Time-of-use pricing: Will it undermine solar domestic hot water programs?

Smart meters and time-of-use pricing are always well-read stories because there’s true division within the general public on whether smart meters are consumer-friendly gadgets that encourage conservation or utility-friendly devices that make it easier to gouge consumers. See my story in the Toronto Star from Friday. My take is that electricity prices are going up whether we get smart meters or not, and that smart meters — and the applications they enable — offer households a way to shift and even lower their electricity use to buffer the impact of rising prices. The mistake — and again, just my view — is that smart meters have been improperly marketed to consumers as some kind of sexy wonder tool that will help them lower their bills. Instead, utilities should have downplayed the introduction and simply moved ahead with their installation as part of a less exciting grid modernization play — equivalent to a telecom company upgrading from analog to digital networks so that, down the road, new services can be offered to customers. Customers don’t care about the bandwidth, they just care about the handsets and what they can do.

By positioning smart meters as more of an infrastructure play the cost of deployment can be simply incorporated into annual capital budgets and households are more resigned to the fact that getting the new device is mandatory. Let’s face it, initially smart meters are about helping utilities manage their networks better — i.e. they can pinpoint problems and do more detailed analysis of individual household, neighbourhood, and community power consumption, improving system planning and maintenance operations and preparing utilities for increased distributed generation in their service territories.

By making this seem like some gift to consumers, as has been done, utilities open themselves up to consumers expecting certain results and wanting the option of getting or not getting the smart meter. Continue reading Time-of-use pricing: Will it undermine solar domestic hot water programs?

Is not being green a “social faux pas”? If so, will green imposters follow?

I don’t typically give much weight to surveys, particularly ones that have been paid for by private interests, but a new national (Canadian) survey — a joint effort by Bosch Home Appliances and Leger Marketing — caught my attention. It addresses the question of whether people who waste energy and senselessly pollute are at risk of becoming social outcasts in our increasingly green-conscious society. Or, as the survey press release calls them, “environmental delinquents.”

According to the survey of 1,510 adult Canadians, “a full 7 in 10 Canadians say it’s a social faux pas to do things that are environmentally irresponsible.” Dr. David Bell, a professor of environmental studies at Toronto’s York University, compares this social trend to how some people look down on smokers.

He said a combination of green legislation, public policy incentives and disincentives, and leadership from government, schools and corporations has increased awareness so much that he expects within five years the “eco-delinquent” label might stick. “Canadians are starting to close the gap between their eco-beliefs and their actions — and while we have a ways to go, I see this country at the cusp of great social change,” said Bell. Continue reading Is not being green a “social faux pas”? If so, will green imposters follow?

German solar industry, EU not happy with Ontario local content rules

Ontario’s decision to require local labour and gear for 40 to 5o per cent of a solar project’s content has ruffled some feathers in Europe.  The province’s government created the Made-in-Ontario rules in parallel with the design of its feed-in tariff program for renewables, which for solar PV pays up to 80.2 cents per kilowatt-hour. That’s a hefty premium, so to justify it to Ontario ratepayers (who will ultimately be picking up the tab) the government created the local content rules as a way to tout the economic benefits that would come from increased investment and green-job creation.

Germany’s solar industries association, BSW-Solar, doesn’t like that very much. It has issued a position statement to its members, including some of the biggest solar PV module manufacturers in the world, urging them to raise their concern with Canadian and Ontario authorities. A European Union trade delegation also raised the issue during trade talks in Ottawa last week. Technically, however, I’m not so sure Ontario’s rules violate World Trade Organization agreements, as BSW-Solar claims. For one, the rules only apply to a portion of a project — not 100 per cent — so this doesn’t preclude any specific product made in Europe. Second, Ontario has not signed onto any WTO agreement regarding product procurement, and it’s doubtful whether this issue falls under a procurement scenario.

And let’s face it, even though Germany didn’t have specified local content targets, this is a cultural given. And because Germany was a first mover in Europe, and to a large extent globally, it really didn’t have to compete with many jurisdictions. It’s likely that BSW-Solar is worried that the German government’s plans to start lowering subsidies for solar will draw attention away from Germany and toward jurisdictions such as Ontario. It will, however, be interesting to see if this issue gets elevated to being a formal complaint filed with the WTO.

Applications to develop offshore wind on Great Lakes overwhelms ministry

Ontario Ministry of Natural Resources says it has received more than 100 applications representing more than 500 wind-energy projects on the Ontario side of the Great Lakes. Overwhelmed, the ministry has temporarily stopped taking applications until it can review what it has and make sure proper processes are in place for granting approvals. Minister Donna Cansfield gave the update at an offshore wind energy conference in Toronto, where developers and investors across Europe, the U.S. and Canada gathered to talk about the North American opportunity. For more detail on what was discussed at the conference, click here.

Of interest, Vestas has just opened a North American offshore turbine sales office in Toronto. From what I understand the location could have been either Boston or Toronto. It’s easy to read into the choice of Toronto as an early indication that the company is considering a greater presence in Ontario, but it’s too early to tell. Also, this morning Toronto Hydro got approval to put an anemometer in Lake Ontario off the Scarborough Bluffs, where the utility has interest in building a 100 MW offshore wind project. Expect an uproar from anti-wind folks in the area who have consistently and forcefully protested, not only the proposal, but just the idea of putting an anemometer on the lake.

StormFisher to electrify veggie and fruit scraps from 47 Loblaw stores

Hopefully this will set the standard for grocery stores across Ontario and the rest of Canada. StormFisher Biogas has signed a deal with grocery chain Loblaws, which will send organic trimmings from 47 of its stores across southwestern Ontario to a StormFisher facility. StormFisher will then use its anaerobic digestion systems to convert the waste into biogas, and then burn the biogas to generate electricity that will be sold onto the provincial grid under the feed-in tariff program. That program pays between 10.4 and 16 cents per kilowatt-hour, depending on the size of the facility. StormFisher expects operation will begin in 2010.