Winds of Change

Ontario’s power generation is changing rapidly. By 2014, there will be no more coal generation while renewable energy sources (particularly wind) will make up the difference. This goal has been lauded by a number of environmental groups as it will help lower Ontario’s carbon emissions, reduce air pollution, decrease our reliance on non-renewable sources of energy and at the same time, create jobs in a rapidly growing industry. However, no matter how positive these changes may be, there are certain concerns that need to be addressed about going green.

Wind Farm

Amaranth Wind Farm, the largest of its kind in Ontario

Wind power has made significant strides here in Ontario; the industry has seen an increase in the number of large scale turbines from 10 in 2003 to more than 700 today. You can also expect that number to increase in the coming years as well. According to the Ontario Ministry of Energy’s Long Term Plan, by 2030, wind power will generate 10% of the province’s energy needs (in 2010, it supplied only 2%).

Increasing our reliance on wind turbines, however, has its own set of challenges. Unlike other sources of energy such as nuclear, coal or natural gas, wind turbines can only generate energy if there is a sufficient breeze. As a result of this inherent flaw, wind power is not ideal for baseload capacity as it is not entirely reliable. Of course, when building wind turbines, energy planners look to build turbines in areas that are consistently windy, however, it’s possible that even the most notoriously windy areas can go without a breeze for prolonged periods of time.

With this in mind, the all-too-important balancing act between generation and consumption becomes slightly more complicated. Adding an increasing amount of intermittent wind power might cause generating capacity to fluctuate over shorter periods of time. Currently, whatever wind capacity is generated is used as there is no viable way to store energy in Ontario, and on days where demand is considerably higher and wind cannot make up the difference, more nuclear and natural gas generation fills the void. Although our current grid can adjust load to compensate for wind power, a greater understanding of what is happening to our grid at all times will be needed in the likely event that renewables will play an increasingly larger role. In the worst case scenario, excess wind generation will need to be sent to neighbouring grids that may need extra capacity (e.g. Quebec, New York, Michigan) so as to avoid potentially catastrophic overloads (refer to the August blog post).

Energy Grid Management Facility

Managing our grid will be paramount in future years

Another issue that should likely arise due to increased wind capacity is energy cost. Although several cost analysis have suggested that wind power is competitive with other sources of energy in terms of cost, as a result of massive subsidies given to nuclear power, wind is considerably more expensive per kWh. As such, more wind power will likely increase peoples’ utility bills in the near future.

With the rising cost of energy, a greater emphasis is placed on energy management and conservation. As mentioned in a previous blog post, energy management systems for large industrial and commercial operations can help reduce energy consumption and utility costs. Furthermore, an energy management system can pay for itself through energy savings within months of deployment.

Increasing wind generation capacity in Ontario will benefit the environment greatly. The challenges that come with it on the other hand, are not reasons to prevent more wind generation, but rather they should be seen as a warning that there is no perfect and certainly no free solution to our energy issues. Wind energy can play a very crucial role in our electricity system and although it may cost more and require additional technology and infrastructure to support it, if business and industry move forward intelligently, there should be no reason why we can’t have lower utility bills and an adequate supply of energy.

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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.

The Simplicity and Effectiveness of Energy Conservation

As any business owner or head of household will know, the simplest way to save money is to spend less on what you don’t need. In the same vein, the simplest way to save on energy expenditures is to use less. Now it may sound like a simple solution to our vast and complex list of energy problems, but then again, the simplest solutions are often the most effective.

In these hot summer months, power grids across North America will feel the strain of millions upon millions of people turning on their air conditioners while using all the other electronic devices modern lives and employment require. In order to meet demand, power generators need to increase their output significantly, which often means burning more coal and natural gas. Although building new power plants running on clean, renewable energy is good for the grid, good for the environment, and necessary in future years, such projects cost millions, possibly billions depending on size and scale, and may take several years to complete. Energy conservation, on the other hand, may prove to be the cheapest and cleanest energy resource as it requires little to no additional infrastructure, and it is readily available.

