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Toronto Company Could Boost Renewable Energy’s Viability

Toronto Company Could Boost Renewable Energy’s Viability

Posted by PanamericanWorld on July 04, 2016

Hydrostor is piloting what they say is the world’s first of its kind underwater energy storage system off the Toronto Islands. The benefit could be substantial: making renewable energy more efficient and therefore, more appealing.

Curtis VanWalleghem, Hydrostor’s CEO, explains that the primary concern with renewables is the intermittency – they work great when the sun is shining or the wind is blowing but there are few robust and (relatively) inexpensive methods of saving the excess for later usage.

“If they’re going to be an important part of our grid, storage is critical,” he says.

Hydrostor’s underwater storage system has few, if any, negative impacts and in fact, VanWalleghem says environmental studies have shown it to have a net positive impact on the air and marine environment. Furthermore, the company says it produces no emissions, is half the cost of the best batteries available, and lasts two to three times as long.

The basic idea is that excess energy is compressed and transmitted to “balloons” stored underwater. When demand rises, or during short power outages, that compressed air can be pushed back using the natural force of the water’s pressure and retrieved as energy.

VanWalleghem admits that their company is not the first to imagine such a concept – it was described in Japan as early as the 1970s and a couple companies are now trying to accomplish the same thing. But two factors were on Hydrostor’s side. First, coming from the oil and energy sector, founder Cameron Lewis thought to repurpose field drilling equipment, thereby cutting down on significant costs of manufacturing machinery from scratch.

Second, VanWalleghem says Toronto played a vital role. The municipality was open and able to support the project without miring them in red tape. While coastal and island cities are the candidates for their technology, of 20-30 cities approached, Toronto was the only one to bite.

“We had nowhere near as much support as we got here,” he says. Toronto had the funds and size to experiment with new technology, and had a problem that Hydrostor was directly addressing.

Fortunately, talent is easy to find here as well, an important aspect for a startup of limited means. “All the engineers and more that we need are right in the city.”

The support ecosystem was also substantial. VanWalleghem says the Toronto Business Development Centre and MaRS Discovery District helped with everything from making connections to city officials and patent lawyers, to helping with day-to-day operations and space, to introducing them to local mentors and international investors and customers.

Having operated here since November 2015, VanWalleghem says they’ve been “hitting efficiency targets,” and now potential customers can look to a reputable metropolis as a case study. The island nation of Aruba is analyzing Toronto’s results and Hydrostor is aiming to have three projects over this year and next.

VanWalleghem himself is steeped in the energy industry, having worked in the sector since graduating from business school over a decade ago. The move to entrepreneurship was particularly high-risk since he left a very comfortable position for a very capital-intensive venture that required him to invest much of his own money as well as funds from friends and family.

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