Ontario’s New 4-Year Plan Paves Way for Grid Flexibility & Renewable Microgrids

Nov. 22, 2017
Following an aggressive push to green its grid, Ontario now plans to focus on creating a lower-cost, more flexible electric system, opening the door to growth of renewable microgrids.

Following an aggressive push to green its grid, Ontario now plans to focus on creating a lower-cost, more flexible electric system, opening the door to growth of renewable microgrids.

The provincial government described the strategy in its recently issued 2017 Long Term Energy Plan, “Delivering Fairness and Choice,” an endeavor Ontario undertakes once every four years.

Previous plans made the Canadian province a leader in clean energy and coal plant retirements. Ontario shut down the last of its coal-fired units three years ago. Since 2003, it has invested $70 billion in its electricity system and has boosted energy efficiency, demand response and renewable energy.

The new guiding document works to bring greater innovation to the grid while ensuring costs are equitable, according to an introduction by Glenn Thibeault, Ontario’s energy minister.

“Ontario has a stable electricity system that produces a steady supply of electricity. Delivering Fairness and Choice is using this opportunity to move ahead with innovative ideas for managing the system and reducing costs,” he says.

The province is reforming its wholesale electricity markets to help spur innovation and competition. Called Market Renewal, the redesign moves Ontario away from long-term power supply contracts into a more competitive system like that of PJM and ISO New England in the United States. Ontario expects the transformation to save $5.2 billion from 2021 to 2030.

The reformed market will use competitive auctions to secure supply needs. Generators, demand response providers, importers and emerging new technologies could all vie to fill the need, with the most cost-effective resources winning out.

“Market Renewal will ensure that resources will be able to provide flexibility, reliability and ancillary services. This will help provide transparent revenue streams for the needed services and ensure that all resources can compete on a level playing field,” says the plan.

In the U.S., such market opportunities are increasingly seen as an inroad for microgrids, energy storage, demand response and other distributed energy resources to derive new revenue streams.

The four-year plan sees such modernization as a way to reduce energy costs, a hot-button issue in Ontario, given a sharp rise in electricity rates in recent years.

Glenn Thibeault, Ontario energy minister

“A modern grid can also give customers more choice, ranging from flexible pricing to enabling home energy management systems and realizing the full value of EVs,” says the report. “A modern grid can ensure that distributed energy resources like solar power, storage and microgrids can be integrated in the most efficient way possible. Above all, a modern grid can drive down costs for customers.”

The plan describes several  renewable microgrids already in various stages of planning, among them.

  • Oxford County was the first municipality in Ontario to commit to 100 percent renewable energy by 2050. To get there, the county plans to invest renewable energy, conservation, energy storage, microgrids and sustainable transportation.
  • Ontario Power Generation, the province’s largest energy provider is partnering with a Gull Bay First Nation (GBFN) on an advanced renewable microgrid on the GBFN reserve on the western shore of Lake Nipigon. With a population of 300, GBFN is among four remote First Nation communities where a grid connection would be excessively costly, as deemed by the Independent Electricity System Operator. Called the Gull Bay Diesel Offset Microgrid, the project will integrate new solar photovoltaics, battery energy storage, and a microgrid control system with the existing on-site diesel generators to create a community microgrid.
  • Planning and development is underway to bring clean, off-grid power to the other three First Nations to reduce their reliance on diesel. These projects may include renewable microgrids, battery storage, and other innovative technologies that meet identified community needs.
  • Also is planning is the Wikwemikong Solar Microgrid, a 300-kW microgrid is expected to begin construction in 2018/19. The project encompasses development of a microgrid controller, solar, and energy efficiency improvements to five community buildings. This project will receive funding through the Small Communities Fund, co-funded by the Ontario and the federal governments.

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About the Author

Elisa Wood | Editor-in-Chief

Elisa Wood is an award-winning writer and editor who specializes in the energy industry. She is chief editor and co-founder of Microgrid Knowledge and serves as co-host of the publication’s popular conference series. She also co-founded RealEnergyWriters.com, where she continues to lead a team of energy writers who produce content for energy companies and advocacy organizations.

She has been writing about energy for more than two decades and is published widely. Her work can be found in prominent energy business journals as well as mainstream publications. She has been quoted by NPR, the Wall Street Journal and other notable media outlets.

“For an especially readable voice in the industry, the most consistent interpreter across these years has been the energy journalist Elisa Wood, whose Microgrid Knowledge (and conference) has aggregated more stories better than any other feed of its time,” wrote Malcolm McCullough, in the book, Downtime on the Microgrid, published by MIT Press in 2020.

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