It’s no secret that the public electrical grid is struggling to keep up with ever increasing demand, and is vulnerable to cyber threats and extreme weather conditions. Not to mention that electricity costs keep rising for businesses and consumers.
Even 15 years after the worst failure in the history of North America’s power grid, not much has changed. Experts have warned that power utilities need to adapt or they won’t survive.
As the need for energy continues to grow, the public grid, with all its known weaknesses, will not be able to meet the demands of our communities.
As a result, municipalities are struggling with how to provide commercial and industrial businesses with a reliable and affordable source of electricity. Some municipalities have taken matters into their own hands, using alternative approaches such as a “district energy” strategy.
Once such example is the city of Guelph.
Searching for an Option to the Public Grid
The city of Guelph, Ontario realized that they needed to think differently about energy and how it integrates with municipal infrastructure.
Guelph’s Community Energy Initiative developed the District Energy Strategic Plan – a city-wide, thermal energy network that would allow neighbourhoods to share a sustainable heating and cooling system. Buildings connected to the system would not require individual furnaces or water heaters. These buildings would instead be hooked up to an underground network of pipes, giving the city a communal heating and cooling system.
The perceived benefits were:
- Lower energy and equipment costs
- Reduced space requirements
- Lower building and maintenance costs
- Reduced greenhouse gas emissions
District Energy Failure
This initiative, although well intentioned, failed. Guelph’s attempt to meet the environmental and energy-efficiency objectives of community were abandoned and resulted in an $8.7M write off.
There wasn’t a large enough customer base for all the heating and cooling that the plants would supply. The 10-megawatt plant that the city had planned was simply too big. The physical size of the plant would have taken up a considerable amount of land and the energy this sizable plant would produce would have largely gone to waste.
This case speaks to the challenges associated with local governments trying to remedy rising energy costs, unreliable electricity supply and battling climate change. They are simply not qualified to do this on their own, despite all the best intentions.
A More Practical Solution
Dedicated Energy Systems (DES’s) offer a much more practical solution for municipalities. DES’s provide the benefits the City of Guelph was aiming to realize – reliable, affordable and cleaner energy – but without significant up-front capital investments and the risks associated with building something that may or may not work.
DES’s use existing, proven cost-effective technologies to generate electricity right on-site, with no requirement for upfront capital expenditures.
A Hybrid Approach
Dedicated Energy Systems employ a hybrid approach, combining technologies such as battery, carbon sequestration, solar, trigeneration and any others that are appropriate. DES’s are built to fulfill the specific energy needs of an industrial or commercial facility, making them extremely efficient by minimizing the wasted energy that is characteristic of the traditional public utility architecture.
Businesses receive a primary and secondary source of power that is synchronized and independent of weather, cyber attacks and any other events that make the public grid vulnerable. Issues with blackouts and brownouts are eliminated, resulting in a steady, reliable stream of energy.
Dedicated Energy Systems operate much more efficiently than the public grid, allowing facilities to lower their CO2 emissions and overall carbon footprint.
The high cost and poor reliability of the traditional public grid is becoming common knowledge. This antiquated approach is not sustainable on an environmental, security, reliability, or economic basis.
It is critical for municipalities to look at supply and demand in a new way. A more affordable and reliable source of energy is required – one that can keep pace with the increase in demand while being better for the planet.
Some options are better than others, and based on Guelph’s experience, a government subsidized and managed approach is not the answer.
Dedicated Energy Systems, or private utilities, are more economic, reliable, and efficient when compared to the traditional public grid – and offer the most promising solution for effectively meeting the growing energy needs of the future.
OOM Energy is a Dedicated Energy Systems provider, an alternative to the traditional public electricity grid. Our mission is to combine our innovative approach to generating affordable and reliable energy with a commitment to the harmonious balance of people, planet, and profit.