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Sault hosting test facility for energy storage

Built by Convergent Energy + Power, the lithium-ion battery system will have a storage capacity of 7 megawatts.
Sault Ste. Marie will be home to a new pilot project that will test the viability of storing energy, generated from wind and solar sources, for later usage. File photo

A new pilot project is taking shape in Sault Ste. Marie that will study the viability of storing energy, and with it comes the promise of a more stable power grid and a $2-million investment in the community.

Convergent Energy + Power is currently constructing a lithium-ion battery system with a storage capacity of 7 megawatts of power, which will store energy produced by the city’s existing solar and wind farms.

The company has secured a three-year contract with the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) to supply power to the Ontario grid, which will then be disseminated to customers around the province. The facility is being constructed adjacent to the city’s Public Utilities Commission (PUC) in the north end of the city, and uses IESO transmission infrastructure.

Tremor Temchin, Convergent’s director of Canadian operations, said the ability to store energy and use it at a later date helps stabilize the power grid by making it more reliable during times of low production.

Typically, Temchin said the battery would charge at night when energy is cheaper and demand is low, and then discharge energy during the day, during peak times when production is high.

“If Sault Ste. Marie is producing so much wind and solar, if you can’t use it at the time it’s being produced, it has to go to other places,” said Temchin, during a presentation to Sault city council on Jan. 23.

“With storage, you can produce solar energy, store it in the battery and then use it at night when there is no energy. So it has the benefit to shift usage.”

Although Convergent’s contract with the IESO is only for three years, Temchin said the system itself has a lifespan of between 10 and 20 years, and so there could be an opportunity to expand the project beyond the pilot. But that decision would be up to the IESO, he added.

Pre-development work on the system was completed last October and construction is expected to be complete by April. The system will be operational by May.

With offices in New York and Toronto, Convergent currently has a handful of energy-storage projects across North America that are in progress or up and running.

The Sault Ste. Marie project will be one of the first such projects to be operational in Canada, Temchin noted.

He outlined the company’s core principles as creating value that justifies the project’s cost and fitting the technology to the project and the community.

“Convergent is not a technology company,” he said. “We don’t sell a branded system of battery or flywheel; we are technology-neutral. We try to find the best technology in the energy storage space and use them for the applications they’re designed for.”

In this case, the system is being supplied by General Electric.

The highly secure system is fully sealed and will produce zero noise and zero emissions. Temchin described it as a “very safe, very reliable system.”

“Once commissioned, we will bring in the fire department to do a walk-through of the fire suppression system so they’re up to date and go through best practices to address any emergency scenario that may arise,” he said.

Perhaps the best part for the City of Sault Ste. Marie is that there is no cost to the community as host of the project.

In fact, Temchin estimates the Sault battery project will inject about $2 million into the city’s economy, and a number of local companies have already been contracted for design, engineering and construction services, including STEM Engineering Group, WSP, S&T Group, N-Sci Technologies, and SalDan Construction Group.

Over the long term, the facility isn’t expected to create much permanent employment, as Convergent monitors the system and dispatches the energy from a distance. There will, however, be an opportunity for a local company to pick up the annual servicing work for the duration of the three-year contract, Temchin said.

Yet, for a community that has billed itself the ‘Alternative Energy Capital of North America,’ an energy storage project is another feather in its cap.

“I think this project is a step in this direction,” Temchin said. “It’s going to be one of the first energy storage systems to be operational in Canada, and I think it will help people see how progressive Sault Ste. Marie is.”