Solar panels on a hill. Photo © Ljupco Smokovski \ Fotolia

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A\J: Does Ontario have a long-term comprehensive energy plan?

Shawn Cronkwright: Last year the Government of Ontario published its 2013 Long-Term Energy Plan. The goal is to have 20,000 MW of renewables on-line by 2025; 10,700 MW to be sourced from non-hydro renewable energy and the other 9,300 MW from hydro.

In the Ontario Power Authority’s (OPA) experience, what is the most difficult part of incorporating PV into the existing grid?

The OPA’s role is in the planning and procuring section of the plan. The Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) actually operates and integrates the PV into the grid, so OPA don’t concern themselves with that aspect. They like that PV generation lines up nicely with peak demand.  The greatest difficulty is that the supply can change very rapidly. They can be generating a large number of MW, and that can quickly diminish due to clouds.

What is the OPA’s renewable energy of choice?

The OPA encourages all renewable energy developments, as they all have their own benefits and challenges. Wind is the lowest cost, but you only get power when it’s windy. Bioenergy helps take care of agricultural waste. Biomass is huge in Northern Ontario with the forest industry. Hydro [is] great where there is [an] appropriate water resource.

The Feed-in Tariff (FiT) in Ontario is perceived as very difficult to comply with. Is this deliberate to slow down or control the rate of uptake?

The OPA is not trying to make it difficult, but they are trying to accomplish a lot of things through the program at the same time. 2009 saw lots of FiT uptake. The cost of PV equipment has dropped drastically, helping uptake as well. Even though the pay-out for PV generation has been decreasing, every time there is an offer they are way over-prescribed for the FiT program.

The FiT is not just about energy, about getting as much as you can get. They are also trying to encourage aboriginal communities and co-ops to get involved. So it’s also a social improvement project.

How will all this work with smart grids?

Well, the grid is slowly getting “smarter.”

A few years ago, the electricity was for the most part centrally produced. Now, electricity flows both ways inherently, right down to the house level. Smart meters have been installed and they can monitor electricity entering and being pulled from the grid. Now that managers can see the usage and generation patterns more clearly, they can also charge much closer to what the real cost for electricity generation and use is. This ability also promotes energy conservation.

Another benefit of the two-way meters is that outages can be seen and responded to much quicker. With one-way supply of electricity, it was very difficult to detect where outages were occurring and when. With two-way meters, they see any disruptions much faster.

The IESO is adding some storage capacity to the grid to take care of short-term response in demand changes – 50 MW in total. 35 MW came on this summer, and another 15 MW are in the works.

The OPA is working on adding longer-term response and storage options.

Martha has been working in the photovoltaic and renewable energy industry around the world for over 10 years. She has a PhD in photovoltaic engineering from the University of New South Wales in Sydney, Australia. She is currently commanding a Mars Simulation mission in Hawaii. 

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