Thoughts from Students
During this session, attendees discussed recent advances, current challenges and future opportunities in Ontario’s energy sector. In particular, guest speakers James Scongack, Executive-Vice President Corporate Affairs & Operational Services at Bruce Power, Annette Verschuren, Chair and CEO of NRStor Inc. and Josipa Petrunic, Executive Director & CEO of CUTRIC shared their insights as leaders in energy production, storage and use.
Since 2003, there have been major changes in Ontario’s energy sector. Most notable is the shift from 30% coal-based energy (7 GW) to 0%. Ontario now has a zero-emissions electricity grid. Seventy percent of the energy needed to phase out coal came from nuclear power, according to Scongack. The remainder came from renewables, such as hydroelectric, wind and solar.
Energy storage is one of the remaining challenges. Currently, the grid functions entirely “on-demand.” This means that energy is used immediately upon production. It also means a lot of waste. During non-peak times, hydroelectric facilities spill water, wind turbines are turned off and excess energy is sold to the United States at prices lower than production costs.
Improved energy storage systems will address much of the waste issue, according to Verschuren. NRStor is commercializing short, medium and long-term energy storage technologies. Short-term storage offer a short holding time (15 minutes) which simply helps to smooth the peaks and valleys in demand during peak times. Longer-term storage technologies, such as the conversion of energy to compressed air, offer the potential to store huge amounts of energy indefinitely.
Verschuren is excited about the potential of storage technology to reduce Ontario’s energy waste. But she points to regulatory challenges as a major barrier to commercialization. For example, Ontario does not currently have policy in place to regulate the commercial use of compressed air. Verschuren and her colleagues have spent nearly 2 years supporting the development of such a regulation, so that they can get a permit to deploy compressed air energy storage.
Electric vehicles are another viable form of energy storage. When charged during non-peak times, electric vehicles consume excess, low-carbon electricity and then use that electricity in lieu of gasoline or diesel. (This also has the added benefit of creating jobs in Ontario, according to Petrunic. Energy production happens in-province while diesel must be imported.)
Petrunic has been leading efforts to deploy electric bus fleets across several Canadian cities. She’s learned that any change to energy systems requires investment and collaboration by many stakeholders. For example, cities must purchase new buses and hire staff to maintain them. Local electric utilities must invest in charging infrastructure. Technology providers must agree on universal charging ports. Siloed government departments, such as the Ministry of Transportation and Ministry of the Environment, must coordinate appropriate regulation. And citizens must be consulted and supportive.
Beyond improving our own production, storage and use, Ontarians should also look to capitalize on international markets for our energy. For example, while Ontario’s 7 GW coal phase-out is recognized globally as the largest, sub-national effort to address climate change, it is humbled by China’s 1000 MW coal consumption, according to Scongack. Seeking opportunities to export our energy and energy technology could help reduce global carbon emissions, while bolstering the Ontario’s economy.
Written by Chelsea Hicks-Webster, with valued input from Eric Lee (University of Toronto) and Peter Murphy (University of Toronto)