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S&C Electric to Build Utility-Scale Battery Storage in Canada


06/23/2011 1:00PM

Costs, outages to be cut by $15-million project

S&C Electric will spearhead a $15-million British Columbia grid-scale storage project using sodium-sulfur batteries intended to reduce costs and outages, it told the press yesterday. BC Hydro pegged the Chicago-based company for the project serving the municipalities of Golden and Field, B.C.

S&C will install two 1-MW sodium-sulfur batteries supplied by NGK Insulators of Japan. The battery in Golden will supplement power. The one in Field will store up to seven hours of power for use during outages.

The batteries will promote peak shaving, reducing costs to consumers and balancing the grid, said Michael Edmonds, S&C's VP of strategic solutions. According to Mr. Edmonds, the batteries will discharge during peak times, when power is priciest. The actual challenge here is that as consumers change their consumption habits, the grid needs to change power at different times. If you can spread that peak energy on the demand side of it, you start to increase utilization of existing assets.

Paying less for power

Sodium-sulfur batteries provide support to the grid by storing cheap and abundant power. They can then send that cheaper power to the grid when power prices are higher. That means Field and Golden residents could pay less for power, even during periods when prices would otherwise be highest.

The project is distinctive because it includes a storage-management system. That system lets the battery automatically adjust to demand. For example, Mr. Edmonds said, the battery can discharge more intensively when more people plug in EVs.

S&C chose sodium sulfur because of the project's size, Edmonds said. Lithium-ion, the other technology considered, would have been too small and required multiple batteries. But one of the main drawbacks to sodium-sulfur batteries is that they require constant maintenance, he said. They must be heated during dormant periods to ensure that the liquid sodium does not solidify.

The Natural Resources Canada's Clean Energy Fund is funding half the project. BC Hydro is funding the other half. The utility could not be reached yesterday for comment on the project, including how it will raise those funds. But Joe Oliver, Canadian Minister of Natural Resources, said in prepared remarks on BC Hydro's website, This innovative energy-storage project is not only encouraging clean energy investment in B.C., but will also reduce greenhouse gas emissions compared to conventional technologies.

The emerging grid-scale storage market may offer utilities a way to store their excess productsomething they have desired for decades. It also could help integrate renewable energy sources and accommodate the growing EV industry. But not all new storage technologies will have a lasting impact. Some may dwindle in popularity, meaning utilities today must make smart decisions for a somewhat unclear future. Questions linger over response time, cost and who will pay for the systems (SGT, Dec-21).

Reducing outages

Intended as a backup power source, the project also will reduce outages, Mr. Edmonds said. The firm installed a sodium-sulfur battery in the tiny Texas town of Presidio, for backup purposes (SGT, 2009-Jun-22). It is the town's only fallback should it lose power from the grid, which relies on a problematic transmission line built in 1948. The Presidio project helped the growing town delay costly capital improvements.

The BC Hydro plan shows that storage technology is constantly evolving, Mr. Edmonds said. The Presidio battery initially encountered problems managing faults because it was not connected to the grid, and downstream fuses could not manage violent power spikes. It was difficult to track the battery's 6 MW output, creating logistical problems, he said.

S&C's 18-month-old IntelliTeam SG system, which will be part of planned BC Hydro installation, helps remedy those problems, Mr. Edmonds said. I wouldn't say it was easy, but we worked through what needed to be done about how to deploy a system that can work on and off the grid. IntelliTeam SG is faster. It's a new approach. It's a marked improvement.