Hello Kitchener!

We have moved!

After some heavy lifting, hurdles and subsequent bumps and bruises, we have officially moved our office from bustling uptown Waterloo to the even more bustling downtown Kitchener. We will miss Waterloo as it was our good home for the better part of 5 years, but the prospect of moving to downtown Kitchener was too good of an opportunity to miss. Either way, we’re still in the area and frankly, just a short drive down King Street, so it’s hardly a change of scenery.

joined

Packing up the old place and setting up our new office

As expected, there were some complications and logistical challenges due to our move, but now we are up and running and ready to continue to offer our knowledge and expertise in energy management, efficiency and conservation.

We look forward to being part of a growing list of green industries and new tech companies in the downtown Kitchener area and hope to bring positive change to our new community and beyond.

Here’s our new address and contact information:

Energent Inc.
Suite 1114 – 22 Frederick Street
Kitchener, Ontario
N2H 6M6
Phone: (519) 725-0906
Fax: (519) 725-2072

SunLife_22FrederickSt-460x180

Our new office building

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Solar Power in Canada

With summer in full swing, the Sun’s power is never more obvious than it is now and Canada is taking notice. According to the Globe and Mail, by winter 2015, Ontario alone will have installed nearly 2,000 MW of additional solar power capacity. Although this solar boom will likely slow down in the near future, sunnier parts of Canada may soon be installing solar panels en masse to take advantage of this abundant resource.

Harnessing the sun’s energy is most often done through the use of photovoltaic panels (PVs) usually seen on the roofs of houses and other buildings (refer to Figure 1). In Ontario, there’s currently a feed-in tariff in place which provides financial incentives to those who decide to put solar panels on their roof providing electricity to the grid. Many Ontarians have taken advantage of this opportunity and are now reaping the financial rewards.

Figure 1 – Solar panels are often found on rooftops of buildings.

Critics of solar power, however, contend that it is expensive and not entirely reliable because it is impossible to generate electricity after sunset or on cloudy days. Although true, it was never intended for solar power to provide baseload demand for the grid. Solar power (at least here in Canada) would, at best, be able to relieve strain on the grid during summer peak hours while the sun is at its zenith. In the winter time, it would still be able to provide electricity although it would be limited due to fewer hours of daylight. As well, even though solar power does have a significant cost hurdle compared to other energy sources, the price for panels has decreased while panel efficiency has increased since the feed-in tariff first started in 2008. In the end, given that most solar installations are on roofs, which aren’t being used for anything other than HVAC units, it makes perfect sense to make use of this overlooked space to generate clean energy.

Despite the skepticism and criticism, solar power continues to grow here in Ontario and not just small rooftop installations. In 2010, Enbridge Inc, completed, at the time, the world’s largest photovoltaic solar farm at around 80 MW consisting of more than 1 million solar modules and covering an area of nearly 1 million square metres outside of Sarnia (refer to Figure 2). The South Korean tech company Samsung is also heavily invested in solar and is currently building a 100 MW solar farm south of Hamilton and planning an additional 100 MW solar farm in the outskirts of Kingston.

Figure 2 – Sarnia Photovoltaic Power Plant, among the largest solar installations in Canada at nearly 80 MW.

In Ontario, this boom in solar installations has resulted in a ripple effect in other areas of the economy. Aluminum companies have seen a great increase in sales for the racking, which is required to hold the solar panels in place. As well, the number of construction jobs has increased drastically, almost to the point where there are delays in solar construction because there aren’t enough workers to go around.

Figure 3 – Solar radiation in Canada.

What is even more remarkable is that there is so much more potential for solar to grow in Canada. Currently, Ontario is the only province that has feed-in tariff while people in southern Alberta and Saskatchewan, although far sunnier than Ontario (refer to Figure 3), have few financial incentives to install solar panels on their property. In any case, the future of solar power in this country could potentially be as bright as the very Sun that provides the energy.

Smart Meters: Why should I care?

Picture this, an electrical grid perfectly balancing generation, demand and distribution. A grid that is capable of accommodating abundant wind, solar and other renewable sources of energy into its system without issue or complication. On the rare occasion that problems occur, they are quick to be resolved. Such a technological wonder is not only possible but is already under way and it has started with the mass deployment of smart meters, so why then is there so much opposition towards them?

Smart Meter

Smart meters like this one are being deployed across North America

For those that don’t know, a smart meter is a device that collects a building’s energy use along with the time it was used which is then sent to the utility companies via Wi-Fi network at set intervals per day. Utilities will then use this data to get a more accurate, up-to-date picture of demand and consumption, which will make the grid easier to manage.

