Lessons from Smart Grid Pilot in Canada Can Be Applied to New England


Recently I attended the Boston Smart Grid Forum, where some of the leading “smart grid” minds met to discuss the challenges and opportunities that currently exist. Ontario has been one of the investment leaders in smart grid technology, much of which is being developed through the University of Waterloo. There are a number of similarities between Ontario and the Boston-area energy ecosystem, as new technology developments come from close relationships between the universities and entrepreneurs to develop great technology in emerging markets. Here are some thoughts about the pilot programs currently running in Ontario and the opportunities that exist for similar programs in New England.

Through pilot programs and tests in communities in the Northeast U.S. and Canada, individual efficiency and renewable energy technologies continue to evolve, becoming more efficient and effective every day. Photovoltaic cells are getting more efficient, improving the value of solar panels. Wind turbines are transferring more energy from the blades to the electrical grid.

While significant investment has been focused in these areas, insufficient attention is being paid to the ways in which they can be operated to maximize the benefits across a broader “energy system.” For example, a lot of effort is being exerted in order to improve the efficiency of photovoltaic cells beyond the current levels. There is a big opportunity to increase the value of this existing technology if it were coupled with an energy storage technology so that energy could be stored now and discharged later, during peak demand times, reducing the strain on the overall system. In response to this need, the Province of Ontario, in conjunction with Energent, Hydro One, Ontario Power Authority, Milton Hydro, and the University of Waterloo, are developing the Energy Hub Management System (EHMS).

Energent has been working with utilities in Canada and the U.S. developing smart grid technology for consumers since 2007. In creating the backbone of EHMS, Energent has defined a “hub” as a single, static location, such as a home, manufacturing facility, farm, etc. The management system consists of three key elements. First, there are two-way controls on all energy-consuming and producing devices within the energy hub. These controls will have the capacity to record energy consumption/production, and to direct the operation of the individual device, such as a motor, compressor, or dishwasher.

The second element will be a central core module that consolidates the information from the devices, the external environment (weather, energy prices, etc.), and user-defined models to effectively manage energy.

Finally, the third element is a Web-based portal, which is the user-friendly interface between the energy hub’s managers and the core module technology. This information will also be available on mobile devices for the three major smartphone platforms. Using a local home network to connect the home to the grid, the EHMS provides an effective, integrated interface for both the energy consuming/producing devices within a single, static location. It will also receive, analyze, and act on system-wide information, not seen in most in-home technologies.

The transformational change that comes from this program is the … Next Page »

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Chris Reid is President and CEO of Energent, Inc. of Waterloo, Ontario. Follow @

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