Insights from industry

Smart Grid Infrastructure for Electricity Systems of Ontario

Rob Nolan, Manager, Investment Attraction for the Regional Municipality of Durham, Ontario, Canada and the Chair of the Ontario Clean Technology Alliance talks AZoCleantech about Smart Grid Infrastructure for Electricity Systems of Ontario.

Could you please provide me with a brief introduction to Ontario Clean Technology Alliance and the industry you work within?

With global markets for clean technology at $1 trillion and projected to expand to $3 trillion by 2020, the Ontario Clean Technology Alliance is well positioned to lead Canada’s clean technology industry, projected at $60 billion by 2020.  

The Ontario Clean Technology Alliance is made up of 11 cities and regions including Greater Toronto Area, Ottawa Region, City of Hamilton, Waterloo Region, Niagara Region, Windsor-Essex, City of London, Sarnia-Lambton, City of Guelph, the Municipality of Chatham-Kent and the Southwestern Ontario Marketing Alliance. The Department of Foreign Affairs and International Trade Canada as well as the Ontario Ministry of Economic Development and Innovation are also Alliance partners.

You have recently invited global industry participants at DistribuTECH – the utility industry's leading smart grid event – to get involved with research and development efforts to expand the electricity system of Ontario. Can you discuss the aims of this research?

The Ontario Clean Technology Alliance is inviting global industry participants to invest in R&D but also in advanced manufacturing to help build out the electricity system of Canada’s largest, most populous province. The Ontario Independent Electricity System Operator (IESO) has estimated that connection of distributed generation in Ontario requires a five-year, $1.95 billion investment. This build-out of the Ontario grid is the aim of new clean tech R&D and manufacturing investment into our province.

How do you plan on building the 1.95 billion of smart grid infrastructure?

Over the past year, the Province of Ontario has actively funded Smart Grid research and development projects that support smart grid industry. Examples include the $2.8 million Durham Smart Grid Demonstration Project, a $1 million, Cisco-backed new Smart Grid Research Chair at the University of Waterloo, and the grand opening of the $40 million Grid IQ Global Innovation Centre by General Electric Company. This Fund and other financial assistance and tax incentive programs are available to advanced manufacturing and clean technology industry setting up in Ontario.

What are these other economic incentives for industry establishing a smart grid business in Ontario?

We have a list of programs at the Ontario Clean Technology Alliance website – that’s a good place to start:

Can you elaborate on why Ontario is rapidly becoming a hub of smart grid excellence?

In November 2010 the Ontario Government set out Ontario’s Long-Term Energy Plan, Building Our Clean Energy Future, which set the course for a clean energy revolution which will create jobs, clean the air and support innovation.  This plan also supports the Province’s landmark Green Energy Act (2009) that is projected to support over 50,000 direct and indirect jobs in smart grid and transmission and distribution upgrades, renewable energy and conservation.  Combined, these policies have placed Ontario at the forefront of the development of a smart grid.

To further highlight Ontario’s progressive deployment of smart grid, the Province recently completed the $1 billion roll-out of 4.7 million smart meters to every homeowner and small business, which will enable time-of-use pricing that accurately reflects the cost of power generation. It is the first jurisdiction in North America to have completed such an initiative.

The Government of Ontario has committed to continue investing in smart grid initiatives. The Ontario Smart Grid Forum anticipates that $390 million of public funds will be invested in Ontario’s smart grid sector per year during the next five years. These investments will be made in a number of areas, including grid automation, monitoring and communications, smart grid research and pilot projects and connecting renewable energy capacity to the grid.

The Ontario Clean Technology Alliance offers a highly educated workforce, excellent growth opportunities, a low-risk business environment, and generous R&D tax credits that are the envy of other countries. Ontario is serious about Smart Grid efficiencies – its efforts have decreased electricity demand by over 1,900 MW between 2005 and 2011, the equivalent of over 600,000 homes being taken off the grid.

The Durham project is a collaboration of several partners including the Durham Strategic Energy Alliance, the University of Ontario Institute of Technology and Siemens Canada. Its objective is a utilities control centre to improve dispatching, monitoring, asset assessment, load modelling and other system requirements for power utilities.

Where are the smart grid companies based globally?

