Energy storage: a kW saved is a kW earned

By Michel Carreau | December 6, 2017

Energy storage is about much more than making renewable power available and reliable. This technology is providing solutions that benefit the entire energy-supply chain. It delivers power transmission and distribution systems with power-smoothing and ancillary services. It integrates distributed energy resources, including renewable power, to improve demand-side management. Perhaps most importantly, it is taking on what is rapidly becoming the biggest challenge of all: grid stability and resilience.

Like all major changes, a number of factors are driving this push to implement high-functioning energy storage. First is the cost of electricity, which is increasing and will no doubt continue to increase. Energy storage technology is evolving to become at least part of a solution to mitigate rising prices for consumers. 

Second is the role that storage solutions can play, not just to reduce energy costs, but to increase resiliency for big-energy users like processing plants, mines, and ports. This is done largely through demand-side-management techniques, like peak shaving that reduces peak charges and stores off-peak power for use during times when energy is more expensive. Today’s technology can smooth transmission interruptions and inconsistencies, reducing downtime production losses and equipment failures. This is opening up whole new possibilities of innovative project-cost efficiencies.

Next is our aging infrastructure and its struggle to cope with an ever-increasing power load. This is quickly becoming an urgent issue with respect to energy-transmission capacity limits and grid stability. The next great thing will be smaller, decentralized generation facilities that will reduce pressure on long-distance transmission systems. When this happens, in remote locations especially, energy storage may be the only way to integrate various generation sources and ensure the reliability of the supply.

Another driver for the growth of energy storage is the vast improvement in the technology itself. Compared with just a few years ago, the storage footprint is progressively shrinking, allowing us to fit more and more megawatts into fewer containers. Extending the lifetime of energy storage translates to reduced cost.

In mining, incentives for embracing energy storage solutions can be particularly compelling. There are opportunities for demand-peak savings and demand smoothing that these solutions could bring to your operation right now.

Energy storage can offer grid support with respect to frequency and voltage. It provides reactive power and spinning reserves that allow the gensets to operate at optimal points. The stored energy increases grid stability, reduces load shedding or blackouts, and cuts a mine’s production downtime. Moreover, these power-smoothing and peak-shaving qualities can reduce the size and rating of equipment that mines need. It might even be possible to delay capital investment when the transmission load increases, because energy storage smooths the load, allowing existing equipment to operate longer before power limits are reached.

Running in parallel to these drivers is the world’s heightened sensitivity to low-carbon solutions and all things environment-friendly. Following the Paris Agreement of 2015, carbon taxes are being implemented that will push the cost of fossil fuel higher still. Legislation is being enacted and implemented globally to tax the big carbon emitters in favor of low-carbon options.

Not too long ago, the thought of implementing renewable power in remote mining sites was a wild idea. There were virtually no projects with track records for doing so. Today however, with rapid advancement in storage solutions and technologies, energy storage that’s combined with renewable power is becoming a viable option. No mine will develop a remote site using only fossil fuel if it can be done less expensively by combining renewables. Projects will be designed with plans for renewable energy because it can be coupled with energy storage to ensure grid stability and reliability.

After decades of development and refinement, these technology shifts are coming on strong and fast. The examples of success we see are fueling optimism for more. Goldcorp’s Borden Lake operation near Chapleau, Ontario, is Canada’s first totally electric underground mine. It is confirming that smaller-sized, electrically powered equipment can be perfectly serviceable in smaller operations. The lithium batteries they use are not yet ready for big sites with larger trucks and high-volume mining equipment. But it’s only a matter of time.

Mining companies need to holistically review all aspects of their operations, weighing the relative merits of energy alternatives, including energy storage. A careful and responsible determination needs to be made that considers the life-of-mine and the length of time needed to realize reasonable returns on the investment made in renewable generation and storage options.

Ultimately, the most critical change needed for today’s power-storage technology to take hold may be the slowest to affect. The strongest resistance is to the change in “mindset” that’s needed—a new way of thinking and approaching problems that is just now beginning to filter into the mining sector. This transition in the minds of mining leadership is a competitive necessity. To be able to stare down the competition in five years, preparation must begin now. The use cases and proof-of-concept sites are springing up everywhere. Soon, there will be no difficulty finding demonstrable evidence of all the benefits energy-storage technology has to offer.

For a more detailed evaluation of the state of energy storage and how it stands to revolutionize the way we think about energy provision, download our white paper, Energy Storage.