A grid with smarts

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The formation of Ontario’s Smart Grid Forum represents an important step in the development of a smart grid in Canada’s largest province.

In the face of unprecedented change within Ontario’s electricity sector, industry leaders have come together to create Ontario’s Smart Grid Forum as a way of ensuring the province’s power system meets consumers’ needs now, and well into the future.

Since its inception in March 2008, the Forum has facilitated a broad-based industry dialogue to develop a vision for a provincial smart grid that will provide consumers with more efficient, responsive and cost effective electricity service. The Forum has brought together leaders from across the sector, representing industry, government and academia. Given the scope of change, I feel that our priority, as an industry, should be to focus and align our efforts for maximum impact. We need to develop a common understanding and a common approach if we are to succeed in developing a smart grid.

It’s difficult to predict exactly how the electricity grid will look in 20 years, but one thing is certain: the smart grid will bring important new functionalities resulting from improved information and communications technologies.

The smart grid will have the capacity to identify and repair faults before they cascade; allow a broad range of consumers to become fully engaged participants in market operations; and have at its core the two-way flow of information among appliances, control devices, small generators, local distribution companies (LDCs), grid operators and other stakeholders.

“While there is no universally accepted definition of a smart grid, its ultimate goal is to use advanced information and communications technologies to increase grid efficiency, reliability and flexibility.”

While there is no universally accepted definition of a smart grid, its ultimate goal is to use advanced information and communications technologies to increase grid efficiency, reliability and flexibility. As various components are implemented, they will support increased market efficiency through customer empowerment; seamless integration of distributed generation; improved asset optimisation, which frees up investment capital; expanded availability of valueadded energy services to consumers; and improved power quality coupled with reduced system congestion.

The objectives of the Ontario Smart Grid Forum are as follows:

  • Develop a high-level vision of the future in Ontario served by a smart grid.
  • Educate involved industry leaders about emerging drivers, technologies, and opportunities related to the smart grid.
  • Describe the benefits that will be possible through a wide range of smart grid technologies, ie how it can provide consumers with a more efficient, responsive and costeffective electricity system.
  • Identify enablers and barriers to the construction of the smart grid, while recognising that there are challenges now to effectively bring into service the many infrastructure changes that are occurring in Ontario
  • Identify the actions needed to overcome barriers so that the benefits of the smart grid may be realised by the people of Ontario.

In addition to its full members, the Forum struck a small, non-member-based working group to undertake research into specific issues such as smart grid technologies, existing transmission and distribution investment plans in Ontario, consumer priorities, and the smart grid cost/benefit analysis.

The Forum has been modelled after Ontario’s Energy Conservation and Supply Task Force. This respected 19- person, government-led group was established in June 2003 to develop an action plan for attracting new generation, promoting conservation and enhancing the reliability of the transmission grid.

Each meeting of the Smart Grid Forum features formal presentations by recognised experts, followed by dialogue and debate about the material presented. A full report is planned for release in early 2009 and will provide the foundation for further action and discussion among Ontario’s policy-makers and industry participants.

Discussions during the Forum’s monthly meetings have focused on a broad range of questions including, but not limited to, the following:

  • What does a smart grid mean for consumers?
  • What are the potential costs of a smart grid? How can the idea of a smart grid be communicated to consumers?
  • How will a smart grid change the interaction between LDCs and consumers?
  • What is a logical sequence of steps to move toward a smart grid?
  • Who controls the consumer data generated by a smart grid?
  • What sort of standards need to be established?
  • Which areas require additional research and development?
  • Who should take the lead in moving Ontario toward a smart grid?

Why was the Forum created now? There are a number of reasons. There is a fundamental change taking place within the province’s electricity sector, as we proceed with plans to eliminate coal-fired generation by 2014, increase the role of renewable generation, undertake significant investments in transmission and distribution improvements, and implement new conservation and demand management (CDM) programmes to engage consumers in efforts to reduce Ontario’s demands for electricity.

