Ep005 - Energy Storage Systems with Trevor Tremblay
Trevor Tremblay: With the power going out and people having these systems installed in their homes, they can start playing around with the settings and depending on how they set it up, they can be inadvertently sending it back to the grid. So when the power is out and they go to connect, it could actually put workers in jeopardy by back feeding the grid.
Josie Erzetic: The energy world is on the verge of a storage revolution. Energy storage systems are transforming how we use electricity and in this episode, we'll talk about what you need to know to safely install them.
Grounded in Ontario is a podcast for you, the province's licensed electrical contractors, master and certified electricians. Safety tips, tech, and best practices. Now let's get grounded.
Hello and welcome to another episode of Grounded in Ontario. I'm Josie Erzetic and I work for the ESA. With me today is Trevor Tremblay, a technical advisor at ESA who's going to talk to us about energy storage systems. Trevor, how are you today?
Trevor: Very well, thank you. How are you?
Josie: I'm doing great. We've had a great response to the podcast. And in fact, we've had thousands of downloads per episode since launching. So I am super glad people are listening and we're able to connect to our licensees, which is so important to us at ESA, as well as getting the safety message out there. What do you think?
Trevor: I completely agree. I'm getting tons of positive feedback and one of the things they really like is how they can go to our website on the episode pages at ESAsafe.com/podcast and have all the information they need for these installations. So they have the bulletins, pictures, diagrams. It's like a one-stop shop. It's very handy for electrical contractor because when I was a contractor, we're lucky if we had a code book that was three versions out of date. This is very handy and a resource for the contractors.
Josie: Yeah, couldn't agree more. Really happy that people are listening and really, really happy that they're using the resources on the website. So please everyone, continue to listen and share with your colleagues. Okay. So for today, we're going to be talking about energy storage systems and what that means to us, or at least for purposes of today's episode, is battery storage. Of course, a lot of people know there's other ways to store for electricity. And that could mean in the case of hydroelectric, for example, that you're storing water to be used later during the peak times, but for today's purposes, we're talking about battery storage. And when we say batteries, we don't mean, you know, the little kinds that you buy when you go to Canadian Tire or something. We're talking about batteries that can store energy for home use, for business use, or even industrial use. So the costs for those types of batteries have come down in recent years and we're seeing more and more businesses, industries or even people who want to be grid independent. So for our purposes at ESA, that means that LECs are getting calls to install these types of battery systems. And Trevor, I'm really hoping you can describe for me what that kind of storage technology looks like.
Trevor: It is becoming very popular and we have some leading manufacturers such as Tesla really leading the way in these technologies. Essentially simply put it's how we store electricity for later on use. A lot of people are currently using just as backup power to the grid. So when the power goes out, they can actually run some small things in their houses and, with solar and wind, typically you're not always using power when the sun's out or when the wind's blowing. So to make solar and wind actually be very economical, you need a way to store this energy so you can use it in a later time. Depending on how you set it up, it could be feeding into the grid, net metering, using the grid as a backup. There's so many different ways you can do it now. It's kind of crazy when you think about it.
Josie: Yeah. I was actually reading the Canada Energy Future Report and it talks about $548 billion will be invested globally in battery capacity by 2050. So what they're saying is two thirds of that will be a grid level and the remaining one third would be installed behind the meter. So can you talk to us in terms of that behind the meter? What are the different types of these systems that would be available?
Trevor: The code really just defines them as an energy storage system self-contained or energy storage systems other, but those are more about field assembled. So the self-contained ones pretty much, one stop shop, everything you need, a black box type of thing. So you'll have your batteries, your controllers, your over current, your inverters, all built into one system and it would be built as an energy storage system. And then we have our field assembled systems, which essentially is all approved components that you field assemble and follow the rules of the code to make sure it all works together. And so one is an improved system and one is kind of built in the field to make that system.
Josie: Okay. That makes sense. If I'm looking at installing a battery in my home to either shift power use, store power, do I need an LEC to install it? And does that LEC need to obtain a notification from ESA?
