Update on GridSmartCityâ„¢ Burlington Hydro’s multidimensional smart grid modernisation


By Gerry Smallegange

The smart grid race is on. Administrations are setting the expectations, regulators are laying the ground-rules and everyone with a stake is jockeying for position.

Government agencies, technology partners and utilities have the desire and the capability to unlock the full potential of a smarter, greener grid. The deep, but unleashed potential of renewable energy and electrical innovation in North America has set the industry on fire. Yet, the scope of technical challenges and opportunities to be reviewed and resolved, are only to be out-done by the number of players involved.

In Ontario, the footings for the smart grid’s foundation were laid with the province-wide rollout of smart meters mandated in 2005. By the end of 2010, every residential and small commercial customer in Ontario will have converted to smart meters – more than 4.3 million installations.

The smart meter rollout, a key phase in the province’s shift to a conversation culture, is in itself a huge catalyst for change and innovation. But it just scratches the surface compared to the events of 2009 and the things to come.

In the US, the smart grid stimulus package, and in Ontario, the passing of the Green Energy Act, have substantially raised the ante.

Views on a model blue print for a smarter, greener grid are as divergent as some of the original definitions of the smart grid. Yet in Ontario like in other regions, industry, utilities and smart grid and renewable energy technology companies have been consistent in their passion to move to a new model.

The smart grid is quickly shifting from the theoretical to the practical, and Ontario’s Green Energy Act has put utilities in the driver’s seat.

Before getting into the latest developments on Burlington Hydro’s GridSmartCity™ initiative launched last spring, I want to bring you up to speed on the key history of our modernisation quest at Burlington Hydro. It actually began several years before the smart grid buzz.

In 2003, Burlington Hydro set out to introduce “self healing” capabilities to our electricity distribution system, focusing especially on the critical load zone in the downtown core of the city. Our 5-year deployment of advanced switching automation equipment, software and process, is still considered a showcase deployment in Canada. The system also stakes claim to being the first implementation of this nature in Ontario.

There were three key catalysts behind the switching automation initiative. First, the deregulation of the utility market came hand-in-hand with prescriptive regulations for reliability. That was poetic foreshadowing for the second catalyst, the massive August 2003 blackout which left 10 million people in Ontario and 40 million people in eight US states without power. Estimates for losses were pegged at a staggering $6 billion. The third was the daunting tragedy of 9/11. In its aftermath, reliability and security took on a whole new meaning. In the post 9/11 world, technology was determined to be the best enabler to achieve a higher level of awareness about what was happening on the electrical grid to improve reliability.

Within 6 months of the switching automation launch, Burlington Hydro’s engineering team working in concert with the experts from S&C Electric, and assembled the blueprints and the technology plan in place for downtown Burlington’s selfhealing grid. The goal was to keep the power up without human intervention at three mission critical facilities, Joseph Brant Hospital, the waste water treatment facility and the Canadian Centre for Inland Waters.

In the 18 months that followed, nine S&C Electric Scada- Mate® switches were installed together with a custom configuration of IntelliTEAM® II software. S&C Electric’s leading edge logic based switches and control panels were bundled with radio and fibre optic remote connectivity proprietary to Burlington Hydro. A custom, integrated implementation of our SCADA control room software was also successfully implemented.

The city-wide initiative, which expanded to a total of fifty five 27.6 kV switches by the end of 2008, is a key outage management enabler for Burlington Hydro. The system improved overall reliability by 40% and duration of outages by 20%. Outages in the core (covering approximately 4,500 customers – 7 % of BHI’s customer base) have been virtually eliminated.

Outages that in past would take one to two hours to find and fix, now are largely restored in seconds.

These improvements greatly reduced the outage area and where one has to look for a fault. Staff can focus on fixing versus finding (significant productivity gains). The implementation is considered a core building block to our smart grid modernisation effort.

