August 20, 2019

Powering Up Electrical Grid Research – New Industry Consortium Pilots Smart Grid Tech In Lethbridge

Lethbridge Electric Utility Conservation Voltage Reduction Control Room

A Lethbridge pilot project supported by Alberta Innovates could help electric utilities across the province conserve energy and prepare for the challenges of emerging technologies like electric cars and solar power.

The southern Alberta city is the first in Western Canada to try a new smart grid technology called Conservation Voltage Reduction (CVR), developed by U.S. company Dominion Voltage Inc. (DVI). The software system effectively adjusts the voltage provided to connected customers to optimal levels using data from the Advanced Metering Infrastructure (AMI) installed at all customer locations over the last five years.

“The CVR system we chose uses AMI data to intelligently review the grid operation and lower the voltage within the acceptable band without fear we’re going too low,” says Stewart Purkis, the city’s Electric Utility Manager. “We can now monitor all of our customers under all loading conditions to make the decision to raise or lower the voltage.” 

Purkis explains that the software can improve efficiency anywhere between two – four per cent: “It creates consequential savings for our customers.” After a successful pilot at one of the city’s six substations, CVR will be deployed throughout the city over the next year. Once this happens, the system will conserve as much as 33,000 megawatt hours (MWh) of electricity each year — the equivalent of removing 4,400 homes from the grid. 

This is good news for the City of Lethbridge, but the pilot’s findings could help other jurisdictions in Alberta as well. The project is the first conducted by the Alberta Smart Grid Consortium, a group first convened  in 2017 when Alberta Innovates brought together distribution electric utilities from across the province to discuss challenges in advancing new technological solutions on their networks. The consortium’s mandate is to work collaboratively to accelerate the adoption of grid optimization technology in the province and to understand the impacts and opportunities these technologies might create. 

Maureen Kolla, Alberta Innovates’ Director of Renewable and Alternative Energy Program, explains that members of the consortium have been involved in the pilot from the very beginning in order to support the City of Lethbridge and absorb information relevant to their own regions. “This is where the consortium is about much more than just testing out new technologies,” she says.

Since the beginning of the Lethbridge project, the consortium has embarked on a number of other projects across the province thanks to funding from both Alberta Innovates and National Resources Canada. Kolla explains that this financial support is crucial as pilots require extensive resources: “It reduces some of the financial risks that utilities and their customers face when they try to deploy new technology.”

She says it’s important that jurisdictions across Alberta begin to make changes to how they manage their electrical grids as technological advancements — like electric vehicles, solar power and energy storage — tend to greatly outpace infrastructure upgrades. This may be especially true right now as electricity consumers are increasingly demanding the ability to have choices over the way they consume, generate, and participate in Alberta’s electricity system.

“We’ve generated and distributed electricity much the same way for 100 years without needing to change much about the way it’s done,” says Kolla. “And now, over a relatively short period of time, consumers are starting to demand something different of utilities.”