Renewable Energy in Ontario Municipalities

Posted: May 23, 2018
Tagged As: Climate Change, Electricity, Energy, Energy Conservation and Demand Management Plans, Energy Planning, GHG Emissions, Net-Metering

Estimates suggest that Ontario’s municipal sector consumes between 6,000 - 6,500 GWh of electricity every year to power everything from cell phone chargers and office lights, to water treatment plants.  The Independent Electrical System Operator (IESO) supplies the electricity to the local hydro company (i.e. Local Distribution Company, or LDC), who then delivers it to the end user.  But where does the electricity actually come from?  How is it generated?

There are two broad categories of electricity generation - renewable and non-renewable.  Non-renewable electricity comes from sources that cannot be replenished within our lifetime.  Most of these are fossil fuels, such as coal, petroleum, and natural gas. Renewable electricity comes from resources which are constantly replenished and will never run out.  Although more expensive to generate on a per unit basis, this form of “clean energy” doesn’t produce the levels of Greenhouse Gas emissions (GHGs) that non-renewable electricity does.  This is a sustainable way of producing the electricity we use everyday. 

Over the past decade, Ontario has seen a widespread adoption of renewable technologies due mainly to the IESO’s FIT Program.  According to Ontario’s Long-term Energy Plan, Ontario leads Canada with the largest installed solar and wind capacity of any province.  This interactive map shows the various generation components and sources scattered throughout the Province.

The graphic below shows the breakdown of renewable sources of electricity compared to non-renewable sources connected directly to Ontario’s transmission grid.
Image of Electricity Sources in Ontario with Percentage Supplied

Many Ontario municipalities are contributing to Ontario’s electricity grid, primarily by using one of the three following renewable energy sources.

Solar power converts the sun’s energy into electricity either directly (photovoltaics), or indirectly (lenses/mirrors focusing light to a small beam).  The earliest example of simple photovoltaics is that of your calculator.  Many municipalities throughout the Province have adopted this technology on their rooftops and in their fields.  In fact, Ontario has approximately 2,300MW of solar capacity online, including approximately 1,900 MW connected to local grids and 400 MW connected to transmission grids.  The benefit of solar power is that it is most available in the summertime when air conditioning loads are highest.
Wind power harnesses the energy from the air flow to turn large turbines that generate electric power.  Where the sun shines during the day, wind is typically more plentiful at night.  Most municipalities are familiar with the wind farms scattered throughout rural Ontario, but did you know that the modern state-of-the-art turbines actually adjust their blades to maximize energy output during changing wind conditions?  Operators are also able to stop electricity production when it is not required by the IESO, or if weather conditions are too dangerous.
While contentious, wind farms do provide a clean alternative to burning fossil fuels.  Wind power varies dramatically over short time periods, but the amount generated year-to-year is very consistent.  In 2003, there was only 15 MW of wind power in Ontario, compared to 4,800 MW in 2017.  Approximately 600 MW of this is connected to local distribution grids.
Bioenergy is energy extracted from organic sources (or biomass), including wood, plants, manure and other agricultural by-products.  It also describes biogas and landfill gas, produced by decomposing organic material.  Ontario currently generates approximately 500 MW of bioenergy.

Renewable electricity sources are connected to the grid in different ways depending on the amount of power being generated.  Large renewable systems, such as solar and wind farms, are connected directly to the high voltage transmission lines. The IESO continually monitors and controls these loads to make sure the electrical grid runs smoothly without spikes or sags in power supply.  Smaller renewable systems are connected to the lower voltage lines operated by an LDC.  These smaller scale systems can be connected directly to the electricity grid through inverters, or the power can be used entirely behind the meter to run a facility or charge a battery bank (or energy storage system) to offset hydro consumption.  As Ontario moves towards net-metering for its users, the latter will become more common not only for municipalities, but also for its residents.

If your municipality is interested in exploring renewable energy, Ontario’s Renewable Energy Facilitation Office should be your first point of contact.  They can connect your municipality with the most appropriate agency associated with your renewable energy project and provide assistance in developing them. 

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