Burlington Hydro also had an early start with our smart meter research. Although not in Ontario’s first group of utilities mandated to install meters, in 2007, we were still very much an industry pioneer, performing vital test pilots in urban and rural regions of the city. These were implemented in a “living lab” environment with expertise from Elster Canada. One of our key areas of focus of the pilot was the design, installation and assessment of a metering network utilising a wide area fibre network backhaul.

The pilot design featured advanced metering infrastructure reinforced by Elster’s Advanced Grid Infrastructure (AGI) measurement and distribution automation nodes. This included low voltage transformer AGI Node (transformer meter) and AGI medium voltage line sensor (feeder meter) with last gasp capability, collectors with last gasp – with and without battery back-up, Rex Meters, and last gasp-enabled Rex2 Meters.

The test pilot findings helped establish optimal collector parameters and system configuration over isolated and varied terrain, and vital key learning about the system’s potential for loss detection and power restoration. In-market tests comparing Elster’s AMI performance in automating real time outage notifications and control room interaction, with more conventional methods, resulted in beneficial key learnings for future planning.

The first hand experiences gained in this AMI and AGI implementation were complemented with a deep intellectual capital contribution by Elster. Both have been fundamental in the successful city-wide rollout of smart meters, which began this June at the pace of 1,000 meter switch-outs weekly.

The combined prowess, at a macro neighbourhood level with S&C Electric’s IntelliTEAM system, and at a micro level down to the individual home, with Elster’s EnergyAxis platform, provide a path for continuing gains in outage management, efficiency and service responsiveness.

So this brings us up to date to 2009, which not surprisingly marks the busiest year on record for our smart grid modernisation effort. I say this from several vantage points:

  • Participation in the Smart Grid Forum industry coalition, an important source of information for the Province of Ontario as it shaped its final policy for the Green Energy Act
  • Rollout of expanded S&C Electric Smart Grid technology – IntelliRupter PulseClosers, providing further advances in overhead distribution system protection, and Vista® Distribution Switchgear – all technologies featuring the IntelliTEAM II® Automatic Restoration System.
  • The selection of Elster Canada as our lead AMI vendor
  • Final testing and implementation of EnergyAxis system including integration with customer billing
  • Extensive sub-station upgrades and modernisation including enhanced monitoring and security systems
  • The establishment of GridSmartCity™ as our umbrella for all grid modernisation initiatives (www.gridsmartcity.com)
  • Official Launch of the GridSmartCity™ partner program, involving six strategic industry partners led by S&C Electric and Elster Canada
  • Acknowledgement of GridSmartCity™ by Ontario Deputy Premier and Minister of Energy and Infrastructure through his formal participation in the launch of our partner program (this was among the very first launching pads for the innovative Green Energy Act)
  • Winner of the Electricity Distributors Association Customer Service Innovation Award
  • Completion of audit acquiring GPS information on all Burlington Hydro assets, as part of our transition to a new GIS system, laying the foundation for future automation
  • Modernisation of control room
  • Commissioning of our first plug-in electric vehicle – the precursor to a demonstration project to evaluate electric vehicle load and charging infrastructure considerations
  • Establishment of Burlington as the 7th partner of Team Burlington, recognising the importance of reliability and renewable energy to economic development in the City of Burlington
  • Planning for a wide range of grid modernisation and renewable energy demonstration projects as part of the Green Energy Act as we formalise submissions to the Ontario Energy Board.

Summing up the year, you can see the focus of Burlington Hydro’s smart grid modernisation initiative is truly multidimensional. It has embodied technology, strategic partnerships, regulatory interface, the migration to new systems, the rollout of smart meters, and outreach to local and regional stakeholders to advance the appreciation of smart grid and renewable energy investment.

The most important and defining piece for Burlington Hydro has been the creation of GridSmartCity™ as an entity to embody the entire smart grid modernization effort. Not only is this initiative the holding tank for all of Burlington Hydro’s grid modernisation initiatives, it underscores our commitment to make the effort community-based.

GridSmartCity™ is being shaped to position our city, the region of Halton and Ontario at the forefront of renewable energy, conservation and smart grid innovation by creating a centre of excellence.

