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CAGBC panel outlines the path to grid-friendly electrification

Representatives from Enwave, Nova Scotia Power, Stantec and Superior Essex offer insights

CaGBC (Canada Green Building Council)Distributed energy resources can aid the journey to grid-friendly, clean electrification according to participants in a Canada Green Building Council (CAGBC) webinar.

Distributed energy resources refer to non-grid items, including renewables such as solar and wind that are isolated from the grid but produce their own power and can be connected if necessary.

“As we transform the utility industry and electrify more and more of our economy to avoid harmful emissions from the combustion of fossil fuels, safe, reliable, cost-effective electricity service is a preeminent concern,” Ed Cullinan, manager of product development at Nova Scotia Power, said during the Sept. 13 webinar.

“Safe supply chain and change management are concerns that are cross cutting any industry, but especially those facing widespread transition.”

The panel, Accelerating To Zero Online: Grid Friendly Electrification, also included Luke Dias, sustainability manager at Superior Essex Communications; James Bererton, principal at Stantec; and Steve Mooney, senior account manager at Enwave Energy. The Q&A portion was moderated by Maral Kassabian, a senior manager at the Independent Electricity System Operator.

Headquartered in Ottawa and founded in 2002, today the CAGBC has 1,100 corporate members. It aids in project certification, advocacy and research, having established the LEED green building rating system in Canada and developed the country’s first Zero Carbon Building Standard in May 2017.

Grid-friendly electrification

In Bererton’s portion of the webinar, he explained Stantec’s approach to decarbonization and the necessary energy efficiency upgrades that are just as important to maintaining the electrical grid. One example is thermal energy storage, which he said is 1/14th to 1/20th the cost of electrical battery storage.

“Using this thermal energy storage, we can distribute the thermal energy storage right down to the individual apartment unit in a multiresidential building, or to an individual building in a district energy network,” Bererton said.

“This solution is what we need if we're going to implement more district energy systems and simultaneously be gentle on the grid with how much electricity we need to meet the peak load.”

Regarding specific innovations, Mooney highlighted Enwave’s deep lake cooling system in Toronto that was first built in the early 2000s. The system takes cold water from Lake Ontario to cool hospitals, data centres, educational campuses, government, commercial and residential buildings. This displaces 55-megawatts from the grid annually – which the company states is enough to power eight hospitals.

Enwave is continuing to expand the system with a dedicated line that will have 26,000 tonnes of cooling capacity – enough to cool about 40 or 50 additional office towers. Mooney said the expansion should be online by summer 2024.

“They've had to tunnel down 300 feet below the lake surface level down into the bedrock,” Mooney said. “This is an interesting one here where they've had to actually freeze the sand, as they dig down to try and create a tunnel that goes directly underneath the harbour.”

Challenges for electrification

By 2030, Nova Scotia plans to get 80 per cent of its energy from renewable or non-emitting sources, as opposed to 40 per cent today. To achieve this, its coal-burning units would have to be converted to renewable sources.

Cullinan explained while the province accounts for just 2.5 per cent of Canada’s population, it makes up 55 per cent of the nation's coal emissions.

“Decarbonization, decentralization and changing customer demands are putting pressure on electric utilities in particular,” Cullinan said, “to evolve from linear monolithic entities where information and energy traditionally flowed in only one direction into agile multi-sided platform businesses that enable multi-directional flow of information, energy and importantly, economic opportunity."

Dias, who is based in Chicago, saw inspiration from the U.S. in adapting for the increasing strain on the grid from electrification and from more frequent extreme weather events.

“Some of the things we've seen here are the state-driven initiatives, utilizing federal funding and federal initiatives. We have a specific federal order right now that demands that power distributors adapt to these DERs allowing flexibility for these projects and early adopters to start experimenting and learning more about how we can effectively implement these things,” he said.

“I’m not familiar if you've seen the same momentum in Canada yet. I think it's a good example of opening up a space for innovation here.”

During the Q&A, Kasabian was asked about the lack of uptake from buildings in Ontario on hourly demand response – the change in a customer’s power consumption to better match the demand with the supply. There was no obvious answer, but she encouraged interested parties to reach out to their utilities.

“Distribution utilities are also increasingly looking at leveraging controllable loads and behind-the-meter resources to support their electricity grids at the lower voltage levels,” she said. “So there are potential opportunities coming at the distribution level today.”

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