Large-scale electricity distribution systems whose generation sources are far-removed from customers are becoming a thing of the past. A new breed of electricity distribution system, built around the concepts of flexibility, scalability and sustainability, is emerging. The technology required to build these next-generation electricity distribution systems has existed for years, but it has never been used to bring electricity production closer to the end-user.
Alectra Utilities (formerly PowerStream) believes that Microgrids will be an integrated part of our energy future: Not only will they change the way electricity is transmitted, they represent an innovative solution to the challenge of asset renewal in large-scale electricity distribution systems and demonstrate that renewable energy can effectively help to address the growing demand for electricity.
With the implementation of an integrated Microgrid demonstration project at its office in Vaughan, Ontario, Alectra Utilities will be one of the first utilities of its size in North America to initiate a proof-of- concept trial, evaluating the Microgrid’s performance while it is connected to, and also disconnected from, the normal electricity distribution system.
Microgrids work in the same way as large-scale electricity distribution systems, but instead of delivering electricity to hundreds of thousands of customers at a time, they are scalable, servicing targeted geographic areas, remote locations or communities with more diverse supply needs. In addition to being customized, Microgrids rely on a mix of clean and renewable sources of generation, located within close proximity to the electricity distribution system and able to connect to it at multiple points. Because they are modular and secure, Microgrids can operate independently from the normal electricity distribution system, as well as being able to store electricity from that system and feed it back in as required.
Alectra Utilities will be implementing its new Microgrid in two phases, over a two-year period. In phase one, the company will draw electricity from existing assets – a solar array, a wind turbine, a soon-to-be- installed natural-gas generator, a lead acid battery and a lithium battery – in order to provide electricity for loads such as lighting, air conditioning and refrigeration at its Vaughan office location. Electricity generated from this combination of clean and renewable sources will also be used to power the company’s electric vehicle charging stations (which energize the company’s fleet of electric vehicles) and to maintain a steady charge in the Microgrid’s storage batteries.
The overarching goals of the Microgrid project are to understand how to achieve safe, stable and reliable service. Phase one will focus on the Microgrid’s functionality once it is disconnected from the normal electricity distribution system, run independently from that system and then reconnected to it. In phase two, Alectra Utilities plans to include other electricity sources, such as combined heat and power, fuel cells and electric vehicle-to-grid (V2G) technologies as additional sources of generation. The goal here is to demonstrate the Microgrid’s ability to dispatch power back to the normal electricity distribution system (demand response) and to operate securely and reliably.
The illustration shows how a customized energy- management software program, developed for Alectra Utilities by GE Digital Energy, will route electricity from the company’s existing generation to power the building’s various electrical loads during phase one of the trial.
Alectra Utilities' Microgrid Project
The Alectra Utilities Microgrid project will supply electricity for the company’s lighting, air conditioning and refrigeration (‘loads’) at its office in Vaughan, Ontario.
The ideal Microgrid delivers power safely and reliably to a specific area or community, ensuring that delivery can be sustained.
Microgrids allow end- users the flexibility to tap into different types of generation as a way of meeting their specific energy needs. They also provide a conduit for feeding excess electricity back into the normal electricity distribution system and participating in programs that help to reduce the strain on these systems.
A common feature of Microgrids is the ability to seamlessly utilize various sources of electricity. Ideally, an area or community with its own Microgrid will strive to achieve net-zero electricity usage, using only as much electricity as it generates. Because they can operate independently, Microgrids can also also feed power back into the normal electricity distribution system in demand response situations.
Since 2010, Alectra Utilities has taken a leadership role in testing the performance of various Smart Grid technologies as it showcases new ways to reliably deliver electricity to its customers, prudently manage its assets and effectively demonstrate its commitment to sustainability.
The Alectra Utilities Microgrid project marks the next phase in the company’s aim of supporting Smart Grid development at the provincial level and raising awareness for the need to leverage innovative ‘smart’ technologies in Ontario’s electricity sector. In pursuit of these goals, Alectra Utilities is pleased to acknowledge its collaboration with the following organizations:
Microgrid Case Study (950KB PDF)