Smart grids could help Nova Scotia reach renewable energy targets, experts say
System could tell electric cars to start charging when 'the wind is blowing or the sun is shining'
Nova Scotia is placing a greater emphasis on renewable energy sources in order to meet its target of 80 per cent renewable energy by 2030.
In addition to changing its power generation mix, the province will also need to better manage the balance between available supply and demand.
That's where smart grids come in, according to Wayne Groszko, an applied energy research scientist at the Nova Scotia Community College in Dartmouth.
Speaking on CBC's Information Morning, Groszko said a smart grid is an electrical grid where all the components are able to communicate with each other, down to the level of individual home appliances.
"The key with a smart grid is that communication and that data is flowing all the time," Groszko said.
"All of the pieces involved — the generators, the appliances and so on — all know what's going on and can adjust accordingly in order to manage those fluctuations on the grid."
With a smart grid, he said, on windy days a province like Nova Scotia could encourage higher electricity use, as it has a higher proportion of wind generation in its mix than eight other provinces, according to provincial sources.
Groszko said the grid could signal that it's time for things like electrical vehicles to start charging at such times.
Conversely, he said, if there is less electricity being generated, the grid could turn off the heating elements in electric water heaters, thus decreasing the demands on the system.
He said his research has shown that people would likely not even notice the operation of the system as, in the case of the water heaters, there is already hot water in the tank available for use.
There are a number of pilot projects underway and he believes Nova Scotia will see a large increase in grid-controlled energy systems in the next three to five years.
According to Jill Searles, the senior manager of operations at Nova Scotia Power's distribution control centre, Nova Scotia Power is at the vanguard of work being done in this area.
As part of the company's smart grid pilot project, the utility has installed 135 energy storage batteries in homes.
These batteries will be charged when "the wind is blowing or the sun is shining" and discharged when there is peak load on the grid, Searles told Information Morning.
Searles said another part of their approach is using smart charging devices to charge electric vehicles at times when there is ample renewable energy available.
Nova Scotia Power also participates in the Smart Grid Nova Scotia pilot project which has constructed a community solar installation in Amherst where customers can choose to get their electricity from a renewable resource without having to install solar panels themselves.
"The grid is changing really quickly from a grid perspective that's been pretty traditional over the last number of years," she said.
"We're moving much more quickly toward a future where we've got more renewables on our system and we want to be able to involve our customers and let them help us with that just transition."
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With files from Information Morning Halifax