Tag Archives: Hydro One

Power Workers’ Union spreading misinformation to protect its fiefdom

The Power Workers’ Union, representing the well-compensated workers at Hydro One and Ontario Power Generation, have run yet another full-page advertisement in the Toronto Star in an attempt to scare the public with talk of “big multi-nationals”  and foreign “Trojan Horses” threatening in “stealth” to chip away at Hydro One’s iron grip on Ontario’s electricity system. Can we say paranoid?

You see, Hydro One and its union are complaining they can’t keep up with the demands of homeowners and farmers who want to connect their solar rooftop systems to the grid. Industry, in response, is wondering what gives? If Hydro One can’t do it — and many justifiably accuse the utility of intentionally dragging its feet — then let’s let other players come into the market that can do it. Of course, Hydro One doesn’t want that because it threatens its hegemony over the Ontario grid. Hydro One has had two years or more to prepare for the increased connection requests that were expected to come through the feed-in tariff program, yet it is acting now as a deer in the headlights that couldn’t possibly accommodate the influx without sacrificing grid reliability. It leads one to believe whether top officials and union leaders at this utility — which earns generous incomes through Ontario ratepayers (they seem to forget about this) — are intentionally delaying action in hopes that a Progressive Conservative government will be elected, after which they can continue with the status quo: nuclear and fossil fuel generation.

What gets me is the misinformation they’re prepared to spread through these full-page advertisements. Here’s one: “So far, the tens of billions Ontario has spent on intermittent wind and solar energy is not delivering the promised benefits to the environment or the economy.” Wha? Would be nice to see something backing up that claim. I mean, Ontario ratepayers only pay for the renewable energy they receive, and two, any capital costs have come from the private sector, not ratepayers, and these investments have created thousands of jobs — non-unionized jobs, which is what is ruffling the PWO’s feathers.

PWO is pro-nuclear, pro-centralized generation, and pro-big transmission at a time when the global electricity market is moving to become more decentralized and less carbon-intensive. It is a throwback to an earlier era, and it’s struggling to protect what it has and it won’t let the truth get in the way.

That’s the real threat to the future of Ontario’s electricity system, not green energy.

Temporal Power brings new spin to flywheel energy storage

A Burlington, Ontario-based startup called Temporal Power is the focus of my Clean Break column in today’s Toronto Star. Temporal has designed a stationary flywheel energy storage system that it claims can dramatically outperform the next-best system on the market, which you might say comes from Mass.-based Beacon Power. The company has filed patents on the system but they have yet to become public — likely in a few months. Until then, the company is keeping quiet about how it achieves its claimed performance, and I don’t blame them given the competitive pressures. The story behind how the company came about, however, is interesting. And if Temporal can convincingly demonstrate what it claims, it could prove a breakthrough for economical grid-scale energy storage.

For a good primer and innovation update on flywheel energy storage systems, check out this recent story in the Washington Post. My column also explains the basics of how the systems work and the challenges of making them efficient and economical.

So what does Temporal claim? The company says it has designed a system with zero parasitic losses and extremely low friction using relatively simple and easily available components. It uses permanent magnets, not electromagnets, but the overall integration of components is largely a mystery — for now. It claims its flywheel will lose less than 5 per cent of its energy after up to 10 hours of spinning, making it ideal for storing energy from a wind farm in the evening and dispatching it hours later when the power is needed. This is a departure for flywheel systems, which are typically used for short-term energy backup and services such as grid regulation.

The company plans to standardize on 50-kilowatt-hour units, double the size of the main Beacon model, and these systems could be grouped together to achieve a larger scale of energy storage. It already has a working 20-kilowatt-hour prototype. Its first demonstration is likely to be a 10-flywheel project deployed in Hydro One’s distribution network, where the technology will absorb fluctuations from nearby wind turbines in an area of the grid that has strained capacity. The project is partially funded by a grant from Sustainable Development Technology Canada.

I’ve already received a couple of e-mails from skeptics who say flywheels have been researched for years and what Temporal is claiming can’t possibly be done, at least not economically and reliably. I always get a kick out of these knee-jerk, borderline arrogant reactions, usually by engineers who think they’re smarter than everyone else and that anything new can’t be true because, if it was, it would have already been done. I like to keep an open mind. No doubt, others will question the fact Temporal isn’t explaining in detail how it can do what it claims, but really folks, why would it reveal its secret sauce at this point? Why would it risk erasing a competitive edge prematurely?

 Anyway, skepticism is a good thing, as long as it doesn’t degenerate into outright uninformed dismissal.

Ontario commits $2.3 billion over three years to grid upgrades, expansion

Just days before the Ontario government is expected to officially launch its much-anticipated feed-in tariff program (FIT), Energy and Infrastructure Minister George Smitherman announced that the province — through crown-owned utility Hydro One — will spend $2.3 billion on 20 projects designed to expand and upgrade its transmission system. The investment is expected to take place over three years and create 20,000 “green-collar” jobs in the process. Many of the projects are aimed at expanding capacity along existing corridors to carry more power from the Far North where there remains an abundance of untapped wind and hydroelectric projects. But some of the money will also go toward constructing enabler lines for areas of the province where renewable-energy development clusters have been identified. It’s being called an historic investment in transmission, the largest single commitment in decades, and the government said it was important to make this commitment to signal to the market that Ontario is serious about accommodating development of green-energy projects. Indeed, it’s a wise investment to announce just before the launch of the FIT program, and just after announcing a $250-million loan guarantee program dedicated to aboriginal-owned renewable generation and transmission projects.

A description of each projects can be found here. The province has also supplied a map showing where existing lines will be reinforced and where enabler lines will be built.