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green@work : Magazine : Back Issues : Nov/Dec 2007 : Energy

Energy

Electric Utility gets PowerWISE
Experts in California are finding ways to transform waste into clean energy.

by Lisa Laitinen

Electric utility companies are beginning to face the reality of depleting natural resources and are looking for more efficient and environmentally friendly alternatives to traditional energy sources. In Ontario, Canada, Veridian Corporation is one of the largest and fastest growing electricity distribution companies in the province, serving more than 108,000 customers east and north of Toronto. However, an estimated 25,000 MW of Ontario’s peak capacity of 32,000 MW is targeted for phase-out, refurbishment or replacement over the next 20 to 30 years. Electricity companies, such as Veridian, are being challenged to address this looming power supply shortfall through a combination of affordable, sustainable generation sources and an increased focus on electricity conservation and demand management (CDM).

In answer to this need, Veridian has taken on several conservation projects delivered under the powerWISE® brand. In 2006, Veridian invested close to $1.5 million in CDM programs, resulting in energy savings of 13 million kilowatt-hours—enough to power over 1,400 homes for a year. Among the many initiatives introduced to residential customers was ‘Tune-up and Save’, launched in May 2006, whereby customers signed up to have technicians come to their homes to insulate their hot water pipes, install insulation blankets on electric water heaters, check thermostat settings and replace old inefficient showerheads and kitchen faucet aerators.

Veridian launched another initiative in association with a local Home Depot store. The “Great Exchange” program encouraged customers to exchange more than 300 electricity-guzzling halogen floor lamps and almost 2,000 incandescent festive light strings for more energy efficient products that would save over 900,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity a year—enough to power 100 homes. A similar program, delivered in partnership with the Clean Air Foundation, was called “Keep Cool.” Customers were asked to retire their inefficient room air conditioners, and in exchange were given a $25 discount coupon that could be used towards the purchase of an Energy Star® appliance at The Home Depot. A total of 600 old air conditioners were removed from service, and 237,000 kilowatt-hours a year will be saved as a result.

Perhaps the most powerful symbol of Veridian’s commitment to the environment, energy conservation and alternative energy sources is the plug-in hybrid solar car driven by President and Chief Executive Officer, Michael Angemeer. Since September 2006 he has driven the car on a daily basis as his corporate vehicle and reports that he can travel about 55 kilometers on a single battery charge, only using gasoline for acceleration. ”One car like this won’t save the world but the tens of thousands of plug-in vehicles that automakers will produce within a few years and the increased use of solar power will have a dramatic impact,” said Angemeer.

“It’s exciting to be directly involved in the testing and promotion of new technology that can help reduce air pollution and greenhouse gases, lessen our dependence on foreign oil and make more efficient use of our electricity system,” stated Angemeer. Working in conjunction with Hymotion Canada (recently acquired by A123 Systems), Solera Sustainable Energies Company and the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), Veridian has installed an extra lithium ion battery pack in the hybrid Prius. This additional battery capacity allows the car to be plugged into a regular 120-volt wall outlet overnight in order to take advantage of lower cost, off-peak electricity. The Province of Ontario has embarked on an ambitious smart meter project that is expected to make time-of-use electricity pricing available to all electricity customers by 2010.

To complement the car’s plug-in capability, solar panels have been installed on the roof of the vehicle and Veridian’s head office building to deliver a clean, emission free battery charge during the day. This makes Angemeer’s car the first plug-in hybrid solar vehicle in Canada. The next, and most exciting phase of the project will be to develop a grid interface for the vehicle. “In the future, if we get this right, we can return power from the vehicle to support the grid, or even supply power to our homes during an electricity black-out,” said Angemeer.

According to Kamiel Gabriel, Associate Provost of Research, UOIT, Veridian’s commitment to the development of plug-in solar cars is not only unique among Ontario’s electricity companies, it also reflects the utility’s deep understanding of the potential for alternative fuel sources. “Solar cars may seem an unusual form of sponsorship for an electric utility; but to those of us in the research community, it sends a very clear message that the utility of the future will be much more than just poles and wires. They’ll be enablers of advanced technology, for the benefit of the planet.”


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