Guelph, south-western Ontario is making a name for itself as a microgrid and district energy centre. International PV manufacturer, Canadian Solar, has opened a microgrid testing centre in Ontario.
Partially funded by the Ontario Ministry of Energy’s Smart Grid Fund, the test centre will develop micro-grids, assess smart grid designs and system design solutions. Researchers will facilitate the development of both grid-tied and off-grid microgrid projects.
The town of Guelph, itself, has announced a plan for an interconnected thermal grid to serve industrial, commercial and residential buildings across the city. A new high-efficiency heating and cooling system in the Sleeman Centre in downtown Guelph is the first step toward building a city-wide district energy network.
Ontario’s micro-grid development will be boosted
Canadian Solar has already built up about 500MW of annual module capacity in Ontario. The firm aims to make Ontario a leader in adding grid accessible renewable energy, with micro-grid solutions development.
"The Canadian Solar Microgrid Testing Centre will serve as our newest addition to our Total Solutions strategy, and will help further strengthen our position in the emerging multi-billion dollar micro-grid and smart grid sector," said chief executive Shawn Qu.
"The investment in the Canadian Solar by the Smart Grid Fund project supports our vision for developing leading-edge smart-grid projects that help create Ontario jobs and make Ontario a North American leader in emerging energy technologies," said Liz Sandals, Ontario minster of education and member of parliament, representing Guelph.
Ontario hydro power, mining and remote communities will also benefit directly from using the test centre.
"Building a smarter grid has long been a key part of our government's plan to modernize our energy infrastructure and provide clean, reliable affordable power to consumers. Projects supported through the Ontario's Smart Grid Fund support the vision that will bring to market the next generation of smart grid solutions," said Bob Chiarelli, Ontario minister of energy.
Canadian Solar senior director Brian Lu said the test centre is the first of its kind in the world. It will primarily be based in solar energy, but will explore the inclusion of other forms of renewable energy as well.
Microgrid development for northern Ontario
Lu also highlighted the project's potential benefits to northern First Nations, and said it could stimulate thousands of new jobs across Ontario when communities begin to integrate more renewable energy into their current energy mix. The mining sector, industrial users, military bases, and parks will all benefit.
First Nations in northern Ontario have significant, but largely untapped economic development opportunities. The energy supply they need to take advantage of those opportunities is often insufficient. Microgrid solar systems could help those communities overcome their power shortage.
There are new homes on a number of First Nations in the north that can't be hooked up to the power grid because Ontario Hydro has load restrictions in the communities.
"There is not enough power in remote communities in the far north to provide for basic services," he said, "which is problematic, because there are lots of economy development opportunities that First Nations are having trouble getting involved with because they don't have enough power to take advantage of the opportunities."
Energy is a priority for the far north. Generating alternative energy will mean heating in homes, improved education and local infrastructure, and economic development opportunities.