An industry-wide perspective on microgrids in Ontario
We’re in an age of consumer empowerment. Today’s consumers are enabled with information and communications technologies that have transformed the ways that businesses market their products and interact with their customers. This trend permeates sectors ranging from transportation to accommodation, but the energy sector is lagging behind. Engaging consumers with information about their energy usage offers great potential for value creation and money and energy savings, as well as for innovation in the sector.
As industry leaders look to unlock the wealth of opportunity that exists in consumer engagement, microgrids are also gaining traction. Microgrids are smart local energy systems that have the potential to provide communities and utility customers with autonomous control of their energy resources. However, there are many unknown technical and economic factors affecting grid-scale deployment.
The market-driven shift from centralized to distributed renewable energy generation is prompting the rapid deployment of utility-scale and community microgrids across North America—yet many of the benefits and effects of these microgrids remain unknown. This shift is occurring within a regulatory environment that wasn’t designed for utility engagement behind the meter.
In a recent Advanced Energy Centre survey, respondents highlighted the core benefits of microgrid systems. The top benefits identified by industry leaders include:
- positive environmental outcomes resulting from increased penetration of renewables;
- gains in system-wide energy efficiency; and
- resiliency of strategic loads against extreme weather events.
Though there is broad agreement that microgrid deployment has many potential benefits, the survey’s respondents were also quick to highlight the barriers to implementation. Ontario’s current regulatory and legislative framework, the rules and policies affecting Ontario’s local distribution companies and a lack of customer understanding were found to be the top three barriers inhibiting the deployment of advanced microgrid systems in the province.
Back in June, the Advanced Energy Centre convened policy-makers, energy innovators, distribution utilities and regulators at the Ontario Smart Grid Forum to examine the value of microgrids and the barriers currently inhibiting their rollout in Ontario. The event’s attendees agreed that microgrids have the potential to become a source of major disruption in the energy sector. They also agreed that the barriers to implementation were largely non-technical and primarily organizational, regulatory, social and economic.
“I found it very fascinating that a lot of people are not that worried about barriers, myself included,” said Norm Fraser, chief operating officer of distribution and customer service at Hydro Ottawa. “I don’t think there are any large barriers to doing this, except maybe the economic ones. Opportunities are open ended.”
For a full report on the outcomes from the Advanced Energy Centre event, download the PDF below.