When you live in a small community in the middle of the forest, it’s understood that the power will go out from time to time.

For the approximately 300 residents of Field, British Columbia, however, power outages are no longer an accepted fact of life in the mountains.

The small village, deep in Yoho National Park in the Canadian Rockies, received a 1-megawatt sodium-sulfur battery bank from its utility, BC Hydro. The utility chose S&C to procure and install the energy system, which includes NGK batteries, S&C’s PureWave storage management system and IntelliRupter automated switches for the distribution grid.

The project is the first of its kind for Canada, but the concept is one that is taking hold in rural communities and islands across the globe. Battery storage is expensive, but so is shipping or trucking in diesel to far-flung locales. If the local utility is the one providing the backup power, as BC Hydro does for Field, then batteries paired with smart grid technologies can start to look far more attractive -- even if they're supporting just one small community.

“Residents are very excited,” said Troy Miller, business development and marketing manager for power quality products at S&C.

BC Hydro had financial help for the $13 million project. Half of the cost was covered by a $6.5 million grant from Natural Resources Canada's Clean Energy Fund. The utility said that it did not calculate a projected return on investment, but it will report on the system performance over the next five years and hopes to bring similar systems to other communities if this one proves to be successful.

In the first six months of operation, outages have already been reduced. Since July 2013, there have been six major disruptions that previously would have taken down power for hours or longer. Instead, the system was able to isolate the outage using the automated switches and then switch to battery power. In one incident caused when a car hit a utility pole, the battery provided eight hours of power until repairs were made.

Early in the project, the system automatically isolated a fault, and it was nearly three hours before BC Hydro even noticed that the battery was providing the power rather than the substation that is 55 kilometers (32 miles) away.

This is not the first project in which S&C has integrated its technology with an NGK sodium-sulfur battery. Miller said that his team has integrated with five different battery chemistries so that the battery management systems can respond instantaneously to S&C’s Purewave SMS, which in turn communicates with the utility’s SCADA system and distribution management system.

S&C has more than ten of these projects, but recently, it has seen interest grow exponentially.” Diesel displacement is a major driver, but there are other factors at play. BC Hydro was also interested in the solution because it will extend the life of its assets in the community of Field and can provide peak shaving. “The battery becomes another node on the network,” said Miller.

S&C has a similar project on Catalina Island for Southern California Edison to help minimize the use of diesel generators. Although the Catalina and Field projects do not integrate local renewables, there are island projects being undertaken around the world by various utilities and vendors to integrate on-site clean energy and storage. S&C and General Electric worked together to provide a 1-megawatt storage project on Prince Edward Island to help balance wind.

ABB is working with Schneider on the Swedish island Gotland to combine wind and solar power, grid control systems and advanced load management. Puerto Rico has mandated energy storage to help manage the wind and solar coming onto its grid.

In the Caribbean, Richard Branson has announced a renewable-driven microgrid for his private 74-acre Necker Island. The project is more than just an exercise in spending his money -- it is meant to serve as a test ground for the Ten Island Renewable Challenge, which aims to move islands away from fossil fuels. 

Miller expected the momentum to snowball as more utilities and islands seriously consider energy storage. Utilities, in particular, are starting to look at storage in remote areas as “one more arrow in the quiver,” he said. “An outage that is no longer an outage is big press.”