Thankfully, in Canada, we are entering a new era for the electrical grid, and that’s good news for Canadian manufacturers. Across the country, there is increasing awareness of the need for a smarter electrical grid system, and both the public and private sectors are contributing toward that goal.
Blackouts and brownouts come at a tremendous cost to the economy in general — but to manufacturers, when the production line stops, there are immediate and profound consequences to the bottom line. And that’s as true for our clusters of clean technology companies working on cutting-edge devices and software, as it is for our many traditional manufacturers in the aerospace, automotive, and other traditional manufacturing sectors.
Even so, consistent access to reliable power is only one problem resulting from our antiquated system. Another concern is our vulnerability to the effects of climate change; the unpredictability of storm events, peak demand for air conditioning due to unprecedented heat waves, and security issues because of the grid’s centralized structure stand out as liabilities as a consequence of the interdependency of grid components and risk of cascading failure.
The existing system across Canada and all of North America, with its reliance primarily on coal, is also bad for climate change. There are additional concerns about falling behind in terms of global competitiveness as we see Asia and the European Union embrace advanced electrical grid technologies such as renewable energy, automated distribution, and advanced battery storage.
Canadian Buildings And The Grid: Ready For A More Symbiotic Relationship?
One beacon of change in Canada comes from the province of Ontario, which has recently accomplished moving to a coal-free electrical grid. While coal-free may not make sense for every province, the move has helped move other advances — like smart grid innovations and the use of renewables — from “good idea” to an installed reality.
Meanwhile, just as the utilities sector hasn’t greatly changed since Thomas Edison, the building industry has not evolved much in the past three quarters of a century. Our buildings still tend to be built for the long term, are unresponsive to the changing needs of the occupants, and often require expensive upgrades and redesigns to accommodate end-user requirements. Many new buildings still do not install energy management systems that can integrate with smart grid functionality, even for jurisdictions that offer it.
So how can we provide more electricity to meet rising demand, increase reliability and quality of power supplies, increase energy efficiency, and integrate low-carbon energy sources into power networks? And on the other side of the coin, how can we make our buildings more efficient and more responsive to the needs of occupants? The answer is “smart grids” and “smart buildings.”
Smart Grids For Smart Canadian Manufacturers
Smart grids consist of interconnected loads and distributed energy resources — including renewable energy — that act as a single controllable entity with respect to the grid. Within a smart grid system, advanced communications and controls integrate the different energy sources, energy loads, and energy storage and make “smart” decisions in collecting the energy and move it around in any direction — when and as needed. Within a smart grid, discrete elements can connect or disconnect from the grid, enabling them to operate in both grid-connected or island mode. This greatly improves the flexibility, resiliency, and efficiency of electrical supply, and changes the way building operators think about and interact with the electrical system, for example, by generating their own electricity and even sending electricity back into the grid.
With 49 percent smart meter penetration, almost 5GW in distributed generation, over 4000 electric vehicles, and almost 1,100 charging stations, Canada has rallied behind the smart grid since 2007, becoming one of the earliest adopters of smart grid technology. 2014 report from the Global Smart Grid Federation More good news for Canadian manufacturers: Canada is a leader in the development of smart grid technology. According to a 2014 report from the Global Smart Grid Federation, “With 49 percent smart meter penetration, almost 5GW in distributed generation, over 4000 electric vehicles, and almost 1,100 charging stations, Canada has rallied behind the smart grid since 2007, becoming one of the earliest adopters of smart grid technology.” The report also cites Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, and British Columbia as provinces that are leading the charge to offer smart grid infrastructure.
Solving The Energy Storage Challenge
Providing electricity in a reliable manner means that the energy can travel from where it is stored to where it is needed, when it is needed. This sounds simple, but since electricity cannot be stored at grid scale in a cost-effective way, utilities have had to find ways to “shave” demand at peak times.
In the past, this was done primarily through demand response programs, where energy users agreed to adapt their usage to off-peak night hours in exchange for lower rates for energy. New technologies now enable utilities to offer automated demand-response programs — for example, automatically shutting off energy to a hot water heater for just a few minutes — a minor change that a customer would not notice. However, if we multiply those small savings by hundreds or thousands of households, or many dozens of large commercial buildings, these “mini-shavings” add up to noticeable reductions at peak times. This profound change is partly due to advances in control systems, data sensors, and machine-to-machine communications.
