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Canada NatGas Utilities Showcasing Expertise in Nascent Energy Storage Industry

As AltaGas Inc. charges up one of North America’s biggest batteries, Canadian natural gas and power companies are uniting to amplify the Calgary firm’s Southern California breakthrough into an export growth industry.

International sales have swiftly emerged as a top priority of the new Energy Storage Canada (ESC), a coalition of 54 Ontario and Alberta utilities, equipment suppliers, technical trade groups, engineering and law firms, and government agencies.

“As a nascent industry in Canada, energy storage players have until recently been more focused on building projects and developing the market domestically,” said an ESC business plan for a coordinated international expansion campaign.

“This has been a critical step in building expertise and having the ability to showcase domestic success to potential foreign buyers.”

The Canadian market is limited, but it’s a big world.

“Increasingly, energy storage companies are seeking opportunities abroad in jurisdictions where policies are necessitating a move toward greater deployment of renewable energy sources, more emphasis on climate change priorities, and a recognition that energy storage creates more efficiency and resilience in energy systems,” ESC said.

AltaGas set an example for ESC members with a $45 million project at Pomona, near Los Angeles. Last month AltaGas also secured a role in Marcellus Shale gas development with a friendly takeover of Washington, DC-based WGL Holdings Inc.

The Canadian electricity storage export matched a more celebrated, U.S.-owned Tesla installation that has begun operating at Southern California Edison’s (SoCalEd) Mira Loma distribution substation.

In only six months, from making a 10-year supply contract with SoCalEd last August to an official opening ceremony last weekend, the Calgary firm erected a 40-MW array of refrigerator-size, lithium-ion battery towers capable of satisfying electricity needs of 15,000 homes for four hours.

Both projects grew out of a call for electric system reliability improvements by the California Public Utilities Commission, following a 2015 leak from the Aliso Canyon natural gas storage site that has shuttered, at least for now, the facility. The accident jeopardized power supplies by limiting the ability of gas-fired generators to respond to peak demand periods.

Like AltaGas and Tesla, the newborn ESC sees the spread of renewable power generation as creating the same need as the gas leak spawned in Southern California everywhere for electricity storage backup sites. Utility-scale battery complexes are forecast to become increasingly necessary to top up electricity supplies when calm spells and darkness interrupt wind and solar generation.

“Worldwide demand for grid-scale energy storage is estimated to reach over 185.4 gigawatt-hours in 2017,” said the ESC export business plan. “This represents a $113.5 billion incremental revenue opportunity for an industry that currently generates sales of $50-60 billion a year.”

ESC members are already reaching for pieces of the action in the United Kingdom, the Caribbean and Germany as well as the United States. India and China are also in the Canadian utilities’ long-range marketing sights.

“Over the next three years, ESC is focused on helping Canada’s industry in markets where there is growing potential for storage -- specifically, ones where increased renewables and carbon emissions reductions priorities are paramount,” ESC said.

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