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Ontario's electricity business: moving at lightning speed

September 26, 2013

Ontario's electricity business has been moving at lightning speed, powered by partnerships between key players such as Hydro One, the provincial government and Ontario Centres of Excellence investing in smart grid advancements.

Anyone in the electricity business knows the meaning of change at lightning speed, as few industries have seen as much innovation-driven change in such a short period of time.

Just ask David Curtis, Director of Asset Strategy at Hydro One, the provincially-owned utility that delivers electricity to 1.3 million homes and businesses across Ontario. What was for so long a static industry, he says, has been transformed into a hub of innovation.

“If you roll the clock back 10 years, the system configuration we had then was very much the same as the original system that was built at the time of Thomas Edison. But over the past five or 10 years we have seen tremendous change.”

Curtis, who is also a member of OCE’s Energy and Environment Sector Advisory Board, points to the development of smart grids and microgrids, the decentralization and deregulation of utilities, and the imperative to develop alternative energy sources as some of the key drivers of change in the past decade.

And currently, the buzz is all about smart grid. It’s composed of intelligent electricity infrastructure that uses advanced communications and control technology to improve the flexibility, reliability and efficiency of the electricity system. A smart grid aims to help consumers conserve and manage energy costs as new technologies like electric vehicles are integrated into the system. Ontario’s Smart Grid Fund to support the growth and advancement of the province’s electricity smart grid was launched in 2011, with a second round that began in July of this year.

Hydro One is guided by a corporate plan that puts a high priority on innovation in support of Ontario’s vision. The utility has a strong track record in co-investing, along with Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE), in companies that are committed to innovation. Since 2009, Hydro One has invested about $2.5 million in cash and $2.6 million in-kind in innovative projects involving a number of companies, including Energent, Temporal Power, CanAsia Power, Testforce, Kaco and Wenvor, to develop technologies needed by distributers and transmitters.

“Given the major transformation of the electricity system that is taking place, we need to be involved with the innovative developments as they occur,” Curtis says. “We find that it’s much better to be involved at the front end to ensure we can address any issues associated with integrating new products and services into our existing system. This is easier than trying to retrofit or fix issues later on.”

Projects include a focus on energy storage for the smart grid, grid management and control, and smart microgrids.

One specific project speaks directly to the strong imperative of reducing costs and improving efficiencies for taxpayers. Hydro One has invested with OCE in a smart grid energy hub project with the University of Waterloo. The first phase of the project wound up at the beginning of this year and has provided valuable insights into how individual customers can save money by managing their own  electrical usage more effectively, by shifting and coordinating different  ‘electrical loads’ within a household. The next phase of the project will focus on commercial and industrial hubs.

“Through its track record of investment, Hydro One has shown a strong commitment to working collaboratively with us and the sector to ensure Ontario has the most advanced and efficient electricity system,” says Carole Champion, OCE’s Director of Industrial Engagement and Sector Lead, Energy and Environment.