Task force: spend $1.6 billion on Ontario smart grid over five years

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.

9 thoughts on “Task force: spend $1.6 billion on Ontario smart grid over five years”

  1. With the crashing economy, we don’t need a smart grid as much as we need a clean grid. Crashing economy implies lower power demand. Since power production capacity is fixed, we have too much power generation (at least until the economy picks up). If we have more than enough capacity, we don’t need smart grid technology to police and allocate power.

    What we need is a clean grid. What they should do is spend a chunk of money subsidizing green power consumers, such as customers of Bullfrog Power, so that green electricity costs can match market rates for electricity. This would trigger investment in “green power” technologies, and spur a build-out of wind and solar electricity sources.

    Allocating that money is fairly easy because each green power consumer pays GST and/or PST, so the funding could simply be administered as a GST or PST break for customers of companies such as Bullfrog Power.

  2. Is a green grid in fact, ready to be implemented? I admit I’m pretty fuzzy on what a smart grid actually consists of. Indeed, for their part, most writers tend to skip over the details. So my question is this: we treat the smart grid as a “thing” we can “buy”; are the components existant and ready to go? Are the smart meters we’re installing now robust enough to handle different functions for future requirements? If people like Cisco are putting their innovational heft behind smart grid projects, what are they innovating, and will it render current smart grid systems obsolete?

    If anyone knows the answer to these, I’d be interested to hear. Also if anyone could point me towards a good “Smart Grid fo Dummies”-type resource that explains this whole thing.

  3. Who owns the grid in Ontario? Are the owners effectively asking for cash, or is it publicly owned?

    The best solution would surely to pass a small increase in transmission prices, with the proceeds earmarked for smart grid investment.

  4. It is my firm and shrill belief that Smart Metering is an affront to Ontarians.

    If a so-called Smart Grid is to appear, it should be supportive of local level renewable energy installations at 30 kWh.

    I wish our government wasn’t so interested in making money from electric vehicles in future.

    If we had truly visionary leadership resource depletion would be intrinsic to their approach.

    And Net Metering would be the only choice. Not Smart Metering.

    After having reviewed the recent studies detailing the increasingly obvious gap between low income households and high income households, visually apparent by the zones in which these phenomenon occur, it seems obvious taxing people with Smart Metering without helping each household access technologies which aid in net family income or produce an offset to energy expenditures, is not going to allow the Smart Grid model to work as a socially responsible development.

    The cost of generating, according to some experienced Alcatel engineers I’ve spoken with who, in consultation with Ontario Hydro leading up to 2002, expected the cost per kWh to increase without the Standard Offer Contract, Smart Metering or Usage Levels, to 10 cents; just to cover the then current cost of generation.

    Smart Metering is still a bad idea. 800,000 people the government does not care about in my opinion. And that number will grow.

    Imagine a Smart Metering, Smart Grid future where debt retirement will have to be revisited to pay for the current nuclear agenda.

    Sure. Let’s build some nuclear power plants and increase the footprint of nuclear some more instead of getting behind renewable energy at the local level.

    At least it creates revenue for the government if nothing else.

  5. The naysayers for this story have it all wrong- the smart grid technology is an investment in infrastructure that not only will save money over the long run for present electriciy generation, but will be even more important for renewables, and, hopefully, EV’s. It will, among other things, allow for more efficient use of the Grid, including balancing electricity needs in local areas and metro areas- imagine being able to decrease electricity to water heaters and EV’s just enough to meet the A/C demand on a brutal July day, or to pick up the slack for an area that loses its capacity for some reason. Additionally, because of the nature and geographic location of many renewables, some say a smart grid is even necessary before renewables can fully and efficiently be implemented. For a good overview of the Smart Grid technology, see the Wikipedia article:
    It is so short-sighted not to invest in infrastructure- let’s hope for the long view then here and in Canada;-)

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