The Globe and Mail wrote a piece about grid-scale batteries in Alberta, highlighting Enfinite, which has built a fleet of 20-megawatt grid-scale batteries across the province. Six are online so far, and more will go online in the coming days. However, there’s a lot that the story left out, like the fact those very expensive batteries provide only a few minutes of power each month.

Here’s the original Nov. 23 story, entitled: “Energy storage gains a foothold, but vast expansion needed to decarbonize, experts say,”

Promotional material on Enfinite’s websites states, “Using battery storage supports the reliability of the local distribution network. Battery storage holds energy generated today, then releases that energy to the distribution system during peak demand when consumers need power the most.”

Except the six grid-scale batteries Alberta already has don’t really do that very often, i.e. “release that energy to the distribution system during peak demand, when consumers need it most.”

And example would be Thursday, Nov. 23. From 9:39 pm. Nov. 2 (the previous night), until 3:39 p.m, on Nov. 23, a period of 18 hours, wind power generation in Alberta was very low, below 2.2 per cent of output. It even fell as low as 0.3 per cent of output, during that time, or 14 megawatts. (2.2 per cent is 100 megawatts). Alberta’s now 44 wind farms have a combined nameplate capacity of 4,420 megawatts.

Solar, of course, did not produce any power at night, but it also produced next to no power during the day, too. It peaked at 12:38 p.m., at 156 megawatts, or 10.6 per cent capacity at the same time wind was barely generating any power – just 30 megawatts.

And for much of the working day, the pool price shot up such that it was between $500 and $809 per megawatt-hour, a clear indication of a shortage of power on the system in a market-based pricing system.

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And yet Alberta’s seven grid-scale batteries, six of which are Enfinite units, provided next to no power all day long. Only two of the seven provided any power whatsoever. eReserve2 Buffalo Creek provided seven megawatts (out of capacity of 20 megawatts) from 10:59 to 11:36 a.m., a total of 37 minutes. That’s according to Dispatcho.app, a website which provides minute-by-minute logs of the data provided by the Alberta Electric System Operator (AESO).

eReserve5 Hughenden provided its full 20 megawatts from 11:03 a.m. to 11:28 a.m.

Screen capture from Enfinite promo video posted on LinkedIn, showing its eReserve2 Buffalo Creek grid-scale battery. Enfinite/LinkedIn

 

And that was it, from the entire fleet of 7 grid-scale batteries (six of which are Enfinite units) over 24 hours, a day when the province saw power prices spike as wind and solar generation collapsed. The seven battery units provided a total of 62 minutes of power to the grid, out of a possible 10,080 minutes between them (60 minutes x 24 hours x 7 batteries). That’s power output totaling 0.6 per cent of capacity, or 6 one-thousandths of the available time.

And this behaviour was indicative of grid-scale battery usage in Alberta. Throughout the last year, Pipeline Online has observed that typically each battery provides power to the grid three times per month, typically for 9 to 23 minutes at a time. There are rare occasions when the power output is longer, say up to an hour, but the power output is typically diminished from the full 20 megawatt capacity, as evidenced by eReserve2, above.

For example, in the last 30 days ending Nov. 23, eReserve1 Rycroft provided power twice, for 13 minutes on Nov. 3, and 23 minutes on Nov. 16. (Clicking on the links will take you to the Dispatcho.app reference for each one of those events)

eReserve2 Buffalo Creek provided power for 19 minutes on Nov. 16, and the aforementioned 37 minutes on Nov. 23.

eReserve3 Mercer Hill provided 15 minutes on Oct. 27 and 23 minutes on Nov. 16.

eReserve4 is located adjacent to eReserv6. eReserve4 provided eight minutes on Nov. 14 and 20 minutes on Nov. 16.

eReserve5 Hughenden provided six minutes on Nov. 14, 19 minutes on Nov. 16, and 25 minutes on Nov. 23.

eReserve6 produced seven minutes on Nov. 14 and 20 minutes on Nov. 16.

