Best Christmas ever

Best Christmas ever

Saint John Energy engineer is all charged up about a massive Tesla battery

Move over, Cybertruck. Andrew Ahearn has his own new Tesla toy to be excited about and he doesn’t have to wait to play with it. As the manager of engineering at Saint John Energy, Ahearn was eagerly awaiting a massive Tesla battery this past December, due to arrive just before Christmas. The massive battery is about 23.5 feet wide, over eight feet tall, over five feet deep and it weighs about 50,000 pounds, he says.

It was coming on a proportionally large truck. “I’m really excited about it, I think it’s really cool,” Ahearn says, adding: “Obviously being associated with the innovative company that Tesla is, is pretty neat.”

In September, Saint John Energy announced Halifax-based renewable energy company Natural Forces had been selected to build between five and 10 wind turbines near Lorneville, about 15 kilometres southwest of Saint John. Called the Burchill Wind Project, it will be the city’s first wind project and is expected to generate between 20 and 42 megawatts of power, which accounts for about 15 per cent of the city’s energy demands, says Ahearn.

Some of that energy will be stored in the massive Tesla battery, which Ahearn confirms is one of the best Christmas presents he’s ever received.

Wind power is variable and sometimes it’s windy when demand for energy is low. The 1.25 megawatt unit, with 2.5 megawatt hours of storage, will be able to store the wind energy at low-demand times and then put it on the grid when energy demand is high.

“Let’s say it’s a cold day, the wind’s blowing during the middle of the day. I can store that energy and then when people get home at night, I can put it back onto the grid with the batteries instead of, say, using fossil fuels.”

Right now, the energy from NB Power used by the city comes from a mix of sources, including nuclear, coal, oil and diesel. So using more energy from wind means the city’s energy demand produces fewer emissions, he says. “It’s really exciting technology. It’s just a really cool way of being green and trying to reduce energy emissions.”

The battery will mainly be used for something Ahearn calls “peak shaving.” Saint John Energy gets a power bill each month from NB Energy, charging them for the city’s energy use and for its monthly peak consumption of energy. If Ahearn and his team accurately anticipate those monthly peaks, they can flip the switch on the Tesla battery and dump 1.25 megawatts onto the grid, cutting down that peak usage. Using an example of 100 megawatts as a peak, 1.25 megawatts may not seem like a lot, he says. But for each megawatt Saint John Energy can reduce that peak, they save $14,000, says Ahearn. That adds up to about $168,000 a year, from just the one battery.

But Ahearn is quick to point out that at $1.5 million, this experiment with the Tesla battery doesn’t have a strong business case, overall. “This is a SmartGrid demonstration, funded partially by Natural Resources Canada. It’s a demonstration of what batteries could be used to do in the future to store green energy and reduce peak loads during times when fossil fuels are required the most,” he says.

And it’s just the first step in exploring what could be done with batteries like this. “If we were to get another of these units, or two of these units, we could actually use it to power one of our hospitals,” he says. “The more batteries you get on the grid, the bigger the impact.”

Ahearn says first wind is expected from the Burchill Wind Project in December 2021. •

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