Smart Grid, Smart Manufacturing Facilities
There are many parallels between a smart grid and a smart building. The same sensors and wireless technologies that are the basis of grid upgrades are used in buildings in similar ways and go far beyond current machine-to-machine applications, remote monitoring, control of building HVAC and lighting. The conversation is also about how the smart grid will shape the connected building. Remote operation, big data, deep analytics and fault detection, renewable energy, automatic demand response, and time-of-day billing are all exciting aspects at the building level that will be driven by the maturity of smart grid.
When buildings become part of the energy community, it will bring about two-way energy transactions, market positions, and position trading for distributed energy. This new two-way interconnectivity between smart buildings and smart grids — whereby buildings are not only buyers, but also sellers of energy — will, in turn, shape behaviors. For example, by providing an added catalyst for accurate data, this will likely bring about radical change to the whole issue of benchmarking building net energy.
As the technology continues to advance and more manufacturing companies opt-in to make their businesses increasingly environmentally friendly, we expect that the application of smart energy will continue to gain momentum, with Canadian manufacturers leading the way for the rest of the world. Many manufacturing facilities are uniquely suited to produce energy and contribute to the grid, with the land and the zoning to install many types of renewable energy power generation such as solar panel “farms” or wind turbines. Offering those onsite also increases reliability; when the grid goes down, onsite power can be generated at the source.
We have the technology today to transform the energy relationship between buildings and the grid as well as make buildings more energy-efficient and resilient. Yet, businesses and utilities have been slow to keep pace with technological advances. Although a small but increasing number of buildings are now “smart,” and many municipalities have invested in some form of smart grid technology, the reality is that the real estate industry has been lagging, and few municipal grids have the capability for two-way interaction with smart buildings.
A New Era In Power Generation
Despite current challenges, smart grid infrastructure throughout Canada is coming — and the government is taking steps to make sure that this new era in power generation comes online smoothly and as rapidly as possible. In 2012, the Standards Council of Canada published “The Canadian Smart Grid Standards Roadmap: a strategic planning document” designed to enable manufacturers, municipalities, and other organizations to operate under a shared set of technical standards. Developed by a committee of more than 20 public and private sector experts, the Council noted the nature of this emerging technology — and the necessity of it for economic development and support for Canadian businesses. The foreword to the report notes, “Smart grid technologies will enhance the reliability, resiliency, and efficiency of the electric network, as well as improve environmental performance by enabling consumers to play a more active role in their energy use decisions and helping to integrate renewable resources such as wind… As these technologies mature and are brought into the marketplace, standardization will become increasingly necessary to ensure the development of an efficient and effective smart grid.”
As onsite power generation becomes more affordable, and improved battery storage technology makes it possible to store energy until it is needed, some buildings already are becoming self-powered at least part of the time. Such buildings tend to rely on renewable energy such as solar, wind, and geothermal energy in combination with high efficiency refrigerators, LED lights, and green building materials, while accessing municipal power when needed.
By creating microgrids and providing energy from renewable sources such as wind or solar, smart buildings can help reduce greenhouse gas emissions, while also providing a safeguard against grid disruptions caused by natural or manmade disasters. Although North America in general, and Canada in particular, has typically lagged behind when it comes to integrating technology into our energy systems, early adopters like Ontario, Quebec, Alberta, and British Columbia have been paving the way for future progress.
The Economic Impact
The economic impact of upgrading the old grid to a smart grid is indisputable. According to the Conference Board of Canada, for every $100 million invested in power system assets, real GDP will be boosted by $85.6 million and roughly 1,200 person years of employment will be created. In other words, for each $100 million invested, 1,200 jobs will be created for one year. And much of that growth will come from the manufacturing sector.
Manufacturers in Canada can seek to better understand the smart grid infrastructure available to them in their locations by requesting up-to date information from their local utility. To better understand smart grid infrastructure across the nation, resources are available from the Standards Council of Canada; the Canadian Electricity Association; and local, provincial, and federal government websites and industry groups.
As the technology continues to advance and more manufacturing companies opt-in to make their businesses increasingly environmentally friendly, we expect that the application of smart energy will continue to gain momentum, with Canadian manufacturers leading the way for the rest of the world.