Nov 8, 2021
New considerations for innovating how electricity is generated, distributed, and stored are being made every day. This includes the development and implementation of distributed energy resources - a promising solution for increasing the integration of clean energy. How will distributed energy resources help us reach our climate change targets, and what changes will be needed in order for the grid to support them? Vice President of the Alectra Green Energy & Technology Centre, Neetika Sathe, is here with us today to give us the scoop.
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Dan Seguin 00:51
Hey, everyone, welcome back. This is the ThinkEnergy podcast and today we'll explore and unpack distributed energy. I'm Dan Seguin.
Rebecca Schwartz 01:00
And I'm Rebecca Schwartz. You know, Dan, I've been thinking a lot about climate change.
Dan Seguin 01:04
Oh, boy, here comes another millennial rant.
Rebecca Schwartz 01:07
No, no, no, don't worry, I'm actually feeling grateful. Because when it comes to innovating, how we live and operate in order to stop and reverse climate change. Of course, Canada's goal is pretty ambitious and admirable. Canada's plans to be a netzero nation by 2050. I think it's pretty cool.
Dan Seguin 01:23
Absolutely very cool. And the City of Ottawa has also announced plans to be a zero emission city by 2050.
Rebecca Schwartz 01:31
To be honest, it feels like that's a lifetime away, since it's quite literally as many years away as I've been alive. But it's incredible news and evidence that our governments are committed to a decarbonized future.
Dan Seguin 01:42
and utilities! They're also gearing up at the front lines to align with these goals, especially in the electricity sector. New considerations for innovating how electricity is generated, distributed, and store are being made every day. This includes the development and implementation of distributed energy resources, a promising solution for increasing the integration of clean energy. Unlike the typical electricity journey, where it's supplied to customers from a centralized source, distributed energy resources are a means for customers to store their own generated electricity, which they can then choose to redirect the access back into the grid. Because this concept is quite different from how the grid was originally designed, a great deal of innovation and testing is required to ensure its continued reliability and safety.
Rebecca Schwartz 02:42
The people behind the Alectra green energy and technology center strongly believe in building a clean energy future and embracing new technologies. Now putting this belief into action, they have been leading the way for the development of emerging clean and customer friendly energy solutions, like distributed energy resources across their 1800 square kilometer service territory that serves approximately 1 million homes and businesses within 17 communities like Mississauga, St. Catharines and Hamilton.
Dan Seguin 03:11
So, Rebecca, here's today's big question: How will distributed energy resources help us reach our climate change targets, and what changes will be needed in order for the grid to support them? Vice President of Alectra green energy and technology center, the Neetika Sathe is here with us today to give us the scoop. Hey Neetika, welcome to the think energy podcast. Perhaps you can start us off by telling us a bit more about your role with electric Green Energy Technology Center.
Neetika Sathe 03:50
Hey, first of all, thank you so much for inviting me I can't tell you how excited I am to be here and for the opportunity to share my perspective and and the journey within the GRE&T Center. So for those of you who don't know, electric is the second largest municipally owned utility in all of North America, we serve over a million customers in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton Area. within Alectra we launched the green energy and technology center in 2019 with a mandate to identify, evaluate and develop and accelerate emerging clean and customer friendly energy solutions. So think of us as the ground floor for innovation within Alectra, where clean energy ideas come to life.
Rebecca Schwartz 04:39
Thanks, Neetika. Now can you tell our listeners a bit about distributed energy resources, such as how they work and also provide a couple examples?
Neetika Sathe 04:48
Sure. So distributed energy resources, which we fondly call DERs are usually referred to smaller, clean generation units that are usually located within the customer's premises, the customer could be residential, or commercial or institutional. But typically those distributed energy resources are on the customer side on the other side of the meter, and interconnected with the grid. So to give you some examples, could be rooftop solar panels, wind generating units, wind turbines, battery storage, could be your lithium ion battery storage, smart heat pumps and even electric vehicles, basically, essentially any device that can be integrated and connected to the local distribution, system or grid that is within the proximity of the customer, and possibly owned, possibly operated by the customer.
Dan Seguin 05:58
Could you tell our listeners what makes distributed energy resources an attractive option? As we strive towards our net zero goals? Are they enough to help us get there.
