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Electricity grid to be more distributed: panel

Kelly Lapointe
Electricity grid to be more distributed: panel
The panel of industry leaders discussed new solutions to improve Ontario's electricity grid at All-Energy Canada 2014. -

Ontario’s electricity grid will continue towards a more distributed, decentralized system driven through smart grid technologies and that should be embraced, say sector leaders.

“The world isn’t leaning toward isolationism, the world is leaning towards globalization. We become interconnected I would advocate that we need to sit down and we need to talk and we need to compromise. We need to stop being over-zealous about one solution being one-size fits-all,” said Ioan Agavriloai, manager — system performance and models for the Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO).

Agavriloai was one of several leaders to speak on the panel “Bulk Power to Distributed Power: Rebuilding and renewing Canada’s power infrastructure” at All-Energy Canada 2014 last month.

One of the challenges to using new technology is the current infrastructure.

“Many of the systems that were well-designed for centrally distributed infrastructure with a very passive distribution system are really a barrier to innovation when you want to make a more active system that can respond to change in the consumer as well as changing needs from the operator,” said Bob Leigh, chief executive officer of Localgrid Technology.

He said micro grids are a component of the future as they feature a mix of generation sources, a flexible load and storage in the grid.

As new technologies are brought on board, there is a need to decentralize intelligence, said Leigh.

“If these devices can communicate directly with each other, no matter what they are, whether they’re charging or whether they’re micro grid, the communication path is simpler, it’s faster, we can support more applications, we can also lower the cost of integration. We can do deployments on an as-needed basis as opposed to needing to deploy technology across the network,” he said.

“This isn’t a replacement for systems today, this is to enable new technology to complement the systems in place today.”

Customers all have different wants, needs and expectations and currently there is not a lot of flexibility surrounding how utilities deliver and charge for their services. John Gorman, president of Canadian Solar Industry Association (CanSIA), pointed to opportunities that exist within other industries, such as telecommunications where consumers can choose the plan that works for them.

“If the utilities were given the ability to become more progressive and be able to be customer-facing and charge differently for customized services, they would love to do that. That’s the kind of thing we should be striving for,” he said.

As there is a focus on renewing infrastructure as efficiently as possible, Paul Brown, director, distribution asset management, planning and operating at Hydro One Networks Inc., said there is a customer expectation to continue to deliver value and service. Hydro One customers are currently saying that electricity is too expensive.

“They’re not telling us that the lights are going out all the time, they’re not telling us that they want a whole bunch of fancy technology, they’re telling us they want the bill to be lower,” he said.

Hydro One is currently studying several areas, such as the impact of distributed generation on managing loads on the distribution feed and the impact of plug-in hybrid electric vehicles.

“The key challenge for us in the industry right now is how we manage the change effectively. How do we point ourselves in a strategic direction where we can drive cost out of the business, how we can improve value for the customer and can deliver new and improved servicing to our customers and listen to what they’re saying,” said Brown.

Customer wants and needs will differ depending on location and the type of consumer. Gorman pointed to the home consumer who wants to generate their electricity, control their appliances and charge their own electric vehicle or the corporate user who might have a very specific need for low cost electricity.

“We should be looking at the needs of the consumer and using the different technologies and the different scales of generation to meet those consumer demands,” he said.

Other panelists included Dave Butters, president of the Association of Power Producers of Ontario and Lawrence Slade, chief executive officer of Energy UK.

Follow Kelly Lapointe on Twitter @DCNKelly.

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