Panelists for Electric Autonomy's grids electrification panel
Electric Autonomy hosted a webinar with experts from Electricity Canada, Stantec Consulting Ltd., EY Canada and Eaton to address that question. They highlighted the challenges and showcased potential solutions to ensure grids will have enough capacity and infrastructure to meet future power demands from electrification. Photo: Electric Autonomy

Solutions that will enable electrical grids to support the growing demand from fleet electrification exist, but deploying them at scale brings challenges

Canada needs to double or, possibly, triple its electricity generation in the next 30 years in order to support the government’s net-zero emissions targets by 2050.

How will it get there? Last week, Electric Autonomy hosted a webinar with experts from Electricity Canada, Stantec Consulting Ltd., EY Canada and Eaton to address that question. They highlighted the challenges and showcased potential solutions to ensure grids will have enough capacity and infrastructure to meet future power demands from electrification.

You can watch the full discussion, sponsored by Eaton, in the video player and read the summary below.

Funding, materials and skilled workforce needed

The rapid expansion of public and private charging networks will have a major impact on the country’s power grids in the near future, says Michael Voll, global sector leader, smart technologies at Stantec Consulting.

“It’s kind of mind-boggling when you think about the [different sectors’] energy requirements,” says Voll. “As an example, a Class 8 electric truck, and an electric bus probably have about seven times the energy requirements of your typical passenger vehicle. Your passenger ferries have about 25 times the energy requirements and major vessels have about 300. So, it’s staggering when you think about that.”

Meeting these growing power demands in Canada will require more funding, materials and a skilled workforce, says Julia Muggeridge, vice-president of communications and sustainability at Electricity Canada.

One source of new funding is the Investment Tax Credit for Clean Electricity introduced in the 2023 federal budget, which provides a 15 per cent refundable tax credit for eligible investments in certain types of non-emitting electricity generating systems and equipment. Both taxable and non-taxable entities such as public utilities are eligible for the credit.

Muggeridge adds the government also has a role to play in supporting local manufacturing to address supply chain challenges, particularly concerning shortages of transformers, wires, and poles crucial for grid upgrades.

On the labour front, policy makers and companies need to respond to potentially significant labour shortages. For instance, Hydro Québec’s 2035 Action Plan estimates that 35,000 workers will be needed in that province alone.

“Federal assistance for developing trade workers is going to be a really important part of the work that we do over the next couple of years,” says Muggeridge.

Building intelligent grids

The backbone of energy supply is the power grid. As such, grid infrastructure will have expand while becoming ever more resilient.

“We will need to modernize and optimize power delivery and reliability for sure,” says Lance Mortlock, managing partner of energy and resources at EY Canada.

EY Canada is predicting that with great electrification, future grids will be more intelligent and will use digital and information technologies, like vehicle-to-grid systems, to optimize the electricity system in a way that lets customers take a more active part in the energy transition.

Mortlock highlighted four key recommendations for building intelligent grids during the discussion. These included:

  1. Creating greater system resiliency by upgrading and transforming grid infrastructure to meet emerging needs;
  2. Finding strong talent and capable workers to enable the integration and interconnection of emerging technologies such as battery storage;
  3. Ensuring cybersecurity and protecting infrastructure;
  4. Investing in technology that gives customers more options and contributes to grid flexibility.

Load management solutions

Meeting the charging needs of millions and millions of electric vehicles, especially during peak hours, threatens to exceed the capacity of grids to cope, warns Maxime Corbet, product manager for Canada at Eaton.

Eaton’s proposed solution is load management.

“The grid may not have the capabilities to charge the EVs all at the same time, but it definitely has the capability to charge them all at different periods of time,” says Corbet.

One of the solutions Eaton has developed, in partnership with ChargeLab, a Toronto-based EV charging software company, is an intelligent EV charger that communicates and adjusts its power usage based on current demand.

Eaton has also introduced a power management solution specifically designed for multi-unit residential buildings (MURBs) called Evolute, in collaboration with EVdirect. By implementing intelligent systems at the power distribution level, it enables customers to manages power usage at the source, within the electrical panel boards. This strategy does not rely on Wi-Fi networks, making it ideal for locations like underground parking lots, says Corbet.

Both solutions have the same common denominator: limiting power, he adds. “While utilities are revamping and adding more resiliency to the grid to meet this new demand, our solution is enabling right now more users to charge smarter by sharing power more efficiently and by taking advantage of low peak demands on the grid.”

Distributed energy resources

While Voll agrees that smart charging to balance the load on grids from greater electrification will be essential, he says another crucial strategy involves integrating distributed energy resources (DERs) and implementing battery storage.

To illustrate, he highlights recent electric ferry projects in which Stantec was involved in Ontario and British Columbia.

The ferry vessels in the Ontario project required three megawatts of power in 10 minutes. At the time this was proposed, the utility said it could only provide one megawatt.

The solution, says Voll, involved co-locating battery energy storage at the ferry terminal for more consistent power supply.

Meanwhile, in B.C., Stantec faced challenges due to immense power demands from larger vessels. This create big swings between period of high demand and times of low utilization.

The implementation of battery storage made it possible to “flatten out the load profile so it’s seeing the exact same demand all the time,” says Voll.

“As a sector, we need to look at this a little more closely. This is something that can really help the grid in cases where you can’t do smart charging to flatten it. Distributed generation located locally, can really help to offset the demand when it occurs.”

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