Neetika Sathe 06:10
So netzero goals are rather lofty and extremely aspirational. So now the whole world is looking around trying to find those low hanging fruits that can get us to our netzero goals. The beauty of DERs is that they are largely clean, dispatchable, scalable, easy to integrate into the grid provided, we work on it upfront, if we catch the DERs. As an aftereffect, it's going to cause a lot of issues for the grid. So we have a generational opportunity to ensure that the ER is integrated properly into the grid. Because these are clean and sustainable, they hold a great promise in helping us reduce GHG emissions. And that would contribute towards net zero goals. So rather than talk at high level, let's take an example, solar panels on the roof to help meet the needs of a home, the same home could have a battery storage unit and electric vehicles. And going further, when when both is distributed energy resources are used to feed the local grid. So when there is a time of high GHG Emission emissions from the grid, we could switch over to these local DERs, we could ask the customers for their support to switch over to these clean local DERs and not need to switch on or power on the natural gas or any other fossil fuel large generation. And as a result, by the use of these DERs, we could eliminate GHG emissions from the energy systems.
Rebecca Schwartz 07:57
So what does having distributed energy resources look like from the customer's perspective? Do they necessitate any lifestyle changes? And what are some of the benefits.
Neetika Sathe 08:08
So traditionally, our customers have had a passive engagement. Typically, as customers, even when we go home, we flip the switch and we don't think about it what all is happening in the background to get those electrons into our home, to give us light or to power the TV or any other appliances. But as we are moving more towards a decentralized grid, as the technology options are coming up, as energy solutions are coming up with the DERs, the customer expectations are also changing. So they're literally being able to put the customer in the driver's seat, no pun intended as they drive electric. So they can now make the choice of when they want to use their own distributed energy resources. And when they want to purchase from the grid. So think of it as the customer becoming from a passive customer to a prosumer. Whereby they can be a producer of energy or a consumer of energy. And the choice is theirs. They make the call. So it's and the DERs of the customers could have they could have smart appliances, electric vehicle storage, solar roof or ground roof solar and and really being able to integrate all of this now does it mean any lifestyle change for the customer? I guess the trick is that all of this needs to be technology enabled. So think of it as a very high tech, yet high touch. In other words, the technology needs to do what the customers want. So the customer needs to continue having the lifestyle that they choose their choice. But the difference now is there is technology set in forget technology that enables them to have more choice than just the traditional electricity grid. So this is in stark contrast of the past, our electricity generation over centuries has been better customer has strictly been a passive receiver of energy,
Dan Seguin 10:25
Alectra's green energy and technology center has a number of pilot projects, such as this is a mouthful, folks, the York Region Non-wires, alternative demonstration project, and the powerhouse hybrid project. Can you tell us about the main intent behind these projects, and what your findings have been so far?
Neetika Sathe 10:49
So at the GRE&T Center, we always want to innovate with intention. And the intention behind the pilots is always look for Win Win Win solution, we're never satisfied with one win, it needs to be the first win has got to be for the customer. It's got to work for the customer, customer friendly, meaningful, purposeful, relevant, otherwise, it's not going to stick it'll just be a science experiment. The second win has to be for the grid, especially when you're talking with respect to DERs, the proliferation of the DERs, there needs to be a thoughtful and planned integration into the grid. And only then can you get a huge benefit out of the DERs for the customer and the grid. The third win is for all of society, and we're at times where climate change is no longer an 'if', and we're all looking for solutions that that we can that can make a difference within our generation, otherwise, the future generations won't have a planet to depend on. So our intention with all of the GRE&T center pilots, whether it's the IESO non buyers, alternative pilot, or the powerhouse of powerhouse hybrid grid exchange be working on multiple platforms and and solutions. It's got to be it's got to be a win across board.
Rebecca Schwartz 12:31
Okay. Now, can you tell us how projects like these are influencing and innovating the grid?
Neetika Sathe 12:37
The conversation is focused on the need for reform, transformation and regulatory change. But until you don't roll up your sleeves and actually work on it, you got to be able to get into the trenches. It's really difficult to forecast what all roadblocks and hot points you're going to gather along the way. So the whole idea is that when we're talking about the need for policy change, the need for regulatory change that we bring real time experience from our pilots into our discussion so that those discussions can be grounded in reality, otherwise, there is a lot of vaporware in the industry right now.
Dan Seguin 13:21
What are some of the biggest modernizations you foresee being made to the grid by 2050? How is digitisation influencing these processes?