Currently, many utility companies across North America are installing smart meters at peoples’ homes and businesses as part of a greater vision to build a smart grid. There has been, however, a significant amount of resistance to them in many areas. In British Columbia, many groups have sprung up vehemently opposing smart meters. In a more extreme example, some families in Texas have been threatening utility workers at gun point to prevent smart meter installations. Such resistance to a seemingly benign piece of hardware has raised concerns over privacy invasion and health risks. However, are these legitimate concerns? Are these groups just buying into their own paranoia? Looking into this subject, it seems like logic and science are being ignored at the expense of innovation and progress.

BC Residents Protest smart meters

British Columbia has become a hot bed of smart meter opposition

Much opposition towards smart meters is that fact that they monitor a building’s energy usage throughout the day. Some are concerned that this is an invasion of privacy and is akin to a form of surveillance. Although smart meters will give utilities a more accurate picture of how much energy you’re consuming throughout the day, utilities will not know how you’re using that energy. This is similar to how we already deal with our internet service providers (ISP). Most ISPs will know how much bandwidth you’ve used, but they won’t know whether your bandwidth was used for downloading, uploading, streaming, etc. Privacy hasn’t been violated; the ISP is merely collecting your bandwidth usage so that they can bill you for the services they provide. Utilities will work in the exact same manner (as they do now), the only real change brought about by smart meters is that utilities will now gather your energy data via Wi-Fi signals, which is the other main area of concern for smart meter opponents.

The radio frequency (RF) radiation emitted by a smart meter’s Wi-Fi component is often cited as a major health risk by smart meter opponents. However, given the common sources of RF radiation, it seems short-sighted to villainize smart meters. Any wireless device will emit RF radiation; this includes cell phones, wireless routers, radios, garage door openers, etc. According to the American Cancer Society, cell phones will emit significantly more RF radiation than a smart meter and at a closer distance as cell phones are often pressed against a person’s ear whereas a smart meter is usually located outside of a building. Furthermore, a smart meter doesn’t emit RF radiation continuously like a cell phone; it will only emit when sending data to the utility. This is all making the assumption that the amount of RF radiation emitted by cell phones even poses a health risk in the first place, which modern science has flatly refuted. Frankly, the Sun is a far more dangerous emitter of radiation (and a proven cause of cancer) than any cell phone or smart meter, but that doesn’t seem to stop smart meter opponents from stepping outside to protest.

Sun

Beware, it could actually kill you… unlike a smart meter

The proven benefits of smart meters outweigh any inconclusive (or downright false) claims surrounding them. As more and more buildings have them installed, the grid will become far more interconnected in terms of its ability to share energy data information with utilities. It will make our grid more efficient, more responsive, and could potentially save us billions of dollars in the long run. But all this could be delayed or even prevented if smart meters continue to be opposed for illogical reasons. Now is not the time to let stupidity impede progress.

Link

The necessity of electricity is never more evident until you don’t have it. Exactly 10 years ago, such a thought was in the minds of over 50 million people across 8 North-eastern US states  and Ontario as they experienced, at the time, the second largest blackout in history.

The epic event was caused by sagging high-voltage power lines in Ohio coming in contact with overgrown trees that should have been trimmed and maintained properly. The power line then overloaded, shut down, and should have triggered an alarm to the grid operators. However, within an hour, 3 more lines overloaded and shut down, while grid operators remained in the dark (figuratively), completely unaware of what was happening. By 4:10 pm, millions were left in the dark (literally) as a massive blackout spread across the grid, lasting as long as 2 days in some places. It is estimated that the 2003 Northeast Blackout, cost around $6 billion and resulted in 11 deaths.

New York skyline

New York on August 14, 2003

 Since that fateful day in August, which remains a watershed moment for those who had to live through it, the power grid has changed. On this 10 year anniversary, it is important to highlight the problems of the grid then, and look at the progress that has been made, and what still needs to be done to ensure such events are a thing of the past.

Now

The blackout spurred both the American and Canadian government to respond with sweeping changes and regulations to prevent such events from happening again. Before the 2003 blackout, the North American Electricity Reliability Council (NERC) compiled a list of voluntary standards for energy distributors. At the time, many power distributors could opt out of such recommendations. After the blackout, however, these standards became mandatory and are now enforced by overseeing agencies that have the authority to issue penalties to violating parties. One of these new regulations requires foliage to be adequately cleared from power lines (the cause of the blackout). Failure to comply with this regulation could result in a fine upwards of a $1 million per day depending on risk and severity.

In 2003, electricity data sharing was well behind today’s standards. In North America’s interconnected grid, a power outage in one area can cause a measurable change in demand within seconds in another area of the grid thousands of miles away. Back then, it would take a distributor 30 seconds or more to receive data measuring such a change in demand. Today, that delay has been reduced, largely as a result of the deployment of phasor measurement units (PMUs for short). These devices are connected to transmission lines, measuring any changes in voltage. If the fluctuations are severe, they can warn distributors of an imminent power failure in less than 10 seconds. In 2003, there were exactly zero PMUs deployed in North America, at the end of this year, there will be more than 1,000 in operation.