Summerview, which is owned by TransAlta’s wholly owned subsidiary, Western Sustainable Power Corporation, is the only 10 megawatt battery. It’s also unique in that it is tied into the “WindCharger” wind farms next door. Summerview provided 13 minutes of power on Nov. 3, and 23 minutes on Nov. 16.

All of this can be confirmed by pouring through the data found here, at Dispatcho.app.

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Cumulatively, between the seven grid-scale batteries in Alberta, there were 302,400 minutes in 30 days ending on Nov. 23. And collectively, they provided 235 minutes of power. That’s 0.08 per cent of the time, or 8 ten-thousandths of the time in service providing power.

Nowhere in the Globe story did it indicate that Alberta’s batteries typically provide power a few scant minutes, a handful of times per month. It did say, “For Canada to build storage capacity, its various energy system operators and governments need to start planning now for the needs of the future, Mr. Rangooni says. Technologies that hold energy for longer are more complicated projects to build compared with installing a barrage of batteries, so will require more forethought – but will also have a more substantive payoff, he says.”

This is how the Globe characterized grid scale batteries: “Enfinite, already the biggest player in energy storage in Alberta, is about to flip the switch on 60 more megawatts (MW) of capacity spread over three facilities near Grande Prairie, about 450 kilometres northwest of Edmonton.

“The new projects – “days away” from coming online – will bring the company’s total energy storage capacity to 180 MW, chief executive officer Jason White says. They’re among the latest additions in what he sees as a big year for the adoption of energy storage technology, in his province and beyond.”

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It continued, “Enfinite’s utility-scale Tesla “Megapack” lithium ion batteries will add to Canada’s still relatively small capacity for energy storage, estimated by industry group Energy Storage Canada to be less than one gigawatt (1,000 MW) in total across the country. Energy Storage Canada estimates that in order to reach Canada’s climate goals of a net-zero electricity grid by 2035, we’ll need at least eight to 12 times that capacity.”

As for Enfinite, its website notes they are “Leaders in Energy Transition – We are Canada’s only specialized renewable storage provider. We remove the unpredictability from renewable energy sources by efficiently storing generated electricity in battery reserves to guarantee a continuous, stable supply of power for the grid.”

In its Sept. 20 press release, Jason White, chief executive officer of Enfinite, said, “Our energy storage projects help address some of the challenges facing Alberta’s grid and we are committed to continue to support the province as it seeks to strengthen grid reliability.”

The release went on to say, “Enfinite is proud to provide safe, innovative, and reliable energy storage infrastructure. Three more eReserve projects are anticipated to be energized and operating prior to year-end, which will bring its total to 315MWh of energy storage facilities in operation within Alberta. In addition to its eReserve program, Enfinite has over 1 GWh of proposed stand-alone energy storage projects in various stages of development within Alberta and other Canadian provinces.”

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It added, “As demand for electricity surges across the country, Canada needs reliable and safe solutions that address the evolution of how consumers interact with our electrical infrastructure,” says White. “Energy storage is becoming a vital piece of that puzzle and will continue to be as the energy landscape changes. At Enfinite, we are at the forefront of providing these critical solutions to enable a more economical, resilient, and sustainable electricity system for all Canadians, regardless of how their power is generated.”

Its press releases note that, “Our battery energy storage systems facilitate the delivery of sustainable energy, renewable generation smoothing, system voltage and capacity support, as well as grid frequency regulation.”

In 2022, when Enfinite announced the current expansion of an additional 140 megawatts for Alberta, did not state a price in its press release. However, SaskPower is currently installing a 20 megawatt battery of its own on the east side of Regina. The Crown corporation listed the price as $26 million in its press release. That announcement was made within weeks of Enfinite’s announcement, but lists Saft America as the battery provider. Enfinite, as noted above, uses Tesla units.

SaskPower’s explainer video also fails to note that Alberta’s experience, to date, is that each battery of that scale has provided only a few minutes of power per month, a few times per month.

 

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