By Ariel Visconti
A first-of-its-kind system that uses the vast depths of Lake Ontario to boost Toronto’s energy supply is being hailed as a major breakthrough in the area of energy storage.
Representatives of Toronto-based start-up Hydrostor, Toronto Hydro and Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) – which supported the energy project from the outset – gathered last week to celebrate the official launch of the exciting new technology.
Hydrostor and Toronto Hydro partnered on the two-year pilot project to build the world’s first underwater compressed air energy storage system. Located off of Toronto Island, 55 metres underwater, Hydrostor’s patented system is connected to Toronto Hydro’s electricity grid and will store energy generated during off-peak hours to power the homes of approximately 350 island residents during periods of high demand or short power outages.
"It's incredibly rewarding to see a technology and a company that we supported in the very early stages evolving the way Hydrostor has,” says Dr. Tom Corr, President and CEO of OCE. “This is truly a game-changing made-in-Ontario system that has tremendous potential on a global scale."
The system works by first converting electricity to compressed air. A thermal management system captures heat produced during the compression process, which increases the system’s efficiency. The compressed air is then pressurized to the surrounding water depth pressure and stored in balloon-like accumulators. When energy is needed, the weight of the water pushes the stored compressed air back to shore where the heat is added back to the airstream before it powers an expander that creates electricity for consumers.
Hydrostor’s technology is being hailed as a significant advancement in energy storage. It produces zero emissions and can potentially provide 100 per cent green electricity when combined with renewable energy sources, as it solves intermittency issues of wind and solar. It can also operate for more than 30 years with high reliability and without efficiency loss.
The Toronto Island pilot project is the culmination of over five years of development and dedication that began with a eureka moment in 2010. Hydrostor Founder and President Cameron Lewis was trying to create a low-cost, environmentally neutral energy storage alternative to the conventional method of pumped-hydroelectric storage (PHS). PHS works by pumping water uphill between two reservoirs, but its suitability is limited because potential sites need elevated terrain and a water source to draw from. But Lewis had the groundbreaking idea of pumping air underwater, rather than pumping water on land, and his company was born.
Lewis and Hydrostor’s CEO Curtis VanWalleghem quit their jobs to become full-time entrepreneurs and turn their idea into reality.
OCE first supported Hydrostor at the early stages as the company worked with an engineering team at University of Windsor to conduct research studies, follow-up analysis and safety tests. These projects helped the team raise financing to build the first demonstration of their system, a six-month project in Lake Ontario off of Toronto’s Leslie Street Spit. Supported by OCE’s Collaborative Research Program, the successful pilot attracted Toronto Hydro to partner with Hydrostor on the Toronto Island project. The company received funding support from Ontario’s Innovation Demonstration Fund, Sustainable Development Technology Canada and venture capitalists to complete the facility. OCE also helped Hydrostor prepare for commercialization of its technology through the Market Readiness Program.
With the Toronto facility now in full operation, Hydrostor is now focusing on commercializing the technology globally. The company has signed a contract to build a facility in Aruba and is receiving interest worldwide. The Hydrostor team, which has increased from three to 10 employees, anticipates growing to 15 by next summer.