According to Jack Gibbons, head of the Ontario Clean Air Alliance, Ontario spends $36 on new generation for every $1 invested in conservation, despite the fact that conservation is much cheaper than building any other type of generation. Such imbalance has likely contributed to a review in Ontario’s energy policy with Minister of Energy, Bob Chiarelli, recently speaking out in favour of conservation in this past Tuesday’s Toronto Star.

hot-summer-energy-eifficiancy

Grids struggle to meet demand during the hot summer months

Ontario isn’t the only jurisdiction looking to conservation to solve their energy issues. Over the past few years, British Columbia has been at the forefront of energy conservation in Canada. In 2007, BC Hydro identified a massive 22,000 GWh of electricity that can be accessed by 2026 simply through conservation. So if all savings are realized as predicted, in a little more than a decade, BC Hydro can “create” 50% of their current generation capacity simply by using what energy they already have more efficiently. Since 2008, BC has saved about 3,400 GWh/year. That’s enough to power more than 300,000 homes.

BCHydro

BC Hydro could potentially increase their demand capacity by 50% through conservation

California has also reaped the benefit of energy conservation. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, since the 1970s, California’s energy conservation policies have negated the need for 30 power plants, and prevented the same amount of carbon emissions generated by some 5 millions cars annually. In total, these energy policies have saved California residents more than $65 billion dollars and helped lower their energy bills by 25% below the US average.

For business, a significant obstacle to energy conservation strategies is that any ensuing renovations are very expensive, time consuming, and may interfere with operations. However, some companies are only making the simplest of changes, barely affecting operations as a whole. Unilever, for example, has merely encouraged its employees to turn lights off that aren’t in use. This very simple request alone saved the company €99 million (approximately $135 million). Likewise, since 2007, the Fairmont Winnipeg has saved 882,000 kWh per year in electricity by merely replacing all 60-100-watt light bulbs with more energy efficient ones. This resulted in no interruptions to service, and has saved the hotel approximately $44,000 per year.

Energy Savings

The Fairmont Winnipeg saves $44,000 annually because of a change in lighting

Other low cost, high savings options for business include installing an energy management system to track and monitor energy consumption. One example where savings can be easily realized is through shifting high intensity energy activities to later at night or early in the morning (load shifting) to take advantage of cheaper energy prices where time-of-use pricing is in effect. Energy management systems that can identify these areas for savings can be deployed at a fraction of the cost of large scale renovation projects.

Over the long term, power grids across North America will have to upgrade their current generation capacity and accompanying infrastructure, which will likely take decades at the cost of billions. As well, businesses that want to make their operations more efficient will have to take more complicated steps than turning the lights off. At the same time, however, solutions based primarily on conserving energy can and should be taken beforehand because energy conservation requires no additional infrastructure, it can be done immediately, it is simple. Although simple may be easy, and simple may be cheap, simple is also effective.

Energy Managers make all the difference

Recently, Natural Resources Canada released a report highlighting the success that embedded Energy Managers had on the Resource Sector (Mining and Gas).  These Energy Managers were able to make a significant impact on the businesses they were part of in a short period of time.

Below is a summary of the article and the successes that have been realized through the hiring of energy managers across British Columbia.

A study conducted a few years ago by BC Hydro – the Conservation Potential Review – found that the mining sector could achieve energy savings of up to 400 gigawatt hours annually. Steve Quon, Mining, Oil & Gas Sector Manager at BC Hydro’s Power Smart, says that as a result of the study, Power Smart partnered with the Mining Association of British Columbia (MABC) to look for key areas to target for energy savings. The subsequent hiring of energy managers at seven mine sites across the province was a major step in realizing those energy savings.

“Energy managers are a good story for everyone,” says Quon, noting that by having an energy manager on staff, continuous improvement is possible, and sustainability and energy efficiency become part of normal business practices. This increases operational efficiency, which is essential to the mining sector because it is British Columbia’s second largest electrical customer.

Quon explains that BC Hydro, in conjunction with the MABC, also conducted an all-fuels baseline audit, which was piloted at Walter Energy™-Western Coal’s Wolverine mine and Thompson Creek Metals Company Inc.’s Endako mines. The all-fuels baseline audit provides a detailed snapshot of energy use and waste at a mine site. It can be used yearly to compare trends in energy consumption and efficiency over time; and it can be used to compare mine sites. The audit is also a natural complement to the Mining Association of Canada’s Towards Sustainable Mining strategy.