It is very much a global business and many of the international blue chip smart grid companies have established facilities in Ontario, including ABB (with offices across Ontario), Gridpoint (Ottawa), Trilliant (Concord), CapGemini (Toronto), S&C Electric Company (Toronto), G&W (Mississauga), Schneider Electric (Mississauga) and Elster (Burlington).  A wide range of smaller companies developing innovative solutions for smart grid supports these companies.  

For example, ENBALA Power Networks has developed a smart grid platform that manages the way electrical equipment uses power. This enables electricity system operators to better balance grid systems, thus improving the overall efficiency of the grid, reducing costs and cutting greenhouse gas emissions.

The company operates in PJM, the world’s largest electricity transmission company, which serves the US northeast market. It currently has 25 industrial customers whose equipment it controls. In December 2012 it was named as one of the top 10 most promising Canadian cleantech companies according to Corporate Knights. It was also awarded the Ontario Energy Association’s Excellence Award as Small Company of the Year in October 2012 and was also listed on the 2012 Global Cleantech 100 list.

You focus your work on Ontario. Are you planning on establishing smart-grid technology in other parts of the world?

Ontario’s manufacturing industry sells products around the world. As an export driven economy it will be natural for our companies to export their smart grid related products around the world.

Why is there more smart grid research based in Ontario?

Ontario has a unique combination of universities, other academic institutions, innovative companies and government funding initiatives that has created the provinces strong research base.  In 1987, the Ontario Government established the Ontario Centres of Excellence to drive commercialization of cutting edge research across key market sectors.

In 2005 the OCE Centre of Excellence for Energy was launched.  Currently this centre has 14 smart grid projects underway or in the pipeline, representing almost $12 million in investment.  All are collaborations between industry, academic institutions and OCE.  

The Ontario Ministry of Energy is also supporting smart grid innovation through its Smart Grid Fund, which was launched in 2011 and made its first investments in June 2012. To date the Ministry has investment of almost $25 million in 13 Ontario-based projects, relating to grid automation, data management, regional integration, integrating distributed energy resources and behind the meter technologies.

The province is also home to a number of prestigious smart grid research associations (e.g., the Smart Grid Research and Innovation Centre). The Smart Grid Research and Innovation Centre will provide students, teachers and IT professionals with the tools to develop and evaluate new smart grid technologies. The centre is part of an on-going strategic relationship between the University of Waterloo and Mahindra Satyam; an Indian information technology services company that has expertise in smart grid data analytics, renewable systems integration and electric vehicles.

Where is the smart grid market opportunity?

There are substantial opportunities across the smart grid technology development.  Some of the more recent technology developments that have demonstrated significant movement are:

  • Wide area monitoring and control
  • Renewable and distributed generation integration
  • Information and communications technologies integration
  • Advanced metering infrastructure
  • Electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

How do you see the implementation of this technology developing over the next decade and where do you see the biggest challenge?

The potential for smart grid to provide economic benefit and greater environmental improvements is causing tremendous excitement. Many jurisdictions across the globe are aggressively pursuing the development of smart grid technologies.  While there is no clear leader in in smart grid there is a great belief that this technology will modernize the electricity system, delivering significant benefits to both the customer and the environment.  

The Ontario Smart Grid Forum has identified that achieving the benefits of smart grid will require coordination on several different levels. There are needs for standards and interoperability to allow devices developed by multiple suppliers to communicate and work together.

For smart grid to operate as an integrated whole, there is also a need for coordinated development across the electricity system, from customers, to distribution, to retail providers, to transmission and generation.  Open standards and an integrated approach are going to be key.

For more information about the Ontario Clean Technology Alliance, please visit

Rob Nolan

About Rob Nolan

Rob Nolan is the Manager, Investment Attraction for the Regional Municipality of Durham, Ontario, Canada and the Chair of the Ontario Clean Technology Alliance.

Rob has had almost 20 years of experience in economic development; focusing on investment attraction; business retention and expansion; and strategy development.

Throughout his career Rob has worked with companies in the technology and energy sector to help them achieve their investment and growth objectives.


Disclaimer: The views expressed here are those of the interviewee and do not necessarily represent the views of Limited (T/A) AZoNetwork, the owner and operator of this website. This disclaimer forms part of the Terms and Conditions of use of this website.


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