Tag Archives: Toronto Hydro

Richmond Hill to covert all street, park and parking lot lights to LED

The light has gone off in Richmond Hill. This GTA town north of Toronto is converting most of its 17,000 street, park and parking lot lights to LED as part of a contract it has just signed with Ameresco, which will supply and install the new lights. But this is more than just about high-efficiency lighting. The town will be getting a “smart lighting control system” that allows staff to remotely monitor and turn off/on the lights.

Is it worth it? Hell, ya. LEDs consume up to 60 per cent less power than “high pressure sodium” lamps currently used in most infrastructure. The town is expected to spend around $8 million to convert 15,000 lights and in return will enjoy $1.5 million in energy and maintenance savings each year. We’re talking payback in about six years on lights that are warrantied to last for 20 years.

screen-shot-2016-09-21-at-2-12-52-pmAnd keep in mind, the price of LED lights have plunged by about 90 per cent since 2010, according to the U.S. Department of Energy. At the same time, efficiency and operating life continue to climb. Like solar and energy storage, the deal just keeps getting better and better.

The smart controls, which communicate with the lights through a wireless narrowband network, will also allow staff to more accurately monitor electricity consumption, dim the lights, and be notified when a bulb isn’t working properly.

“With this wireless network in place, Richmond Hill is one of the few Canadian municipalities to lay the foundation for high-tech systems management and is establishing the foundation for future ‘smart cities’ applications such as smart traffic lights, water and gas metering,” according to a town release.

Toronto Hydro has been testing the waters for LED street lighting, but the city has yet to dive in. Right now, about 150 LED street lights are being tested “in advance of a full citywide rollout,” but there’s no word on when that rollout is going to happen. Consider Toronto has 170,000 streetlights alone. Add in park and parking lot lights and it has a lot of work to do.

Aurora is taking the step, along with Markham, Newmarket and another 125 municipalities. The trend is taking hold, but seriously, there’s no compelling reason why this shouldn’t be a priority for every municipality in Canada. The financing models exist to ease the upfront capital costs. Municipalities just need to commit and do it.

And keep in mind, this is more than just about streetlights. Parking lots represent a massive opportunity. A December study from the Canadian Urban Institute estimated there are at least 42 million parking stalls in Canada. “Parking lots were estimated to have an average of one light per 20 stalls, and garages an average of one light per three stalls,” according to the report.

“Although there are more parking lighting fixtures in Canada than streetlighting fixtures, parking lighting only accounts for 5 per cent of LED sales,” it says. “This is likely because the sales process is more difficult with the more distributed ownership of the parking lighting, but this does not diminish the significant potential for improved safety energy and cost savings, GHG reduction across Canada.”

The smarter the grid, the less you should notice it

The smart grid is more than just smart meters. My Clean Break column this week takes a look at how Toronto Hydro is trying to modernize its electrical distribution system with a range of smart-grid technologies that don’t get much press.

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Tyler Hamilton

Richard Ford doesn’t like the term smart grid.

“It means different things to different people,” says the manager of grid solutions at Toronto Hydro. “The term has become overused. It gets in the way.”

Many hydro customers in the city associate the term with the smart meters in their homes and the time-of-use pricing they enable. Some imagine a smart home or building equipped with intelligent appliances and lighting systems that interact with each other and can be remotely managed by software to reduce energy use.

Others think of a kind of energy Internet made up of millions of users and thousands of large and small power producers, all part of a complex web of two-way electricity flows.

The smart grid isn’t any one of those things – it’s all of them, and more. In fact, a big part of the smart grid that rarely gets discussed has to do with technologies that make our electricity system more reliable and safe. These are the behind-the-scenes technologies we don’t and aren’t meant to see. The better they work the less likely we are to notice them.

For the past three years Toronto Hydro has been giving some of these “smart” technologies a test run on the transformers and power lines that make up its electrical distribution network.

Take transformers, those large grey cans on hydro poles that convert high-voltage electricity down to the low voltage we use in our homes. The utility has roughly 60,000 of these devices spread throughout its operating territory.

“In the past we haven’t had any detailed information about how those transformers were performing – whether any were systematically overloaded or underloaded,” explains Ford, adding that even when the devices fail they don’t know about it until customers call to complain.

About 5,600 city transformers now have a kind of smart meter embedded inside, allowing the utility to know what kind of stresses are being placed on the device and to act proactively before its fails, which tends to be at the most inconvenient times – say, during a SuperBowl or hockey playoff game.

What benefit does this bring to electricity consumers? The typical transformer failure means affected customers will be without power for about 7.5 hours. On the other hand, a less inconvenient pre-planned outage aimed at upgrading the transformer before it fails only takes about 70 minutes.

