The technology that will bring Alberta into the future of energy

With SouthGrow being one of the major contributors to economic development in southern Alberta, they can provide an in-depth look into some of the new technologies that are coming to our region. Peter Casurella, executive director of SouthGrow, provided a rundown of technologies that could benefit Alberta— in particular technologies within the energy industry.

“A challenge that is happening is renewable energy being distributed across southern Alberta in a ton of small projects that changes the way that the grid behaves,” said Casurella. “It used to be that you had these huge generating plants located around the province that would provide constant on demand generation. Now, that’s no longer the case, and it’s not going to be the situation for the future for sure. Now, you’re going to have a lot of small generation happening all over the place, including small solar panel arrays on people‘s houses, on businesses, etc. and the electrical companies, the regulator, and the electrical system operator need to ensure that the power goes to meet the demand everywhere where that demand is all over the place. This involves the use of AI, it involves the use of systems that aren’t fully designed or built yet and being able to have the grid respond dynamically to demand loads that are happening all across the province. That transition is underway, but there’s a lot of other strategies that we can and should adopt here in Alberta.”

Following this broad opening of what’s happening across all of Alberta, Casurella narrowed his scope to directly speak on things that SouthGrow was working on.

“Number one, we’re helping our communities get on board with the changing infrastructure. We’re currently running a federally funded program to deploy money for electrical vehicle chargers. It’s new infrastructure that needs to happen everywhere — the demand for it is about to go through the roof, and we don’t want to be caught playing musical chairs with infrastructure funding with the only ones being left without a seat at the table. We’ve got that in place ensuring that our people have access to their share of the funding so they can get help building new infrastructure which is becoming necessary.”

Along with this, SouthGrow is partnering with other organizations across the province to assist with this change in energy. Casurella spoke on one of these partnerships and how it can help push changes across the entire province.

“Number two, we’re working closely with the people like Fortis to do pilot projects on what is called demand side management. What that means is we’re doing projects which lower the electrical demand coming from places like residents, businesses, ag food facilities, etc. and the goal of these is to convince the provincial government to make the size management part of the regulated utility requirements for the entire province. So, every line provider has a mandate to engage in these activities. Now, what does that mean? That involves putting battery backup systems in homes and businesses so that everybody can hold onto electricity that they generate through their solar panels, and keep it right there so that when you are on peak demand, there is extra electricity that can be pulled out of that battery in the system. We are doing things like getting more people in more facilities and getting smart home systems so that there is more efficient control of the electricity that is used in a residence, in a business, or in an ag food facility.”

Casurella continued to talk about other projects that SouthGrow is working on this time, including items that could be put directly into your own home.

“We are doing things like a pilot on electrical cold weather heat exchangers which would replace your furniture for 90–95 per cent of the year,” said Casurella. “A cold weather heat exchanger electrically operated can heat and cool your house except for those few days of the year where the temperature plummets below -20. In the future, the technology is getting to the point where it should be able to fully replace your gas fire furnace which is a major shift. It’s more electricity once again being demanded from the system, but it also strongly reduces the demand on things like the gas infrastructure which can be phased out.”

Logically, if you were to take all of these small projects that SouthGrow is working on and combine them within one building, the energy-saving effects can be exponential. Casurella outlined this while also discussing how old versus new development could directly affect your monthly power bill.

“If it’s paired with things like a home battery system and a home solar system, it will adversely reduce the pull on the electrical grid at a time when we’re finding ways to maximize the efficiency of the grid,” said Casurella. “This kind of work also has implications for the bill that you pay every month to your electricity provider because of the fact of all of this new transmission infrastructure needs to be built out because of the whole grid changing, you’ve seen your lines charges go up. That’s the portion of your bill that isn’t associated with how much electricity you actually use. It is what you pay as a citizen to make sure that the electrical grid is maintained and is up and running. If we can make the system more efficient, if we can make more efficient use of the wires that already exist then they will be less need to build out additional transmissions capacity, and your bill won’t go up as much in the near future.”

Ian Croft, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, The Taber Times