Phasor Unit

A phasor measurement unit, devices like these are helping us to understand what’s happening to our grid much faster

Although no electrical grid system is immune to blackouts (no matter how advanced or well maintained), as a result of many of these preventative changes, power distributors know more about what’s happening in their grid today than they did yesterday, and they will know if there’s a problem a lot sooner. Additionally, more oversight is ensuring that the grid doesn’t remain vulnerable to an outage like it did in the past. Experts like former NERC vice president, David Hilt, agree that blackouts of the magnitude experienced in 2003 are less likely to happen today.

Future

Although the grid has come a long way since the blackout, there are still daunting challenges ahead, among them is generating capacity. According to the US Department of Energy, by 2040 electricity usage is expected to increase by 28% from 2011 levels, and according to the Ontario Power Authority, by 2030, demand in Ontario will be 15% higher than 2010 levels. This scenario poses certain complications and no guaranteed solution. It will likely require an increase in generating capacity, more transmission lines or both in order to decrease the likelihood of power outages, and all of these options are very expensive.

transmissionlines

New transmission lines are needed in the future

The 2003 blackout proved that a centralized grid system is very vulnerable to a large scale outage, and 10 years after the fact, the grid is still a largely centralized operation. In a reverse trend, another viable option would be to have a more decentralized grid where power is generated in a number of different locations, and distributed over shorter distances. Although such a grid would not be immune to a blackout either, in the event of one it’s unlikely to affect all regions at once as each region would be able to generate power independently of the others.

As was mentioned in a previous blog post, decreasing energy consumption is a viable option as it requires no additional infrastructure and would result in a less strained grid. However, even if we managed to decrease per capita energy consumption drastically, the infrastructure itself would still pose a problem. Simply put, the grid’s infrastructure is old and it needs to be replaced. Much of our current grid remains unchanged since the 1960s. According to Massoud Amin, Professor in Computer and Electrical Engineering at the University of Minnesota, upgrading transmission lines throughout North America alone would cost about $80 billion over the next 10 years.

Grid Updates

Updating and refurbishing the grid will be an expensive but necessary project

The end goal that consumers and distributors alike want is a smart grid, which is capable of monitoring itself, and automatically adapting and compensating for any conflict involving generation, consumption and distribution. This dream, however, is a good 20 years away and is largely dependent upon investments in better data collection tools (such as PMUs). Concerning a smart grid, Amin estimates that it will cost, at the very least, $340 billion over the next 20 years. Such a figure seems like a crippling blow to any smart grid proponent, however, such an investment may pay for itself overtime as inefficiencies are eliminated and blackouts prevented, which are already expensive, economy crippling events.

In any case, the worst thing that can be done is nothing at all, and the steps that we are taking now seem to be bearing fruit as there hasn’t been a blackout of the magnitude 10 years ago. Given the daunting (and expensive) task to recreate and refurbish our grid, the future seems somewhat bleak, but making the right decisions today will, at the very least, guarantee that the future won’t be dark.

It’s tough to be in manufacturing these days

It’s pretty difficult for manufacturers in North America to compete.  This is nothing new to this industry, but it doesn’t make it any easier to manage.  Recently in Ontario we have seen some very high profile manufacturing plants close and move operations to some other jurisdiction.  In both these cases, these jobs stayed within North America, but the plants were closed for the same reason…to reduce costs.

Energent was created when our manufacturing clients wanted to understand their energy use, with the ultimate goal of reducing their energy costs.  Since 2007, we have been working with manufacturing clients to help them achieve these two primary goals:

  1. Better understand where their energy is being spent
  2. How to reduce the cost of energy and maintain production

We receive the most interest from manufacturers when times are tough and they are looking for every possible savings opportunity.  Energy is rarely thought of as a manageable expense, but that is changing every day.

Electricity and Natural Gas are already an important part of most manufacturer’s budget considerations.  Most VP’s of production in manufacturing facilities pay their energy bills without consideration of how to change them.  We often hear

We can’t change production schedules to accommodate energy costs.  How else can we manage this expense?

Energy management comes in all forms, including altering productions schedules when that is feasible.  When it’s not, information on energy’s contribution to each production line highlights where savings can be found.

In a case study on our website showcases how a simple analysis of furnaces in different production lines produced savings in the first year of $240,000!  No change in production, no costly retrofits.  It was found that one furnace was significantly less efficient than the other furnaces, and once the furnace manufacturer repaired the furnace,  their natural gas consumption significantly dropped, with no change in production.