This will become increasingly important as more homeowners add solar panels to their rooftops and plug in electric vehicles overnight for charging. It will give the utility better insight into the changing patterns of electricity use in our neighbourhoods, and allow it to plan accordingly.

An added bonus: smart transformers make it easier to spot grow-ops that have illegally tapped into the system.

The utility is also monitoring some of its power lines. Sensor-based devices attached to the lines can spot abnormal electrical activity and alert control-room staff so they can analyse the data. The analytic software has become so sophisticated it can detect the signatures of different events, such as an overgrown tree rubbing up against a line or a jumping squirrel.

“We keep looking for more signatures of more events,” says Ford. “We want to identify potential faults before they turn into real faults.”

If, for example, a problem is identified as tree overgrowth, a crew can be dispatched to inspect and trim branches. The utility has seven power line monitoring devices installed to date, but plans to add more as part of normal grid upgrades.

On top of power line and transformer monitoring, Toronto Hydro is test driving feeder automation technology. Feeders are higher-voltage power lines that supply electricity to a large area of homes and businesses. Sometimes an unpredictable event, such as a vehicle accident or damage from a backhoe, can cause one section of a feeder to fail.

If a feeder serves thousands of people the resulting outage would affect all of them, and it could take 10s of minutes to a couple of hours for service to be phased back in. Automation technology can isolate a fault on a feeder line and almost immediately restore service to most of the customers affected.

Feeder automation technology has been installed on 10 of the city’s worst feeders since 2010. An outage on one of those feeders in August 2011 affected 4,493 customers. Normally all of them would have a long wait for the lights to come back on, but the automation technology isolated the fault to just one customer – the other 4,492 got service automatically restored within a minute.

It’s an extreme example, says Ford, but illustrates well how the technology can improve customer service.

“We’d like to see all of these technologies more widespread,” he adds. “The benefit is that customers will be interrupted less, and hopefully never even notice when they are.”

It’s not as sexy as the image of a smart home with an electric car in the driveway, solar panels on the roof, intelligent appliances in the kitchen, and a battery pack in the basement. That “stuff” will come, says Ford, but we need to lay the foundation first.

“What we’re doing today is making better use of our existing assets, getting more out of them by making them more effective and more efficient.”

Tyler Hamilton, author of Mad Like Tesla, writes weekly about green energy and clean technologies.

Time for Ontario to widen peak/off-leak rate gap in TOU pricing

Results from a pilot project in Oklahoma show that having a wider TOU price gap will encourage more peak-period conservation and shifting of electricity use, a finding that contrasts with the experience in Ontario, where the price gap and the market signal it sends is very weak. In the Oklahoma trial, pricing ranged from 4.2 cents (U.S.) for off-peak times and up to 46 cents for critical peaks, compared to a range of 5.1 to 9.9 cents at an Ontario utility such as Toronto Hydro.

Some participants in the Oklahoma pilot achieved a 57 per cent reduction in energy use during peak periods compared to a control group, while the average reduction was 33 per cent during highest-price periods. Widening the TOU price range in Ontario is crucial to realizing the benefits of smart meters and to enabling competitive services from third-party retailers, including storage services.

Offshore setback for Ontario side of Great Lakes a true setback for some developers

Just like that, a 200-megawatt offshore wind project proposed by utility Toronto Hydro is — to put it bluntly — dead in the water. Ontario’s Ministry of Environment issued a proposed regulation today that would prohibit the development of offshore wind projects that are 5 kilometres or closer to shore. Toronto Hydro’s project would place up to 60 wind turbines between two and four kilometres from shore, so if the proposed rules get passed then the utility’s offshore plan will be terminated. Toronto Hydro’s isn’t the only project that will be killed. There were several “near shore” projects proposed in Lake Ontario and Lake Erie that will be caught in this new setback rule, and even some projects that straddle the five kilometre barrier. Windstream Energy, for example, which is the first developer in North American to get a power purchase agreement for a 300-MW offshore wind farm (i.e. it got a feed-in-tariff contract with the Ontario Power Authority), may have to readjust the layout of its proposed project and drop a few turbines to fit within the rules. Trillium Power, which has a huge 700-MW project proposed for Lake Ontario, wouldn’t be affected because its turbines will be located 17 to 28 kilometres offshore.

I agree that a setback is necessary. I haven’t decided yet whether I think five kilometres it too far or not. I think three kilometers would have been a better compromise. The proposed rules could still change after public consultation, but for now, there are many angry offshore wind developers out there who face the prospects of seeing their projects killed. Toronto Hydro, for example, just spent $1 million or so to put an anonometer in the lake to measure wind speeds for two years. That now looks like wasted dollars.

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?