Canada’s Maritime provinces are blustery, cold, and powered by coal. The weather is fine for most people (and lovely in the summer), but they know they need to transition to renewable energy quickly or risk losing more land to the seas and worsening storms due to climate change. The work to get the power grid to be a green one is underway.
Researchers and policy makers are looking into ways to make their power grid more robust by incorporating modern battery technology. The technology varies from smart water heaters to store heat to phase-change energy storage which is gaining popularity around the world.
Several companies in the Maritimes are investigating the possibility of integrating phase-change materials into heat sources to allow more integration of renewables.
One is Fredericton-based Stash Energy. Dan Curwin, director of business development, said they’ve developed heat pumps with phase-change material storage built in, to store energy from renewable sources like hydro when it’s plentiful, such as overnight, and discharge it in the morning when demand is high, to be stored up again from renewables like solar during the day.
This can help with the integration of renewables and with greater adoption of electric heat pumps, which are the most efficient heating option but risk overburdening the grid.
Curwin said the company has partnerships with efficiency agencies across Atlantic Canada and New England, as well as housing authorities such as Housing Nova Scotia that recognize the particular burden posed by heating costs.
Trains are great for efficiently moving freight long distances and are used the world over. Many regions already have all electric rail systems, but in North America electric adoption hasn’t happened. Historically, this has been due to the installation and maintenance costs for the vast distances of overhead electric wires. Advances in battery technology hopes to change this.
An American company, Wabtec, built and tested their FLXdrive engine last year and found it worked rather well. The engine is built on the same platform as their Diesel engines but runs off of batteries more powerful than a Tesla’s and can regenerate energy with braking.
However, the environmental benefits of rail have been undermined by the heavy reliance upon diesel to fuel freight trains, as well asa widespread preferenceamong businesses to move goods via trucks rather than trains. This is a problem globally beyond the U.S. â€” the International Energy Agencyhas saidthat freight rail is â€œoften neglectedâ€ in climate debates and currently carries only seven per cent of all freight moved around the world.
A greater tonnage of goods is now moved by trucks on roads than by rail, however, and the rail industry hopes action on the climate crisis will prove advantageous to its own prospects. â€œIf we decarbonize all of the locomotives and decrease the number of trucks, we will get to where we need to be,â€ said Gebhardt. Medium and heavy-duty trucks are responsible for about a quarter of all U.S. emissions from transportation,according to the Environmental Protection Agency, more than double the pollution emitted by aircraft.
One criticism of renewable energy systems is that they do not function on demand. You need the sun to shine, the wind to blow, or another natural system to kick into effect. This means that energy will be created when it isn’t needed.
The solution is to take that surplus energy and convert into a storage system that can be turned on when it is demanded. In Toronto, there is presently a pilot project by Hydrostor that is converting that stored energy into compressed air. The air stays compressed thanks to the giant lake that sits on top of the balloon holding the air.
â€œMost of the world is saying we have to get off fossil fuels,â€ he said. â€œTo do that, you need lots of energy storage.â€
In the same way an everyday battery banks energy using chemicals, Hydrostor relies on compressed, bottled air. And because it produces zero emissions, the system can help Toronto adjust to a healthier low-carbon diet.
It works by stockpiling surplus energy generated during off-peak periods and converting it into compressed air. This air is then sent underwater, stored in balloons and saved, literally in some cases, for a rainy day.
Nissan has built a car that can charge on the road then use the excess charge it holds to power a home. This car can then be used to power a home in the case of a blackout or an emergency.
The system works by linking the car via a quick charging port to the house’s electricity distribution panel. Power can also be fed the other way if the house generates its own electricity with rooftop solar panels.
The Leaf batteries have a capacity of 24 kilowatt hours when fully charged, equivalent to the electricity used by the average Japanese household in two days, said the company.
The output from the vehicle comes to six kilowatts, enough to power electricity-guzzling appliances such as a refrigerator, air conditioner and washing machine at the same time, the company said.
A printer company has developed a prototype battery powered from quick vibrations that can power low-intestity electronics like remote controls. This is a good development in battery technology because it shows what’s possible and may entice companies to start selling batteries that are powered by a simple shake.
The idea behind the technology is to remove the need for toxic rechargeable batteries and other disposable batteries that can harm the environment, said the company.
So far, two of the AA sized prototypes developed produce a voltage of 3.2V or lower, which is just enough to charge low power consumption device such as TV remote controls.
Despite the low power, Carl Telford an analyst at electronics business consultants Strategic Business Insights, says the batteries are a significant break through with much potential.
“It’s great because they will work OK in a low-power application for AA batteries that one can shake without breaking; a remote control, for example,” he told BBC News.
“Of its size, it is small, compact, and directly compatible with existing power sources. Brother says that it can produce enough power at reasonably low frequencies, around 4-8Hz – this is impressive.