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Leading the Charge from home: Fifth annual energy storage conference goes virtual

By: Vanessa Balintec
November 26, 2020

This year's Leading the Charge Conference looked a little different. 

The fifth edition of the annual Leading the Charge Conference took place on Thursday, Oct. 8. Billed as Canada’s energy storage conference and hosted as part of the NSERC Energy Storage Technology Network (NESTNet), the event provided a stage for participants to exchange the latest information and insights on storage in all its various forms and share the latest research and development news. This year, the event took place online due to the COVID-19 pandemic with 104 people tuning in from across the country and around the globe. The audience heard from a who’s who of industry insiders, who shared their perspectives during four fascinating sessions.

Session 1

Susan Uthayakumar, country president of Schneider Electric Canada, opened the conference with a warm welcoming address.

“I feel that as we look at the future and as we look at sustainability and energy storage, we in the country and globally have to come together to create that solution for a cleaner future,” she said before introducing the next speaker, Terry Young, interim president and CEO of the IESO, who touched upon the priorities for his organization moving forward.

“We’re starting to look at various technologies: we’ve got some work we want to keep doing on storage, there’s work we want to do around demand response, we’re looking at different ways of partnering storage with some of the facilities like wind. So it feels like we’re at this critical point where there’s a fair amount of investment from us [and] from others to keep moving in the direction that we need to move in,” he said. 

Session 2

In the next session, Neetika Sathe, the Alectra vice president of the Green Energy and Technology (GRE&T) Centre and the chair of NESTNet’s board of directors, moderated a discussion about the current state of Canadian energy storage with panelists Dave Rogers, founder and CEO of Amp, Hani Taki, director of Standards and Technical Studies at Toronto Hydro, Alexandre Nassif, a specialist engineer of Planning and Operations at ATCO Electric, and Ammar Nawaz, the vice president of Distributed Energy Solutions at Alectra. 

Nassif touched upon what energy storage looks like today and its future potential. 

“What we see today, we see predominantly lithium-ion batteries if they are being used for electrical applications, but in the future as technology matures, costs reduce and regulations allow, we think we’re going to be seeing a lot more diversification of technologies too,” he said. “We’ve seen a lot of exploration, not connection yet, but we believe it will be [available] in the future.”

Ammar Nawat chimed in on how the average energy consumer’s preferences in how energy is generated will impact how energy is made and stored. 

“Our customers today are a lot more aware - this is not a typical utility customer back in the 80s or the 70s,” he said. “They want to be in control of their energy systems; they care about how their energy is being sourced, its carbon footprint and most importantly, if their energy provider is environmentally conscious and responsible. This is where I believe energy storage holds the key in transforming a sector that quite frankly has seen little transformation in technology or business model.”

Session 3

Building upon Young’s comments earlier in the day, the third session kicked of with a presentation by IESO supervisor for advanced technology research Edward Arlitt, who presented an overview for his organization’s completed Storage Design Project, a culmination of over two years of stakeholder consultation on energy integration and eight years of field research. The system operator has now begun the process of amending its market rules to implement the project’s interim design measures, to go into force in early 2021. 

“I think what we really want to do is now send a signal to the NESTNet community that we are definitely turning our attention to behind-the-metre and hybrid storage,” said Arlitt. “It’s a major reason why we’re now funding a transactive energy research chair at Ryerson University, it’s why we’re still heavily engaged with NESTNet on behind-the-meter storage-type problems. The IESO will have a lot more specifically to talk about both of these topics in the very near future.”

Panelists Sarah Griffiths, director, head of regulatory affairs at Enel Group, Frédérick Morency, vice president of Energy and Services at Schneider Electric Canada and Matt Sachs, COO of Peak Power, joined Arlitt and moderator Jessie Ma, IESO Research Fellow at the Centre for Urban Energy. Transactive energy, as the panelists agreed, will change the way energy is generated, sold and used.

“All the projections are showing the consumption of electricity will double in the next 20 years. This offers a great deal of opportunity,” said Morency. “I don’t think we can afford the same approach as we have taken in the past in building massive generating infrastructure and transmission lines and so on. This peer-to-peer energy transaction is a way to free up this capacity and enable us to build the energy infrastructure of tomorrow.”

Session 4

During the fourth and final session, which was moderated by F. Handan Tezel, professor at University of Ottawa, Yulong Ding, director of Birmingham Centre for Energy Storage at the University of Birmingham, Andrew Rowe, executive director at the Institute for Integrated Energy Systems at University of Victoria, Ian Rowlands, professor at University of Waterloo and Lukas Swan, professor at Dalhousie University, discussed the very latest energy storage technologies from their labs.

“I think people are understanding there’s nuances in terms of the GHG (greenhouse gas) value of hydrogen depending upon the resource we use,” said Rowe, who distinguished between so-called green, blue and black hydrogen. “The electrolysis is clearly the nice one when it comes to carbon, but the problem compared to the other two is the cost issue.”

Moving forward, the future of energy storage and production needs to be equitable and sustainable, said Rowlands.

“As we think about the future of energy systems, I think we’ve got to make sure we don’t leave anybody behind," said Rowlands. “That might be financial, that might be regulatory and that might be strategy reflecting on how different kinds of policies cross fertilize as well.”

Picking up on this theme, Bala Venkatesh, the academic director of the Centre for Urban Energy, wrapped up the conference with a note of solidarity. 

“When we make this energy transition happen, it has to be equitable and we have to make sure everyone is taken along with us on that journey,” he said.

 Vanessa Balintec is a fourth-year journalism student at Ryerson University

"I don’t think we can afford the same approach as we have taken in the past in building massive generating infrastructure and transmission lines and so on. This peer-to-peer energy transaction is a way to free up this capacity and enable us to build the energy infrastructure of tomorrow."