s newfound commitment to climate action and investments in clean energy, along with innovative cleantech companies such as Tesla Motors and NRStor, energy storage will no doubt play a growing role in the global transition to a clean economy and a renewable energy future.

Image of Flywheel: Temporal Power website
Image of Tesla Powerwall: #Tesla PowerWall by Flickr user Pasco Olivier, licensed under CC BY 2.0
Image of microgrid schematic: Deltro Energy website

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