The provincial power grid is moving toward a digital future – often described as the Smart Grid – to enable the more sophisticated use of the electricity system, improve service and enhance reliability.
Ontario is a leader in smart grids – with smart meters installed in almost every home and small business. Smart grids comprise many things, but they all use information and communication technologies to expand the capabilities of the electricity system to provide even greater benefits for consumers, for example:
Smart grid technologies collect information along the grid and use that information to operate the grid more effectively. This information, for example, will tell your local utility when and where power outages are taking place and minimize their duration. Such information also monitors power quality, electrical flows, and strain on equipment – enabling the utility to more proactively manage and maintain the system and reduce the number and severity of unanticipated outages.
Ontario’s introduction of smart metering and time-of-use rates is just the first step toward the more efficient use of the electricity system. Smart grid technologies and services such as smart appliances, smart building technologies, electric vehicle charging stations, in-home generators and storage facilities will allow consumers to automatically respond to price signals and use electricity more efficiently. Better monitoring and automation also allows utilities to operate their networks more effectively, making smarter decisions about how to deploy their equipment. This alone reduces operational and maintenance costs, and offers the potential to defer further upgrades.
Beyond the more efficient use of electricity and infrastructure, smart grids also help utilities accommodate more local, renewable generation on their distribution networks whether it’s a small-scale biogas generator at a landfill dump or a solar panel on the roof of an apartment building. More local – and renewable – generation contributes to a cleaner electricity system. Smart grids also enable the electrification of the transportation sector by providing the supporting infrastructure for plug-in electric vehicles.
With smart meters and time-of-use rates, electricity consumers can see how their electricity use changes on a hourly basis and find ways to shift some of their electricity use to lower priced times of the day. Smart meters, however are only a first step. There are on the horizon a wide range of tools and services that will provide consumers with greater control over their energy use.
By choosing a “smart” washing machine or dryer, installing an energy management system or purchasing an electric vehicle, customers will be in the driver’s seat and their needs and demands will influence the nature and pace of the development of a smart grid.
The Ontario Smart Grid Forum brings together industry leaders to monitor the progress of smart grid capabilities in the province, providing recommendations to further its development. Their most recent report provides an overview of what a smart grid is, how it works and what is happening in Ontario, suggesting the steps needed to ensure the efficient and cost-effective deployment of smart grid capabilities.
OntarioSmartGrid.ca shows the provincial power system a few years from now. Users can walk through the smart grid landscape in either a “deep freeze” or “heat wave” scenario to see how various types of generation can be used and how changes in the way electricity is consumed can impact the system. The tool shows actions the IESO, as the system operator, would take in order to maintain reliability, but also puts the user in the driver’s seat, letting them change their electricity consumption patterns and see what impact they can have on the system.