Trevor: In Ontario, a homeowner can still do their own work. I highly recommend engaging the services of a licensed electrical contractor. They are the professionals. A lot of them work closely with the suppliers and manufacturers to make sure that they know exactly what they're doing. They work closely with us, and I've seen too many stories or I've heard too many stories and seen some installations where people have tried to do it themselves. Over a couple of years, technology changes, the codes change. They spend quite a bit of money trying to get it to work. And at the end of the day, when they go to use it, it's not really safe. And we actually say they can't use it and end up getting a contractor in there to fix it. As for a notification, it's required for both, an LEC and the homeowner.
Josie: Right. So save yourself a lot of heartache in the long run and make sure an LEC is doing it, is what I'm hearing you say. So are there any specific installation requirements that our LECs need to be aware of?
Trevor: Under certain circumstances, plan review could be required depending on the rating and how you're using your system. Again, approval markings, your ESS has to be approved as a system. If you're using individual components, make sure all those components are approved. There possibly could be ventilation requirements depending on the battery types or manufacturers instructions. There's all kinds of requirements for disconnecting means. There's marking requirements depending on type of buildings and where the batteries are stored. There's some exceptions for some high voltage requirements, similar to our solar bulletin, exempts a few high voltage requirements for that. And again, for more detailed explanation of these requirements, just go to ESAsafe.com/podcast. There'll be bulletins and a lot of pertinent information you'll need to know. Again, a one stop shop.
Josie: Right, now you mentioned plan review. Can you just let me know a bit about what that entails? What do you do you mean when you say plan review?
Trevor: There is a code requirement that under specific conditions that is laid out in the code book. That plan review submission, so you have to send your drawings to our plan review group and they identify the installation to be code compliant and may identify things that you'd have to address in the field before you construct it. So essentially, when it comes to energy storage, if your energy storage exceeds 10 kilowatts and in parallel with the supply authority, the drawings required to be submitted to our plan review group. This can all be done electronically, and more information can be found on our website. Again, ESAsafe.com/podcast it will be listed how you can submit those plans there. If it was a standalone system and you're creating a circuit of 400 amps, three phase, it would be required to be submitted. So that's a pretty large energy storage system. And 600 amp single-phase. If this energy storage was part of a power supply for life safety systems, it would also have to be submitted. And one thing to look out for is if you are pricing a job, make sure that you go to site and make sure they don't have solar already there, because if they have solar and you're installing energy storage, if it exceeds 10 kilowatts, you still have to submit, even though the solar was there previous. So that's just one thing to look out for.
Josie: What about the local utility? Does the LDC need to be involved at all during the installation process for an energy storage system?
Trevor: Most definitely, if you plan on back feeding the grid. A lot of these products have the ability to back feed the grid with programmable dip switches. So it's actually really easy to set up your system to net metering, for instance, you just back feed a breaker and essentially try and lower your bill. Most of these inverters that are with your energy storage will be marked interactive inverter. So that means they can be connected to the grid and programed to back feed or just use it as a backup, depends how you set it up. But the utility definitely wants to know. And if it is running in parallel with the utility, ESA will send a connection order to the utility saying that there is energy storage or solar, that sort of thing, being run in parallel with the system.
Josie: I recall a situation recently where we were involved in the Barrie tornado, and local utilities were very concerned about home generators that were back feeding the grid, and they wanted to ensure that ESA authorized reconnections when people's power went out after the tornado. So is this similar to what you're talking about?
Trevor: It is. With the power going out and people having these systems installed in their homes, they can start playing around with the settings and depending on how they set it up, they can be inadvertently sending it back to the grid. So when the power is out and they go to connect, it could actually put workers in jeopardy by back feeding the grid. So if it goes to a hundred twenty two forty volt transformer, it'll still get to the high side and put some of their workers in jeopardy.
Josie: Right, so very important to let the LDC know. After the LEC installs a storage system in my home, then I expect the ESA inspector to show up. So what kinds of things would an inspector look for?