These operational changes, coupled with advances in information technology, have created a unique opportunity for the development of a smart grid. This Forum builds on the provincial Smart Metering Initiative to install smart meters in all homes and businesses by 2010 and complements the renewal taking place in Ontario’s transmission, distribution and generation sectors. Electricity transmitters and distributors have already started making considerable investments in system enhancements to accommodate population growth and satisfy consumer expectations. With this spending comes an opportunity to coordinate the investments to ensure the right decisions are made to meet the province’s changing needs.

As in other jurisdictions, Ontario’s supply mix is changing. With an increased focus on renewables, provincial objectives for clean energy and conservation/demand management are changing the electricity landscape. Enhanced transmission and distribution system operations will reduce congestion, line losses and reliance on fossil fuels – resulting in fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

The Government of Ontario has set ambitious environmental targets with respect to conservation, demand response, renewables and emissions, including the planned reduction of 6,300 MW by 2025 through the introduction of CDM initiatives. The concept of environmental sustainability is coming under massive public scrutiny, but by fostering small-scale renewable generation and demand response, a smart grid stands to play an important role in our shared green future.

Enabling technologies have never been more widely deployed. While the financial and technological barriers to smart grid implementation should not be underestimated, there has never been such a proliferation of smart solutions like monitoring and measurement equipment; communications devices; smart appliances; building automation and controls; broadband communications networks; and system integration interfaces. With so many smart grid options, interoperability of system components is vital.

The Smart Grid Forum will build on Ontario’s reputation for innovation and should result in several important socioeconomic outcomes. For example, it will promote economic development and create a competitive advantage for Ontario by attracting investment to the region and supporting the creation of well-paying jobs. And by providing a state-of-theart electricity infrastructure delivering high-quality power, it will encourage regional business attraction and retention.

Resilient as our grid is today, the blackout of 2003 proved that an integrated, North American electricity system has some vulnerabilities. A smart grid will help to reduce risk exposure in several ways. For example, it will ensure early warning of potential grid failures, which will help prevent situations from escalating. Similarly, outages will be resolved more quickly through automated fault monitoring, identification, assessment and repair.

Investments are already being made by transmission and distribution companies in Ontario. For example, Burlington Hydro’s innovative “IntelliTEAM” system comprises advanced switches, radio frequency communications and rapid, fibreenabled connectivity to automatically restore power in the critical load areas of downtown Burlington.

The Joseph Brant Hospital, the main water and wastewater treatment facilities, the Canadian Coast Guard and other mission-critical services are all served by the new system, which monitors and pre-empts issues, isolates faults and re-routes power – all without human intervention.

Since its introduction three years ago, outages have virtually been eliminated in the Burlington core, and citywide the system has resulted in a 20 percent improvement in the duration of outages. Overall reliability has improved by 40 percent.

The $3 million, multi-year project will be rolled out, feeder by feeder, as more switches are deployed on the city’s distribution network. Operational benefits resulting from avoided labour costs and productivity gains have been pegged at $400,000 per year.

From the system operator’s point of view, investments in a smart grid mean one thing: improved reliability. The role of the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) is to ensure system reliability and efficient pricing by balancing generation and load requirements. A modern, efficient, coordinated grid will provide better price signals to all electricity consumers – industrial, commercial, institutional and residential alike. And better price signals mean better consumption decisions by empowered, informed power users.

Perhaps the most important benefit of a smart grid in Ontario will be increased consumer awareness and engagement. Increasing demand side participation is a priority – and it is one of the drivers of a smart grid. Already, there is a shift under way towards a more participatory electricity network.

We are gradually moving from a utility-controlled environment where organisations act on behalf of consumers to one where the consumers themselves will eventually hold the balance of power. Among other priorities, consumers today are starting to seek control over their power consumption. Following the lead of industrial and commercial electricity users, residential consumers are starting to purchase smart appliances that allow them to monitor and manage their energy usage more efficiently.

These changes call for a new approach – and a new electricity architecture. And through the implementation of a smart grid in Ontario, the electricity sector should be well positioned to deliver system improvements that will benefit all Ontarians.