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CanREA launches resource-focused Electricity Transition Hub

IMAGE: CanREA Hub senior director Phil McKay
Phil McKay, the senior director for CanREA's Electricity Transition Hub. (Courtesy the Canadian Renewable Energy Association)

The Canadian Renewable Energy Association (CanREA) has launched the Electricity Transition Hub, where utilities and systems operators can share knowledge and skills, as well as collaborate on capacity-building activities for renewable energy and grid modernization projects in Canada.

The Hub was introduced at the Electricity Transformation Conference in Toronto, which wrapped up at the end of October.

It consists of a curated resource of public information known as the Electricity Transition Hub Electronic Resource (ETHER) library, a quarterly report of the latest recommended resources, quarterly meetings and an annual Hub Summit, the first of which will be held in January 2023 in Toronto.

“If you just start Googling, you can get swamped with all this information. So what we're doing full-time is distilling that down to something that's relevant to your context,” said Phil McKay, CanREA’s senior director for the Hub. Prior to taking on this role, he was CanREA’s senior director of operations.

“So whether you're a municipal utility trying to deliver power to your city, or you’re a large balancing authority, moving power across provincial and international borders . . . The wealth of information and what we've been able to achieve globally is quite overwhelming.”

Its members and funding

Its 13 founding members are the Alberta Electric System Operator, BC Hydro, City of Medicine Hat, EPCOR, Essex Power Corporation, Fortis Inc., Manitoba Hydro, NB Power, Ontario Power Generation, Qulliq Energy Corporation, SaskPower, Toronto Hydro and Utilities Kingston. The Independent Electricity System Operator joined shortly after the initial announcement.

The Hub is funded by $1.6 million from Natural Resources Canada’s $1.56 billion Smart Renewables and Electrification Pathways program. Other investments from CanREA and the Hub’s members bring the investment to $1.9 million.

CanREA is an Ottawa-headquartered industry group advocating for wind, solar and energy storage solutions.

CanREA’s Electricity Transition Hub

The genesis of the Hub was CanREA soliciting conversations on what would be most helpful for the energy transition in 2021. The building of the Hub in a formal sense took about six months from its October announcement.

The ETHER library will only be available to Hub members, with Canadian and international content tagged as such.

“The whole goal for us here is the need to transition the electricity system faster,” McKay said. “So this drives an increased need for rapid knowledge transfer, as grid planners and operators are striving to achieve these net-zero targets, whether they're provincial, municipal or federal.”

The Hub was always built with utilities and systems operators in mind. As McKay explained, CanREA is already over 300 members strong, and the organization wanted something built specifically for this section of the renewable energy industry.

Broadly, the Hub is broken down into three ‘buckets’ of information: technical, regulatory and markets.

McKay was encouraged by the openness he found in international grid operators, saying they were almost always willing to share information. That openness is critical, given the different requirements of the provincial grids.

“We often try to treat this (as a) challenge that needs to be solved as a single thing in Canada. But really, when you start to talk to these grid operators, they're dealing with very different climatic conditions than their neighbors,” he said.

“They are dealing with different regulatory and market regimes that will need to change based on what's already there. It's not just a blanket restart.”

Future of the Hub

SustainableBiz previously interviewed the new CanREA president Vittoria Bellissimo on the challenges ahead.

"I think we have a limited time to decarbonize everything. Electricity is such an exciting sector, because you can track it all the way from production to consumption, and you can track carbon all the way through the process as well. We can use electricity to decarbonize other sectors, in particular, transportation, buildings and heavy industry,” Bellissimo said at the time.

Looking forward to the Hub Summit, McKay hopes to use it as a chance to expand the library, improve searchability and build out the Hub’s network.

“The idea for the event itself, is to really map out what resources are available for the integration of wind, solar and storage,” he said. “So we're bringing in experts from a whole bunch of different grid integration organizations, NGOs, government-funded agencies, that kind of thing from the U.S., Canada and hopefully around the world.”

CanREA documented its goals in its 2050 Vision document, released November 2021. Its scenario for a net-zero Canada by 2050 requires the deployment 3,800 MW of wind energy and 1,600 MW of solar energy annually for the next 29 years.

The first task it sets for the industry is to decarbonize Canada’s electricity production by 2035. According to McKay, all indications point to a two to three times growth in demand on the electricity system, and a tenfold increase in demand for renewables by 2050.

He acknowledged the speed at which the Hub will have to adapt to new information and technology as Canada hopefully gets closer to its net-zero goals.

“If it (the Hub) doesn't change by 2035, then I think we've missed the mark a bit and haven't been able to communicate the knowledge that is relevant now.”

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