“All of these initiatives align very well, but in order to fully implement them, a dedicated person – an energy manager – is needed,” notes Quon. Several mining companies had the information needed to move ahead but lacked the champion to make projects happen. Consequently, Power Smart offered to provide significant funding for hiring industrial energy managers to remove any financial and human resource barriers.

This allowed the following mines to hire energy managers: Highland Valley Copper mine, Thompson Creek Endako mine, Copper Mountain Mining Corporation mines, Agfa’s New Gold mine, Teck’s coal mine and Walter Energy-Western Coal’s Wolverine mine.

Most of the energy managers were hired in 2011, and although it is difficult to attribute energy savings directly to their presence, Quon says that the link is surely there. “What is equally important is that energy managers can make the business case for energy efficiency projects and ensure that energy efficiency is built into every project,” concludes Quon.

Visit BC Hydro Power Smart’s Web site for energy efficiency programs for the mining sector, including its offer for energy managers.

Thanks for reading.

Exciting announcements at OCE Discovery last week

Energent is very proud to announce the latest investment the Ontario government has made in improving the Smart Grid infrastructure.  On Tuesday, May 15th, Sean Conway, Chairman of the Board of the Ontario Centres of Excellence (OCE) and Brad Duguid, Minister of Economic Development and Innovation, announced support for an innovative partnership between Energent and Wilfrid Laurier University.

Gord Ellis, CTO of Energent Inc., and Wilfrid Laurier University are collaborating on a communications software system that can potentially be installed on all smart grid devices to allow them to communicate with each other to facilitate smarter, more effective, efficient energy use. The platform is now under development with a prototype, and further research and development will be conducted in collaboration with the team from Wilfrid Laurier.

This exciting infrastructure development, designed to design and create a communications middleware system, will be powerful enough to handle the increased amounts of data that are part of the Smart Grid.  “The Grid is going to be all about data management” says Sean Conway, Chair of the OCE Board of Directors, “and therefore the Grid must communicate effectively and reliably, and must be able to handle vast amounts of data.”  This collaboration will enable all three of these communication goals, providing a stable platform for which the Smart Grid to grow from.

These are two videos announcing the project below in this blog post.

 

Celebrating Earth Hour

Energent is excited to support the 2012 Earth Hour on March 31.  For one hour, between 8:30pm and 9:30pm, millions of Canadians will come together and turn off their lights.  We will be turning our lights off at the office and at home to support this important event, and encourage everyone to do the same.

We will be monitoring the collective effect of our client’s Earth Hour response.  We encourage you to check our website after Earth Hour to see the positive impact our clients have made.   Also, we want to know what your organizations or personal energy saving tips and tricks are.  Each one of our clients will receive a special report highlighting the success of their Earth Hour response.  This will give each of our clients an opportunity  to show their stakeholders the value of initiating Energy Conservation Measures (ECMs) that in many cases cost the organization no money.

We look forward to watching our clients make this significant contribution to Earth Hour, and sharing this response to the world.  Click on the link below to participate in our poll.

Thanks for reading!

Energent at Globe2012 – Shifting Focus from “If” to “Now”

Energent just returned from a very successful and enlightening week at the Globe2012 conference in Vancouver, BC.  Aside from attending very compelling presentations by global leaders in sustainability, meeting visionaries from within organizations dedicated to changing the way their business operates, we noticed a decided shift from talk to action.  No longer are the conversations blue sky and what-ifs; they are about concrete actions and achieved results.

In our environment, those that are interested in energy management of commercial, institutional, and industrial building are pushing their current systems to keep up to the demand of an engaged and enthusiastic energy manager.  The are asking questions like:

What if my energy monitoring system could build in best-case scenarios and I could build business cases directly from the reporting tool?

They are pushing their monitoring systems by saying:

I need my energy monitoring system to help me manage energy in every part of my business, and experts to help me use this tool.

