April 15, 2016
“The storage system was installed and commissioned while I was here. I developed communication and then how to operate and use the storage system,” said Watson who did his undergraduate studies in Physics at Mount Allison University and his Masters in Integration and Renewable Energy in the UK and Spain.
There were many hurdles to overcome initially, and WEICan CEO, Scott Harper describes that phase as “the terrible twos.”
Getting the various components of the integrated system “talking” to each other, was a challenge, Watson admits; a task made more demanding because the developers of the various components were from different countries and languages.
“It was like a meeting of the UN,” said Harper, adding that some developers were several time zones away.
“Most issues weren’t moving mountains,” he said; “they were tweaks.”
Sideways snow was a unique challenge, Watson admits. That’s what can occur at one of the windiest places in Atlantic Canada. Steps had to be taken to prevent the wind from blowing snow into the battery vents.
WEICan added more turbines to its wind park in April, 2013, and had the massive battery, the size of two shipping containers, installed 10 month’s later. It’s a Durathon Sodium Nickel Chloride battery supplied by GE.
“What we’re trying to do with the battery, to date,” said Harper, has been prove technically that it can be reliable - it can do what it’s told reliably - and that you can then look at its efficiencies and anything else that goes into those economic models.”
It’s not safe having the battery feeding the grid during power outages when crews are out repairing damaged lines but it can help supply the grid and have the turbines ready to turn during that peak demand period that comes as soon as power to the grid is restored.
Watson explained the battery could help keep turbine motors and pumps warm so that there would be no lag time when the switch is flipped on.
Safety features still have to be built in so there would be assurances power would not be flowing onto the grid during the outage. “We’ve proven we can do it,” Harper noted.
While the main economic benefit of the battery is in supplying electricity to the grid during peak demand or periods of low wind, Harper is hoping it can also help reduce the wind farm’s insurance rates by proving the battery can allow the turbines to yaw into the wind during power outages, thus protecting the blades from side winds.
What the research facility is doing, he added, is gaining the attention of academics and renewable energy parks. He recalls a workshop the federal government put on two years ago at Mill River which looked at integrating wind into various systems. Naturally, delegates toured WEICan’s facility.
“What was a little surprising to me was you’d have guys from Ontario seeing opportunities with the battery over here (gesturing with his hands) and guys from Alberta would see it over there, and there was somebody from Minnesota who was up and he thought it was more here,” Harper recalls. “They all saw value, but they all saw it in different ways.”
And utilities are interested in how the battery could work for them. “It’s good for them to see what the potential is as they make decisions down the road,” said Harper.