Calgary

Enmax envisions solar-powered skyscrapers that feed the grid

The power company is receiving public funds in hopes of increasing the renewable energy used and created in the downtown core.

Calgary-based power company gets $1.4 million boost from the federal government to test new technology

Alberta's Enmax hopes to increase the number of customers who produce power using solar energy, for example, who could feed that back into the grid for others to use. (Leslie Kramer/CBC)

Calgary-based Enmax is envisioning a city of solar-powered skyscrapers feeding the grid.

The power company is receiving public funds in hopes of eventually increasing the renewable energy used and created in the downtown core.

Enmax says its engineers have developed a way to fix a problem faced by many cities and tap into a huge potential market that could include solar panels topping skyscrapers.

Many big cities use specialized so-called secondary networks to supply reliable power to urban communities. Right now, those specialized power grids are locked down to typically only send power one way.

Any home or business on that secondary grid that generates its own energy with solar panels or co-generation machines needs special controls in order to send any excess power back into the system.

Those controls stop their power generators from feeding electricity at any time, a defence that helps the grid stay reliable.

But Enmax says the cost of those protections is prohibitive so they're rarely used. Instead, that green energy is often wasted.

Enmax hopes to make it affordable to install renewable energy generators and feed that power into the grid — while giving customers credit on their power bills, which can be done already on more generalized residential grids. 

The company plans to test the new tech over the coming four years, with the help of $1.4 million from the federal government's green infrastructure program for the project.

​"What this is going to allow customers to do is to be able to generate electricity on their buildings in a downtown core, use what they need but if they have excess, then they can put it back onto the grid," Enmax president and CEO Gianna Manes said Tuesday.

"We can't do that with our technology today."

Gianna Manes, CEO and president of Enmax, says her company will test new technology to allow for renewable energy to be captured and put into the grid in downtown cores. (CBC)

The corporation will seek a customer in Calgary's downtown core to test out its technology for a pilot project that's expected to wrap up in 2022. The goal after that will be to roll it out commercially, the company said.

At a press conference held in Calgary on Tuesday, Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi hailed the proposal as green and "the next generation" of electricity production.

"This problem isn't limited to Calgary. Most North American cities are experiencing the same issue, which is why we believe Enmax's approach is the future of electricity in Canada," Sohi told reporters.

"Next generation technology that can safely unlock the potential for clean, local electricity sources, taking us one step closer to [the] low-carbon economy that Canadians told us they want."

Natural Resources Minister Amarjeet Sohi says the project addresses a goal other cities have: to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and create more reliable power grids. (CBC)

The technique would lower greenhouse gas emissions and make the power grid more resilient, said Sohi, who represents Edmonton-Mill Woods.

The power company hopes the technology will remove barriers for customers to adopt green energy production options, such as solar power.


Corrections

  • An earlier version of this story identified Amarjeet Sohi as the federal minister of transportation and infrastructure. He is the minister of natural resources.
    Aug 29, 2018 6:34 AM MT