Trevor: They would typically look for certifications of the equipment. If it's a standalone system, a self-contained ESS, it should be approved to UL 9540, and they will look for those approval markings. And then they'll pretty much follow up with the recommendations from the manufacturer's instructions. And then they would look at the Ontario Electoral safety codes, wiring methods, disconnecting mean,s over current protection, that sort of thing. If it was a field assembled energy storage system, they would look for the approval markings on all the components. And then they'd get into the type of batteries. If it was lead acid, they could proceed with the inspection, no matter what size and ouput rating of the batteries. They would look for ventilation requirements based on the lead acid. And if it was lithium ion and rated less than one kilowatt, they would proceed. But if it was over one kilowatt, the whole system would have to be field evaluated. And again, back to the ventilation requirements, the ventilation requirements, the inspector won't tell you how to do it. This has to be done by a competent person, someone from either the battery manufacturer or an engineer. They would have to pretty much tell us what ventilation is required, depending on how many batteries and the output, that sort of things.
Josie: What kinds of defects is ESA seeing as the inspections have begun on the installation of these kinds of battery systems?
Trevor: Since the installations are new and a lot of manufacturers are starting to catch up to all the standards, at first, we were seeing a lot of unapproved equipment. So a lot of the energy storage systems were not approved. CAN UL 9540 or the battery systems weren't meeting the applicable standard for the CAN UL 1973. We do have some issues too, with the interaction point of connection. So essentially where you interconnect with like the utility side. So if you're back net metering and you're back feeding a breaker in that panel, if you had a 200 amp panel in a home, you can only load that up to 125% of the bus rating. So if you had a 200 amp breaker and a 50 amp breaker of energy storage, you'd be good. But if you had a 60 amp breaker, you wouldn't be good because some of the over currents can exceed 125% of that bus rating.
That is very common. We see a lot of that. We do see a lot of ventilation or no ventilation for that matter when it's lead acid batteries. Utility disconnects, we're seeing how some of those are missing and even disconnects for the DC side, depending on what kind of products you're buying, some might be built in. The marking requirements, the warning labels and that sort of thing. Another one would be the battery terminals. A lot of times they're exposed and they have to be guarded no matter of what the voltage is. And we're seeing a lot of off-grid systems being installed without the benefit of inspection. And this is just a reminder that those, even though there's no utility, they still have to be inspected and you need a notification to do that sort of thing.
Josie: Okay. That's a very good reminder. And what about removing battery systems? Someone perhaps could be moving, they want to take their battery system with them, are there any special rules that apply to that kind of situation?
Trevor: It would be no different than removing any part of the electrical installation. You have to maintain the safety of the system. You really want to make sure that any unused conductors are made safe in approved enclosures and covers. You want to make sure there's no unused openings in panels and enclosures, and you probably want to notify the utility because depending on the agreement with utility, they might've put a bi-directional meter in and you lost your savings for off-peak on-peak type thing. So you might want them to notify them to say you have nothing in parallel and you might capitalize on those off-peak savings.
Josie: So as you know, the electrical safety code gets updated every three years. I don't have to tell you that, Trevor, because you're part of the team that writes those changes. So that's always big excitement for us at the ESA. And the next version of the code is coming into effect in May of 2022. Can you describe for us any changes in the new code that will impact energy storage systems?
Trevor: Yes. The Ontario Electrical Safety Code will be out next year. And as most users know, the CEC already came out. So a lot of these changes are currently in the CEC, which came out this year.
Josie: Right, that's the Canadian Electrical Code.
Trevor: Yup. And essentially they got a lot more prescriptive in the requirements, almost a whole new sub-section. Before it was like a couple little rules, now it's actually a lot more substantial. One of the larger ones is pretty much just said that you can't install them in any living spaces, in dwellings or residential occupancies. This leads me to think of a story where I've actually seen these things installed in living rooms. So.some of them are actually really nice to look at. They're actually, you couldn't really go out and actually buy something like this at Leon's. It's nice to look at, it's a center point of your living room, you know, you can have the TV off to the side, and then you have this energy storage system mounted on the wall. It's quite the look.
Josie: Right. But now, the new code is basically saying don't install them in a living space, so no longer in the living room.
