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A power outage at Halifax’s Victoria General Hospital last February forced the cancellation of 30 surgeries, including some for critical cancers. In October, an early winter storm knocked out power to more than a dozen Manitoba First Nations, forcing the evacuation of more than 5,700 people. A powerful storm in Quebec in November left nearly a million Hydro-Quebec customers with- out electricity for days.

Perhaps most notoriously, trees hitting powerlines in 2003 resulted in a catastrophic failure that cut power to an estimated 50 million people in eastern Canada and the northeastern United States, affecting even life-saving hospital equipment.

As once-in-a-century storms become the norm around the world and demand for energy increases exponentially, the impacts of such failures are enormous. Productivity, health and infrastructure all suffer.

Climate change is having a significant impact on our com- munities, forcing governments, utilities and other stakeholders to think differently about how we use and store energy. For many, the future is in local energy storage and microgrids to help create a more reliable and sustainable power supply.

“If you think of climate change, you can see that it’s happening now,” says Pratap Revuru, director of microgrid solutions and strategic partner- ships at Schneider Electric Canada, citing the major black- outs occurring regularly around the world.

“That’s thousands of hours of down time and millions of users facing power disruption,” he says. “Even in Canada what we see is there’s a need for smart energy management.”

STEPS TO SECURING A RENEWABLE ENERGY FUTURE

Imagine if each community or institution – even each affected home – had been able to generate and store its own power. Imagine that power was green, affordable and secure.

These visions are getting closer to reality for broader com- munities thanks to innovation and an increasing need and desire to fight climate change.

Storage of renewable energy such as solar, wind, geothermal and biomass is steadily overcoming the technological and affordability challenges that have held it back for decades, making it more appealing to a growing number of communities.

“Things are moving at a greater speed,” Mr. Revuru says. “People are able to get power using the [green power and local energy storage] technology that is readily available now.”

The opportunities for large- and small-scale energy management are game-changing in the race to reduce global carbon emissions. Still, communities need to act strategically when developing energy production and storage solutions to ensure they’re sustainable, says Dr. Bala Venkatesh, founding academic director and head of the Centre for Urban Energy at Ryerson University.

Dr. Venkatesh says solutions should include six key elements starting with carbon-free energy from sources such as solar, geothermal, wind or biomass. These sources are only practical, though, if there’s a reliable way to store the energy they produce until it’s needed. For example, solar energy is abundantly available but the energy must be accessible even when the sun isn’t shining.

Secondly, the energy must be equitable and accessible to all. Failure to ensure equity and access to all residents and neighbourhoods “is an easy way to create inequalities, classes and make one section of a society or city suffer while the other thrives,” Dr. Venkatesh says.

Third, the energy supply must allow businesses to pros- per, creating jobs and economic value. “How do you provide energy to businesses in such a way that they create economic value to the city and create jobs? If energy is priced in a way that’s very expensive, that’s detrimental.”

The fourth element is that it must be high-quality energy, meaning both reliable and abundant.

The fifth is that the city or region must promote and practice the smart use of energy, Dr. Venkatesh says. Already, many jurisdictions in Canada and around the world encourage smart use with a combination of regulations and incentives for smart energy use.

“If we do all the hard work of providing energy to a city and residents or users don’t use it properly, that’s problematic,” Dr. Venkatesh says. “How do

we make cities of the future use energy frugally and in a smart way?”

Lastly, the protection of privacy of users is paramount, particularly given the increasing use of data to optimize energy use.

ADAPTING TO A ‘NEW ENERGY SOCIETY’ 

Private industry is playing a key role, alongside government, in the transformation to clean energy and storage. Many companies are working aggressively to develop the technology in a way that will make it more accessible.

For example, there are 292 remote communities in Canada, notes Mr. Revuru, citing federal government data. “Most of these remote communities are using diesel fuel for power,” he says. “This is going to have a huge effect on greenhouse gas reduction if people are able to get that power using technology and smart energy management that is readily available now.”

These communities are tap- ping into solar, wind, geothermal and biomass. With energy storage costs coming down, they’re able to add storage to the equation, which is essential. “Energy storage technology has really evolved,” he says. “You can store the energy for when you need it.”

Exploring new technologies and testing changes to infrastructure can be done with minimal risk too. At the Schneider Electric Smart Grid Lab – a joint initiative with Schneider Electric and Ryerson University – experts can physically duplicate microgrid infrastructure, complete with cutting-edge energy solutions. The professional team at this unique lab has worked on technological solutions with organizations such as the City of Toronto, Toronto Hydro, Alectra and Hydro One.

“That lab allows us to do some practical experimentation that has real-life, tangible applications, like renewables, energy storage and electric vehicles,” Dr. Venkatesh says. “We need to adapt to a new energy society– and we can get there in 20 years.”

“When the world is more electric, there will be greater impact on greenhouse gas emissions. That means the optimization and smart energy will play a role.”

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