It’s been a long-time coming, but finally the electricity sector in Ontario has taken a close look at what a smart grid might look like and what it will take to get us there. The Ontario Smart Grid Forum, made up of electricity sector executives and officials, released a white paper this week that, among other things, recommended that the province spend $320 million annually for the next five years on smart grid technology deployment — and that’s above and beyond existing budget allocations for grid maintenance, expansion and smart meter deployment. (See my Toronto Star article here).
It would be a decent chunk of change, at least measured against the pittance the federal government has allocated for the entire country — that is, some unknown portion of a $1 billion “green” fund spread over five years. In the United States, a stimulus bill under discussion would devote $11 billion (U.S.) over two years.
On an annual per capita basis, the U.S. would spend $18 (U.S.), compared to $25 (Canadian) under the recommendations proposed for Ontario and a potential $6 offered up under the federal budget. Clearly, the Ontario task force recommendations — if acted on — would signal how serious the province is about becoming a global leader in smart-grid development.
David McFadden, an energy lawyer and a member of the task force, said the province is leading the continent with smart meter deployments but shouldn’t, at this critical juncture, rest on its laurels. Smart meters, he said, are but one small — albeit significant piece — of a much larger, more powerful puzzle. “What we should be doing is moving rapidly and taking a real lead in terms of systems, technology, software, all the way through the entire electricity system,” said McFadden
Now we’re talking. Fact is, Ontario has many things it can leverage — a world-class transmission utility, a diverse power mix, a strategy to shut down coal plants, and a commitment to renewables. We also have a strong telecommunications and IT heritage that, combined with our expertise in traditional energy fields, could be used to make Ontario a clear leader in smart-grid development. All it needs now is a comprehensive plan, a vision behind it, and a commitment from both government and the private sector to come together and make it happen. It could become a significant source of job creation for the province, and a significant path to export opportunities.
For his part, Premier Dalton McGuinty — while not talking details or showing any cards (yet) — indicated in a speech today that he’s committed to this direction. In fact, the smart grid is expected to be part of McGuinty’s new Green Energy Act, which will be tabled sometime around Feb. 17. The legislation would be all about enabling renewables, by streamlining regulations and upgrading the grid. Tied to this is job creation. McGuinty said this week that he’ll leverage this legislation to help spur the creation of 50,000 “green” jobs over the next three years.
“We need a 21st century electricity grid that can better meet the changing nature of power consumption in Ontario,” said McGuinty. Again: We’ve got the commitment, which of course is just words at the moment. The details will be what matters, so we’ll have to wait a couple of weeks.
Skeptics in the crowd might question whether the Ontario government is bold enough to make the changes and invstments necessary, and that does indeed remain an open question. The province, however, really has no choice. McGuinty uses hockey analogies like “bring up our game” and “go where the puck is,” but in reality — to extend this analogy — what we’re talking about here is the need to get off the bench and start driving towards the net.
We’ve been passing the puck (the buck?) for too long while the clock it ticking and the other team is leading. It’s time to shoot! shoot! shoot! before the buzzer sounds and the game is over.