As manufacturers continue to look for innovative and impactful cost reductions, energy can become a manageable expense and a strategic opportunity to increase profits.  We are committed to supporting the manufacturing sector and will do what we can to offer cost-effective solutions that support this important economic engine.

Thanks for reading

Smart Buildings highlight opportunities for commercial properties

If you are familiar with the commercial real estate sector, the phrase “Smart Buildings” won’t be new to you.  But for the majority that don’t keep up with the commercial building jargon, Smart Buildings will be a household name in the near future.  This is because the technology that is going into the newest office towers around the world will eventually come to the average home owner; in the same way innovations in the automobile sector are often conceived on the race track.

Smart Buildings are buildings that are fully connected.  This means that all the regular infrastructure that are located within a building (telecommunications, security, internet, and energy) are networked together, allowing for unparallelled communication opportunities.  Think of a building that has a spinal cord…a central conduit where all the information within the building can be transported throughout the entire building.  But why does this matter for commercial tenants or builders?  Here are the most exciting opportunities that Smart Buildings will provide us in the next few years:

  1. Give real-time information on the “health of the building”.  Smart buildings will provide information on anything going on in the building at any time.  Change the building temperature, add an internet connection, add apps to read just about anything that is going on in the building from any computer.  Value: Respond to any event in the building almost immediately; have a real-time history of what has happened in the building.
  2. Reduce building waste.  Commercial buildings account for 35% of commercial energy consumption in North American cities.  What if we were able to reduce that consumption by 5% just because the building was smart enough to adjust the temperature and lighting at night automatically?  That would mean a continental savings of over $4 Billion with no impact on operations! Value: Reduce overall electricity demand; Save money; Lower Greenhouse Gas impact.
  3. Stimulate technology development.  Some of the largest software and hardware companies in the world are investing in Smart Buildings.  This includes Cisco, GE, and Siemens.  As this technology matures, Smart Buildings will eventually become Smart Houses, enabling this same technology to achieve the same results in every home in North America.  Value: Technology transfer to everyone; lower residential electricity costs; lower stress on the electricity grid.

There is a significant amount of opportunity for Smart Buildings to have a real impact on all of our lives.  If we work in Office Buildings, we may notice it sooner, but even if you work out of your house, pay attention t some of the amazing developments that will trickle down in the near future.

If you have any comments or questions, please feel free to comment below!

Thanks for reading.

Is Energy a Political Card That Should be Played?

In Ontario, energy policy is at or near the top of the political conversations.  The challenge is, energy policy is a complicated “beast” that far exceeds the length of a political career.  Just ask everyone who is paying their debt retirement charge from nuclear plants built 20 years ago.

My hope is that the politicians stop using electricity/energy as a political pawn, and talk about serious energy policy for the long-term.  Premiere McGuinty did it with taxes by choosing to implement the HST in Ontario.  This was potentially damaging politically, but was smart tax policy and has successfully implemented it across the province.  What I hope is that the same effort it took to develop a good tax policy can be put into a good energy policy.

To our politicians campaigning for our provincial votes, please talk about the real challenges and opportunities in creating great energy policy, not about how you will change the way my electricity bill will look.

Thanks for reading.

ISO 50001 Energy Management

During the summer, Canada, along with 42 other countries, participated in developing the first global standard for Energy Management Systems: ISO 50001.  ISO 50001 is a voluntary, internationally accepted framework for the management of energy for businesses of all sizes and in all industries.  It has laid out a clear path to the efficient management of energy by requiring organizations to:

  • Conduct an energy review
  • Establish an energy baseline
  • Develop energy objectives and targets that are measurable and set timelines for achievement
  • Implement the action plan
  • Check performance
  • Monitor, document and report

ISO 50001 is based on the “Plan-Do-Check-Act” framework for continual improvement:

PLAN – Establish the objectives and processes necessary to deliver results in accordance with opportunities to improve energy performance and policies

DO – Implement the process

CHECK – Monitor and measure processes and product against policies, objectives and key operations characteristics, then report on the results

ACT –  Take actions to continually improve energy performance

Leger Marketing conducted a survey on behalf of CSA to better understand what Canadian Executives thought about energy management.  The survey found that “79 per cent of Canadian executives believe that energy efficiency is a
key component to business success,” said Bonnie Rose, President, CSA
Standards. “And although the bottom line is not the only measure of
success, the implementation of ISO 50001 will help businesses move
forward in achieving their environmental goals by reducing their energy
consumption and carbon footprint, while also recognizing the cost
savings associated with reduced energy consumption.”

In that same survey, it found that 20% of executes believed that they would gain a competitive advantage by declaring their commitment to reducing energy consumption or improving environmental performance.

ISO 50001 is designed to help guide businesses to properly implement and monitor a successful energy management strategy.  How important is Energy in your business?  Do you budget energy as a manageable expense?

I would love to hear your comments.

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