Neetika Sathe 13:33
So the grid is going to get much smarter, wiser, more intelligent, and more connected. If anything, or industry is a little bit late to the party, and we've and we have the good fortune, or the luxury of learning from other industries where this disruption has already happened. Be in the taxi industry, the banking industry, retail industry, hotel industry, they're all being transformed by digitalization. And they're all banking on one basic fundamental shift in demographics - the openness for sharing economy. So whether it's an Airbnb or you look at Uber, you have democratization of their solutions, whereby a common citizen is willing to share their assets, or their comfort or their lifestyle, as long as they're getting rewarded and incentivized in a way that works for them. So in other words, you've got a car that's sitting around, you're only driving around 4% utilization of that asset, but then you've got a little extra time. You don't mind becoming an Uber driver. And you're you're gregarious, you like hanging around people. So it works for you and you make some money. Think of those kinds of concepts now coming into our energy world, whereby that's where, that's how the birth of the concept of transactive energy takes place, whereby I talked earlier about the customer becoming a prosumer. But now those prosumers with their own distributed energy resources, should be able to play in an energy market and give some and get some. So you may be able to give some of your comfort or your or your battery storage, because the grid needs it, but then the LDC may reward you back with some dollars or some loyalty points. In fact, we are teasing this very concept out with our grid exchange transactive energy platform,
Rebecca Schwartz 15:53
Supposing everyone suddenly started putting their hands up to have distributed energy resources, would it even be possible? What are the challenges that we'll need to overcome to start seeing their mainstream adoption all across Canada?
Neetika Sathe 16:07
So the answer to this question is very similar to a Facebook status update, it's complicated. The devil truly is in the details at the distribution feeder, or transformer level, or even at a green transformer at a street level, it is impossible to generalize across Ontario or across Canada. So it really depends on the state of the grid infrastructure. If the grid infrastructure has room, it's easy to add the DERs. But if the infrastructure is already at its limit, be a thermal limit, voltage, capacity, then you're going to run out of you're going to need to think out of the box solution. So I'll give you an example. On your street, if you've got, let's say 12 homes, if one of those neighbors buys electric and starts driving electric starts charging the car, when they come home at five o'clock, no big deal, your green transformer on your street will be able to take that additional 10-12 Whatever that kilo kilowatt load turns out to be. Now, but out of 12 of those homes, let's say five electric vehicles come along. Now that green transformer at five o'clock is going to go toast, it will burn down because we would have taken it beyond its capacity limits. So how do you ensure that you can add these DERs on the existing grid keep in mind the existing grid was never designed for this kind of additional load, right. But there is a need whether it is because of democratization or decentralization, people want those energy choices, then as the utilities, it's our job to ensure that we are able to onboard these distributed energy resources. And the way to do it is start thinking outside the box. For example, perhaps we stagger, we work closely with the customer, we engage the customer, we take their permission, so the customer needs to remain in the driver's seat, we take their permission, maybe some customers say I really don't care if I start charging at five o'clock, or you want to start charging me at nine o'clock, as long as my car is fully charged for my trip tomorrow morning to work. Yet some other customer may say my wife's expecting and I may need to rush to the hospital, so I want to override and I want my car charged right now no matter what the consequences are. So the beauty with DERs is the fragmented. Think of them, like these hundreds of 1000s of minions out there that you could literally you could you know, like you could run a virtual power plant, if you were only able to talk to all of them, If only you were able to monitor control and engage with the customer one on one with these. And that's where the power comes from. It's really the power of shared economy and put intelligence on top of it to be able to really engage on a two way conversation with the customer and harness the value from these DERs. So hence the need from a smart grid so that these DERs don't exert demand all at the same time. So you can stagger them, you can queue them up, you can toggle them, you can throttle them. There are so many different options. intelligent ways to work around the problem rather than just go to the basic let's just upgrade all the infrastructure which will be tremendously expensive.
Rebecca Schwartz 20:10
Do you perceive maintenance becoming an issue as the system becomes more decentralized?
Neetika Sathe 20:16
So there are there are pros and cons to decentralization. Definitely grid modernization will require some infrastructure cost and some maintenance cost - it's going to be a new regime, different from your traditional way of running the grid. And keep in mind right now our systems rest at night. And the peak usually happens within Ontario. It happens during summer, during sunny days, because our peak is mainly coming from air conditioning loads. However, if we go into deep decarbonisation, and we want to run in heating on electricity, we are quickly going to turn from a summer day peaking province to a winter night peaking province. So that's going to look very different. And I don't have the answer, what the repercussion will be on on the system maintenance, but it is going to be a very different kind of a grid to operate.