Ultimately, we have found that an Energy Management system is very similar to a gym membership.  If you buy an Energy Management system and just look at it, you aren’t going to be very successful at managing energy.  If you buy a gym membership to lose weight and you just keep the card in your wallet, you aren’t going to be very successful at losing weight or getting healthier.

Energy Management is a participation sport.  We are going to focus on that in our next few posts because Energy Managers have been lied to for the past 5+ years.  We want to set the record straight…and based on the presentations at Globe2012, software providers are going to be pushed to provide more than data.  We need to start taking that data and turning into information, and from that information, use people combined with the software tools, to create knowledge.  Knowledge will enable a true revolution in energy management.

Stay tuned as we teach all energy managers about turning mountains of data into usable knowledge that will enable great decisions.

Thanks to the presenters and attendees at Globe2012 for focusing the conversation from “If” to “Now”.  Amazing.

Don’t forget that Energent is hosting its newest webinar or Greenhouse Gas reporting requirments for public builings Thursday, March 22 at 2pm EST  Click here to register.

Energent particpating at Globe 2012

Energent is excited to be part of the premiere global conference on sustainability and the environmental economy.  Globe 2012 brings together a worldwide audience to discuss and debate the pressing issues of the economics of environmental sustainability.  Energent is excited to be part of this world-class conference and tradeshow, and to participate as part of the Ontario Pavillion.

At the tradeshow, Energent will be showcasing two products.  The first product is Energent’s class-leading Energy Management Information System.  Energent’s EMIS platform provides visibility into the real-time energy consumption of operations in industrial, institutional, and commercial buildings.  The comprehensive reporting and alerting that is enabled because of the Energent platform drives companies to lower energy consumption and save money.

Energent will also be presenting it’s leading-edge Home Energy Smart Grid platform.  The Energy Hub Management System (EHMS) is being deployed across Ontario through partnerships with Hydro One, Ontario Power Authority, and the University of Waterloo.  Energent’s EHMS is a web-based, two-way communication and software optimization  engine, providing every home with the opportunity to optimize thier home energy consumption based on goals for the end user and the Utility.  Home owners see value through lower energy costs and improved visibility into their consumption, and Utilities will be able to optimize the distribution of electricity to thousands of homes, lowering peaks, and improving efficiency.

At the conference, Energenet will be presenting an update on the roll out across Ontario and will welcome other Utilities and jurisdictions that are interested in grid optimization to speak to them at Globe.

To arrange a meeting with Energent at the Globe 2012 conference on either the EMIS or the Smart Grid EHMS, please contact Craig Haney at chaney@energent.com, or by phone at 519-725-0906 x2007.  Energent is looking for productive meetings with utilities and municipalities interested in reducing peak demand on their grid through Home Energy Management plans.  Energent is also interested in meeting with commercial building operators, municipalities, and manufacturing organizations looking to lower their energy consumption through real-time reporting and ehanced energy analytics.

Look for Energent at Globe 2012 in booth 1117-13 at the Ontario Pavillion on the Globe Tradeshow Floor.

Thanks for reading

Net-Zero Buildings

It’s cheaper to save a kilowatt than it is to generate a kilowatt

architects and building operators have long said that energy efficiency is the key to lower energy costs.  It’s this reason that Pike Research, a well-known research company sees the market for Building Energy Management Systems (BEMS) growing faster and earlier than Net-Zero Buildings.

Net-Zero Buildings are built to generate at least the same amount of energy as they consume.  For commercial builders, there are certain incentives and benefits to building Net-Zero building but they aren’t free.  The latest numbers from the United States suggest that a Net-Zero Building cost approximately 6% more than a standard building.  Considering the savings opportunities, the payback seems to be reasonable.  Since commercial vacancy rates in the United States are at 16% (reference here), building operators would prefer to reduce their energy consumption instead of building new energy efficient buildings.  As we stated in an earlier post, it is always “greener” to retrofit an existing building than to build a new building, so it makes sense that BEMS are a cost effective and strategic way for building operators to lower energy costs.

Look for BEMS to continue to make an impact in the commercial energy efficiency sector in 2012 and beyond.

Thanks for reading.