Ontario, Canada’s most populous province, is on track to phase out coal-fired power plants by next year. The results have already been a surge in renewable energy investment and cleaner air. Now, with the launch of the province’s Smart Grid Fund, Ontario is on course to rival technology hubs such as Silicon Valley and Korea that are already transforming the grid. With almost 5 million smart meters already installed across Ontario, a smart grid connecting new technologies with old ones is ready to modernize the electrical system from big cities such as Toronto and Ottawa to rural areas along the shores of Lake Michigan.
Ontario’s government started the fund in 2011, and is now accepting applications for Ontario-based companies to launch demonstration projects for several technology areas, including energy storage, electric vehicle integration and microgrids. So what does Ontario hope to gain from this $50 million program?
Part of the challenge in rolling out smart grid technologies is to educate consumers and help them use electricity smartly and cost effectively. To that end, two smart grid pilot programs already underway help residents track and manage their energy usage. Ecobee received a grant to implement smart thermostats that are intuitive and easy to program in homes and businesses. Energate is an HVAC control system that helps consumers monitor electricity usage during peak times, when inefficient power use can cause utility bills to skyrocket—an expensive proposition during Ontario’s long winters and humid summers. Meanwhile, the fund distributed grants that will find new methods to use smart meter data for other applications, as well as increase grid automation to make it easier to locate weaknesses throughout the larger electricity grid.
The Smart Grid Fund complements investments by larger multinational firms. IBM Canada currently operates a $175 million smart grid research partnership with several Ontario universities, and GE will open a $40 million smart grid technological R&D center in the city of Markham. Meanwhile companies, including Samsung, have ramped up investment in clean energy technologies such as wind power, which currently provides about 1,500 megawatts of the power to the grid.
So, as Ontario shutters more coal power plants, replaces them with natural gas and renewables and seeks to build a 21st century grid, the province of 13.5 million has become a laboratory for next-generation technologies. Companies have until September 6 to submit an application and can receive up to $4 million and a 50 percent match from the provincial government.
Based in Fresno, California, Leon Kaye is the editor of GreenGoPost.com and frequently writes about business sustainability strategy. Leon also contributes to Guardian Sustainable Business; his work has also appeared on Sustainable Brands, Inhabitat and Earth911. You can follow Leon and ask him questions on Twitter or Instagram (greengopost).
[Image credit: Smart Grid Fund]