Dan Seguin 21:22
I'm wondering if you could expand on some of the features that make the home or business a better candidate for distributed energy resources? What are some of the determining factors.
Neetika Sathe 21:34
So it all depends on the needs of the individual home or business. So in some cases, it's very simple. If you want to put solar panels on your roof, you probably if you have a 15 year old roof, or 20 year old roof, you probably want to change your roof before you put the panels up. And if you've got a large tree that is shading your roof and you don't want to cut that trim that tree down your roof is probably not the optimum optimal place to put that solar. So it's some of it is very intuitive. When it comes to electric vehicles, for example, it really depends on how you what your driving patterns are. 60% of Canadian drivers are driving less than 60 kilometers a day. But law of averages does not work when you're looking at a specific person's needs. So if you are traveling across cities every day, you've got you're putting a lot of clicks on your car, and you only have one car within the family. Probably the current EVs are not a good fit for you. But having said that, models are coming up where the batteries battery sizes are increasing. And the infrastructure for charging on the road on route is also increasing. But if you are a household of two cars, and you you're you drive 50-60 to 100-150 kilometers a day, you actually are a fantastic candidate to drive electric and enjoy the benefits of a cleaner drive and a much more fun to drive experience. So it really depends on the specific DER and how it matches up with your lifestyle.
Rebecca Schwartz 23:22
Alright, so how might someone who was interested in adopting distributed energy resources for their homes or business get the ball rolling?
Neetika Sathe 23:30
Do your research. Learn whichever best way you learn for me I love hanging around people I learned best by talking to people. If you if you're looking for EVs talk to someone who's driving an EV if you learn better by you know going for test drives and going for demonstrations like go to, for example plug and drive has an experiential center in Toronto or go to any of the dealers and ask for a test drive. There are so many websites including Aletra we have a website where we put a ton of resources on EVs. Alectra.com/e-mobility, so there's a lot of information out there. You do you Whatever floats your boat, but do your research and start whetting your appetite to figure out how what kind of DERS will fit your lifestyle.
Dan Seguin 24:25
Hey Nitika we're just about done. How about we close off with some rapid fire questions? What is your favorite word?
Neetika Sathe 24:35
It's got to be collaborate.
Dan Seguin 24:38
What is the one thing you can't live without
Neetika Sathe 24:42
Dan Seguin 24:43
What is something that challenges you?
Neetika Sathe 24:47
purposeful innovation - how to innovate with intention
Dan Seguin 24:51
If you could have one superpower, what would it be?
Neetika Sathe 24:54
The ability to travel across time.
Dan Seguin 24:57
If you could turn back time and talk to your 18 year old What would you tell her?
Neetika Sathe 25:01
I would say don't over analyze. It's, it's not the destination that's important. The journey is important, not the destination. And the most important thing is the people that you meet and go along at on the journey.
Dan Seguin 25:19
And lastly, what do you currently find most interesting in your sector,
Neetika Sathe 25:24
I came into the utility sector because I sniffed a generational opportunity. I was, I was at Nissan, launching the Nissan LEAF, the first all electric 100% electric car from Nissan. And that's when my eyes opened up to this huge possibility of, of the automotive sector making a difference actual make actually making a difference in, in our sustainability. And really, it's the it's the power of discovering the possibilities. I know it's, it's a cliched line, this is Alectra's slugline, but I so totally believe in it, collaborating and discovering the possibilities, we actually have a generational opportunity to make a difference. And for once our electricity sector, for the most part in Canada, at least definitely in Ontario. And as you mentioned in Quebec, we are the part of the solution. We are not the problem, we bring the solution. So that's what really really excites me about our sector.
Rebecca Schwartz 26:33
Well latika, we've reached the end of another episode of The think energy podcast. Thank you so much for joining us today. We hope you had fun. I sure hope you enjoyed this episode of The ThinkEnergy podcast. If so please head over to our iTunes SUBSCRIBE And leave us a review.
Dan Seguin 26:51
Now For show notes and bonus content visit ThinkEnergy.com. Also, be sure to tell your friends and colleagues about us.
Rebecca Schwartz 26:59
Thank you for listening