We’ve got all the ingredients for success. Our strategic invitation to have Mountain Equipment Coop, Menova and Resco Energy join us as GridSmartCity™ supporters really drives this point home.

Mountain Equipment Co-op is an outdoor equipment retailer whose Burlington store represents the vanguard of green building technology. The Solar Array on the roof-top, which rotates to optimise energy from the sun, was Canada’s first installation of Menova Energy’s much heralded PowerSpar system. The solar collectors generate 56 kW of electricity, which is sold back to the grid, suppyling the building’s heating and domestic hot water systems. The benefits of the system are environmental as well as economic in nature. The solar arrays are built by a tool and die company that previously focused almost exclusively on automotive parts.

Green building innovation is also illustrated by the role of Union Gas in GridSmartCity™. They came aboard to raise awareness of its innovative new LEED certified regional offices in Burlington. The facility’s on-site natural gas micro-turbines are at the core of the building’s self-sufficiency. The turbines generate 260 kW (130 home equivalent).

Green building technology and renewable energy retrofits could quite easily grow into the most viable means to deliver on sustainable communities in an urban market like Burlington with limited space for large renewable energy power generation facilities.

As potential GridSmartCity™ initiatives, we are looking at the creation of renewable energy certification programme in combination with demonstrations to educate and entice green energy installations. We’ve also signed an MOU involving all the Halton utilities outlining our collective intent to work on joint green energy projects. One such endeavour will be the proposed cogeneration plant at the Skyway Waste Water Treatment. Utilising waste from methane gas the site would generate 1 to 1.4 MW (500 homes).

Great strides are being made leveraging GridSmartCity™ as an economic development tool. Burlington Hydro has become a member of Team Burlington, a strategic alliance involving the City of Burlington, Burlington Economic Development Corporation and other groups. This move will bring electricity reliability and renewable energy into the forefront of economic development marketing.

One of the key directions of the Province of Ontario’s Green Energy Act is to open the playing field in energy generation, encouraging the development of renewable energy projects by factories, offices, stores, and a range of other generators including Aboriginal communities, homeowners, farmers, schools, stores, factories, co-ops, and larger-scale commercial generators.

This dynamic legislation provides North America’s first comprehensive feed-in tariff programme, guaranteeing specific rates for energy generated from renewable sources. With certainty in the rules and regulations, guarantees in prices for energy generated from renewable sources and domestic content requirements in support of the growth of new “green collar” jobs, companies will have the confidence to invest in Ontario, hire workers, and produce and sell renewable energy.

The Green Energy Act also sets the expectation for utilities to invest in infrastructure required to deliver on the smart grid and to accept energy from multiple points of generation.

The promotion of distributed power is a primary mechanism to grow the provincial vision. Distributed power decreases the energy lost through transmission because the power is generated in close proximity to where it is used.

A co-op approach to distributed power across business parks or key areas of commerce, would deliver on the goals of the Green Energy Act, while advancing opportunities for business attraction.

One of the key goals for GridSmartCity™ is to invigorate businesses, institutions, academia and citizens to become engaged in programmes in different ways to make it a truly community-based effort, and one that ultimately engrains green energy and sustainability into our culture and our way of life.

Under the GridSmartCity™ banner , Burlington Hydro’s residential, institutional and business customers will soon benefit from our LDC becoming much more engaged with the community with new and exciting products, services and initiatives. A highly diverse energy portfolio will begin to grow and develop, as we shift from a vertically focused electricity distribution company to an energy solutions company.

Leveraging the great inroads already in play with increases in real time data, through GridSmartCity™, I expect ongoing gains in supply and demand side management. The formal evaluation of home area network devices and an in-market test pilot are in our future plans. Initiatives of this nature will be key to harnessing the necessary insight, as customers’ relationships with local utilities and electricity itself evolve.

Looking to the months and years ahead, the convergence of respective points of view on the smart grid will feed a hugely anticipated technology and industry shift on par with what the wireless evolution did for the telecom industry. I look to the future with great enthusiasm knowing the important role local utilities play in delivering our part.