Has NRStor found the “holy grail” of renewable energy?

By: Craig Stephens (York Sustainable Enterprise Consultants)

A Toronto-based startup called NRStor is tackling the largest problem and most frequent argument against renewable energy technology – that it is not a reliable form of electricity since it is so intermittent – for example, the sun is not always shining or wind is not always blowing at a time that it is needed most.

The solution lies in energy storage, often times referred to as the “holy grail” of the electricity sector since it can bring reliability and predictability to renewable energy installations.

Electricity has typically been delivered on a “just-in-time” basis, meaning when a spike in demand came, the operator would make decisions about electricity production based on real-time demand and the availability of transmission to deliver.

In 2012, the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) selected NRStor to develop a 2 MW flywheel storage project in collaboration with Temporal Power, Canadian manufacturer of the world’s highest energy flywheels.

NRStor selected Minto, in Wellington County, as their site and began construction in late 2013. In 2014, the project was connected to the grid and began operation as the first commercial flywheel facility in Canada.

What is flywheel energy storage? A flywheel is a kinetic battery of sorts, when there is more power in the grid than is needed; some of that electricity is used to spin flywheels (large solid steel disks) up to a high-speed rotation. When electricity demand quickly jumps, the flywheels then use their momentum to generate electricity until their momentum runs out. This simple system holds many benefits for Ontario’s power grid since it can effectively balance the frequent peaks and drops in demand without the need for heavy polluting gas generators.

Although the flywheel site was NRStor’s first development, they have many other interesting storage projects in the works.

NR store 2

In 2015, the company was selected to develop a Compressed Air Energy Storage (CAES) project using an underground-retired salt cavern in Southwestern Ontario. It is estimated that such a facility could yield between $6.5 and $8.3 billion dollars in savings to Ontario ratepayers over 20 years, while reducing carbon emissions by 87 million tonnes over the same period.

In 2015, NRStor also gained distribution rights to Tesla’s Powerwall home battery system in a joint venture with Opus One Solutions Energy Corp.

How has a small startup made such big headlines so quickly? Much of the momentum has been accredited to NRStor Inc.’s CEO and chair, Annette Verschuren. Well known in both the Canadian business and sustainable energy, Verschuren was formerly the president of The Home Depot Canada and Asia. She grew Canadian operations from 19 to 179 stores between 1996 and 2011, and also led The Home Depot’s entry into China between 2006 and 2009. In a recent interview with BNN’s Kim Parlee, Verschuren described energy storage as being “the great answer to making renewable energy more efficient… it’s the missing link”. She is a renowned leader and a strong go-getter making it evident that this Ontario based company is in good hands, as it has already been proven.

It will be very interesting to see what the future has in store for NRStor and how they will use their knowledge of technology and business to benefit Ontario’s power grid.

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