Trevor: That's right.
Josie: Okay. I'm going to shift gears here and talk about the future. How do you see these energy systems evolving?
Trevor: I see it just continuing to grow. Technology changes faster now than it ever has. I remember getting up to change the channel on the television. I've actually saw someone with a rotary dial phone not know how to use it. In my lifetime, it's unbelievable what we're doing now compared to before. So with solar, electric vehicles, being able to actually literally back feed your home, to community net metering projects where you're going to have distributed energy resources built into the neighborhood, back feeding the grid when it has to, working with the utility to make sure everyone gets credited for the back feeding. It's kind of actually an interesting time to be here. I look forward to the future.
Josie: Yeah. I agree. To me the future is distributed energy, for sure. And it's interesting that you mention community projects. So at ESA, we've certainly seen some really, really great grid modernization technology that's being incorporated by the LDCs, including an exciting project actually in Parry Sound. That will be one of Canada's first net, zero smart communities. To me, that project is really exciting because it's better reliability for the community. The LDC can defer some costly grid upgrades, and you can speed adoption of things like EVs. You can provide residents with greater control of how they use energy. And I think, Trevor, you were involved in that project. Can you tell us a bit about that?
Trevor: I was involved a bit. Yeah. So Parry Sound, in partnership with Bracebridge Generation. They're building towards a net zero smart community. It's a small town, but it's a start. Currently, they're starting to install electric vehicle chargers so they can get more electric vehicle adoption. They're trying to get more smart home management. So they're using hot water tanks that can be controlled. EV chargers, battery storage, just to name a few. I was more involved with their micro grid project. So they utilize solar and battery storage to respond to a variety of outages. So essentially in a flick of a switch, they could have, I think it was currently a little under 200 homes, actually running grid independent. And the homeowners won't even notice that they might see the lights flicker. So it'd all be run off the battery storage and the solar, and the rest of the town might be out. They’re coming a long way. We're starting to see more and more like this, even in industrial. Honda Canada is getting into energy storage and we have Algoma Orchards. They're really big into the green energy. They've already put in a solar and now they're putting, I think they completed a project a year or two ago for energy storage utilities. They keep bringing battery storage in for grid reliability. So we're seeing a lot of it all coming together.
Josie: That's great, Trevor. I really appreciate all the information today on storage systems. And I know for me, the takeaways were, as we've said before, look for approved systems. You know, make sure you take out a notification was ESA. That a licensed electrical contractor is installing. And that there's a brand new section of the code that's coming out next May.
Trevor: Yeah, it's exciting times. And it's going to be a lot of work for our regulatory group making sure that all the bulletins and everything gets updated to reflect all the new technologies and all the things the contractors need to know.
Josie: Since launching Grounded in Ontario, we've received a lot of questions about the code and we love this. So please keep your questions coming and we can feature them in future podcasts. Today's question stems from our pools and hot tubs episode. Trevor, are you ready?
Trevor: Yes, I am.
Josie: What are the code rules when it comes to underground and overhead conductors near pools?
Trevor: We did cover pretty much most of them. We probably didn't touch on underground. But I'll start with overhead. So communication cables are also included in those distance requirements of the five meters and 7.5, depending on voltage. And we want to make sure that people understand that they can be over the pool, but they still have to maintain those distances. As for underground conductors, essentially it has to be separated from the pool by not less than what's specified in Table 61, unless there feeding equipment is associated with the pool and ground fault protected. So it's all there at ESAsafe.com/podcast. It's on the bulletins. And hopefully that answers a few of the questions that came in. Thanks again for listening.
Josie: Well, thanks for answering that question, Trevor, and thanks for talking to us today about energy storage systems. We'll talk to you again soon.
Trevor: Great. Thanks. It was my pleasure.
Josie: If you have any questions on this topic or any other electrical safety topic we want to hear from you. Email us at email@example.com. We plan to answer some frequently asked questions in future episodes. Make sure you subscribe to this podcast so that you'll get notified whenever we have new episodes. So until next time, be safe, work safe and stay grounded.