Blogs

Smart Energy Transforming at Warp Speed

Smart Energy Transforming at Warp Speed

For the past few years I’ve attended the Smart Energy Conference in Halifax with wide eyes and an open mind. There were times it seemed more like a Star Trek episode—full of futuristic technologies and new frontiers where no one has gone before. But that’s all changing as smart energy technologies are becoming cheaper and more accessible for consumers.

This year, speaker after speaker from Emera, to Tesla Energy, to our regional utilities, made it abundantly clear—change is being driven by consumers who want cleaner energy and more control over their own energy consumption.

 Accelerating the world’s transition to sustainable energy

Tesla’s opening keynote was about much more than sporty electric vehicles. Greg Callman spoke about how the company recently revised its mission from a sole focus on sustainable transport to a broader focus on sustainable energy. While the company still owns a significant portion of the electric vehicle market, Tesla is now making significant investments in energy storage and solar energy technologies.

Earlier this year, Tesla and Southern California Edison completed one of the biggest energy storage projects in the world, using lithium-ion batteries to store up to 80 MWh of electricity, enough to power more than 2,500 households for a day. The system will be charged by the electricity grid during off-peak hours when demand is low, and then deliver electricity during peak periods, helping to maintain system reliability and reduce dependence on natural gas power plants.

Overcoming barriers is key to the adoption of electric vehicles

As Nova Scotia Power succeeds in integrating renewable power into its electricity grid—27 per cent by 2015 and tracking towards 40 per cent by 2020—electric vehicles (EVs) are becoming more appealing to environmentally conscious consumers. Expert panelists Sanjeev Pushkarna from Nova Scotia Power, and Brent Lockhart from New Brunswick Power spoke to the barriers of EVs, including cost and consumer “range anxiety.” There are 100 EVs registered in Nova Scotia and about 75 in New Brunswick. Both utilities would like to see these numbers grow.

In countries with high EV adoption rates such as Norway, where one in four vehicles is electric, government incentives, awareness, and new infrastructure with “fast charging” stations are accelerating adoption. Both utilities hinted at efforts to build EV infrastructure and encourage the use of EVs, so stay tuned!

Now is the time for battery storage

Panelists from ABB, MPOWER Energy Solutions, and Emera spoke to the latest in batteries and battery storage technologies. As the supply of intermittent electricity sources, like wind and solar grows, battery storage is an increasingly important technology that balances supply and demand on the electricity system without using fossil fuels. As the technology matures and costs come down, battery storage is allowing utilities to meet consumer demand for cleaner energy, while creating a more flexible, reliable, and smarter electricity grid.

At home, the concept of power walls is getting closer to reality. A power wall uses lithium-ion batteries for home energy storage and stores electricity for solar self-consumption, time-of-use load shifting, and backup power. While promising, the technology is still costly. Tesla’s Powerwall for example, currently sells for $8,750 plus installation.

Clean energy solutions are driving the transformation of the energy sector  

The attendees at the conference also heard from the leadership of the Maritimes’ three energy powerhouses—Emera, Nova Scotia Power, and New Brunswick Power.

Scott Balfour, incoming CEO of Emera, reflected on the key drivers of the transformation underway in the energy sector: increasing demand for cleaner energy, decreasing costs to produce clean energy, and technological advances. Emera is investing in smarter and more reliable energy solutions to empower its customers for the future. Its approach has been to harness abundant regional natural resources, like solar in the Caribbean and tidal in Nova Scotia, to provide cleaner energy that remains affordable for customers.

The CEO panel with Karen Hutt from Nova Scotia Power, and Gaetan Thomas from New Brunswick Power, spoke to customer-centric solutions, which integrate clean energy in a way that ensures system reliability and affordability. New Brunswick Power is looking at smart grid technology that will open the door to two-way communication with its customers and revolutionize how it runs the electricity grid. Nova Scotia Power understands that customers want more control of their electricity usage and will be piloting 10,000 smart meters in customer homes to test the technology and the experience for its customers.

Overall, whether it was discussion of smart grid technologies or commercialization of innovative ideas, it is clear that consumers are at the heart of this energy sector transformation. As investments in innovation and technology continue, I look forward to being a part of the conversation and hearing more about where our energy future will take us.