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Enel boosts Ontario battery storage operations, sees more growth

IMAGE: A battery storage system for Berry Global in Belleville, Ont.
A battery storage system for Berry Global in Belleville, Ont. (Courtesy Enel)

Enel North America, the subsidiary of Italian energy giant Enel Group, nearly doubled its Ontario energy storage capacity in 2022, and plans to add more as part of a multi-billion-dollar North American expansion.

The company added 16 megawatts (MW) in commercial operations out of its total 37 MW of capacity in Ontario. That translates to 32 megawatt-hours (mW-h) of a total of 75 mW-h. It also manages over 200 MW of demand response capacity in the province.

In November 2022, Enel (ENEL.MI) announced plans to invest approximately $5 billion in the North American market. Enel, one of the world's largest energy companies by revenue, aims to develop approximately five gigawatts (GW) of new utility-scale renewable and battery energy storage capacity through 2025.

Enel built 1.98 GW of additional utility-scale wind, solar and battery storage capacity across the U.S. and Canada in 2022. It has eyes set on Ontario to develop significant energy storage capacity.

“For its size, (Ontario) is one of the most penetrated markets for battery storage," Matt Barnes, director of business development at Enel, told SustainableBiz in an interview. "These assets that are here . . . can do more than what they're doing today.

"So (it's) giving them, really, more opportunities to participate in markets and continue growing, something that I think is going to be a key driver in Ontario in the future as we continue to see power prices climb and electrical growth continue.”

Enel’s Ontario developments

Enel, headquartered in Rome, has been operating in Ontario for over a decade. As Barnes explained, the company brought its battery storage systems to the province in the late 2010s thanks to the advancement of technology and lower costs.

“Through some of the power prices and structures that are present in the Ontario market, there's a really strong incentive for customers to reduce load at critical times of the year,” Barnes said. “Think the hottest summer afternoons or the coldest winter mornings, when the grid is under the biggest strain.”

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Among those completed projects was Enel’s one MW battery storage unit in Orillia for Berry Global, a manufacturer and marketer of plastic packaging products – its fourth for the company.

The systems installed for Berry Global participate in demand response and also provide peak shaving to help manage costs. The completion of the latest 2.2 mW-h system fulfilled an agreement announced in December 2018 for four projects totalling five MW and 10 mW-h. Enel installs and operates each system.

A release states it could reduce energy costs for the company by 20 to 30 per cent.

“I think it's really a testament to some of these partnerships where you're not just doing the first site together, not just the second site but the third and the fourth,” Barnes said. “That's really part of why we partner with commercial-industrial customers, because you can really get that scale on that long-term partnership opportunity.”

Also completed was the installation of 438 electric vehicle chargers at over 50 Killam Apartment REIT properties. Barnes sees more and more connections emerging between various energy technologies.

“What we're seeing a lot of customers starting to ask for is, ‘How can I combine these solutions?’ ” he said. “How can I pair electric vehicle chargers with a battery that maybe helps me smooth my load, maybe avoids the need for me to completely redo my electrical infrastructure?”

Enel’s future in Ontario

According to Barnes, Ontario is entering an unprecedented era of energy growth. Ontario’s power generation demands are expected to grow about two per cent annually after a relatively flat decade. Though two per cent growth may not sound impressive, he said it will push beyond the current capabilities of the power generation fleet as it compounds year-over-year.

Part of Enel’s work is talking with the Independent Electricity Systems Operator (IESO) to identify the barriers to that growth, as various pathways will be needed for the province to reach its energy goals.

Barnes said Enel is working with the IESO regarding "certain rules and market opportunities that exist for front-of-the-meter batteries (like) utility power plants, and the same opportunities may not be open right now to behind-the-meter or distributed batteries.”

Such opportunities include Enel’s behind-the-meter battery storage system at Imperial Oil’s Sarnia petrochemical complex, scheduled to start operations in 2023. It is believed to be the largest of its kind in the continent at 20 MW.

Ontario has a global adjustment charge for energy usage. For Imperial (IMO-T) to save on this charge, it’ll be using Enel’s Distributed Energy Resources Optimization Software (DER.OS). It will switch between energy from the grid and energy from battery storage depending on peak demand times.

DER.OS is used in all of Enel’s energy storage deployments.

Growth opportunities from the government and customers

Barnes highlighted the Inflation Reduction Act as part of the reason for U.S. growth, but hinted similar developments could occur in Canada.

He referenced the 2022 Fall Economic Statement's proposed investment tax credit for battery storage and clean energy.

"We see that as a real strong driver behind industry. We've seen it in the U.S. and we anticipate similar in Canada as the government gets behind clean energy and helps chip in those costs.”

One trend he’s noticed is more customers asking for a combination of sustainability, resiliency and economics to create a steady power supply in remote areas.

“We have plans to continue growing substantially in 2023 and beyond,” Barnes said. “But it may not all be batteries. It may also be partnering with customers to do solar plus storage together, and maybe also adding some electric vehicle chargers.”

In 2021, Enel shortened its corporate timeframe for achieving net-zero direct and indirect emissions, from 2050 to 2040.

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