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Future Grid
Getting a charge out of DERMS

The kīsikāw pīsim solar farm takes an innovative approach to managing energy. Hear from Chris, Trina and Nathaniel on how we're planning for the future of our electrical grid.

by Curtis Gillespie

The kīsikāw pīsim solar farm at EPCOR’s E. L. Smith Water Treatment Plant in southwest Edmonton is an undertaking that tells us much about our past, present and future. These former reserve lands of Enoch Cree Nation are an ancient Indigenous gathering place, and the solar farm’s Cree name was gifted to EPCOR by the Nation. The site now hosts a renewable energy solar farm and battery system that helps power one of the two plants that provide Edmonton and more than 90 communities and counties with a source of clean potable water.​

The project is also giving us a glimpse into our energy future. A future that will largely focus on where our energy comes from, and how we will manage and distribute that energy in the most effective way. This is where EPCOR’s Distributed Energy Resource Management System (DERMS) comes in. It’s a new and innovative way to manage the production, storage, and flow of electrical energy in our community. Here’s how it works.

An electrical traf​fic controller​

Solar panels produce energy, but where that energy goes depends on the needs at the moment. The solar energy needs to be collected, converted, and conveyed to where it is needed. When the water plant needs power, the energy from the solar farm is directed to the plant. When there is surplus power and room in the batteries, the batteries can be topped up with solar energy. And when the plant has sufficient power and the batteries don’t need charging, surplus solar energy can be directed to the provincial grid.

In the past, these functions were sometimes performed manually, and often in isolation from one another. Today, in EPCOR’s DERMS enabled system, this transformative technology essentially acts as an air traffic controller overseeing water plant operations, solar generation, battery storage and the grid. DERMS directs electrical traffic in real-time, monitoring the supply and needs of each component, and maximizing the benefit for all. It is cutting-edge technology.​​​​

Chris Chapelsky is EPCOR’s senior manager for grid transformation. “Managing the electrical grid is more important than ever,” he says. “And that’s where DERMS comes in. At its heart, it’s a computerized control system. And it enables electric utilities like EPCOR to model, monitor, forecast, and leverage distributed energy resources across our entire grid, in real-time, 24/7, large or small.”

Trina Manning is senior manager of sustainability with EPCOR, and she says the transformation is in how the pieces of the system talk to one another. “It’s about how those systems communicate and how decisions are made,” says Manning. “DERMS changes the way the grid functions in terms of directing electricity to the plant, to batteries or to the grid. And it happens every second of the day. DERMS is really about optimization.”​​

A unique twin syst​​ems approach

Nathaniel Papay graduated as an electrical engineer from the University of Alberta and has been with EPCOR his entire career, the last decade as a project manager. “I worked on quite a few projects with electrical backgrounds,” he says. “But when I asked our consultants and others, ‘Is there anything like this solar farm and DERMS in Canada?’ they all said, ‘No!’”

What makes it so unique, says Papay, is the level of integration and coordination between so many systems and functions. The solar farm and battery are technically two twin systems arranged side by side. This allows for the critical redundancy the water treatment plant requires. The water treatment plants, he says, are essential infrastructure. “There are two electrical cables coming into the water treatment plant,” he says. “So, if one cable fails, we can still run the plant. And because we have two cables which are active and live, we have basically two solar farms and two systems that together make up the whole.” This all helps protect and ensure the continual operation of Edmonton’s primary source of clean drinking water, while also supplying it with clean energy.

Making the most out of clean energy

DERMS controls it all not just for the kīsikāw pīsim solar farm and EPCOR’s E. L. Smith Water Treatment Plant, but as part of the larger overall electrical distribution system in the Edmonton region. It is a tool to support all Edmontonians in a cleaner energy future. “We use it to monitor distributed generation across the entire grid, not just here at kīsikāw pīsim,” says Papay. “It can ‘see’ what is happening here at our site, how much power we’re using, how much we’re storing, how much we’re sending to the grid. It allows for us to be integrated with the entire regional system.”​

Solar, wind, and other carbon-free energy sources are a big part of our energy future, but gone are the simple one-way flows of energy from a big power plant to our homes and businesses. Many solar systems and battery systems sprinkled throughout the electrical grid mean that we have a more complex flow of energy on that grid. Energy will need to be managed and distributed efficiently to meet the needs of all our customers. Making the most out of what is available, DERMS is key to grid transformation and how we are going to manage our energy resources of the future.​


Le​​ading fo​​r​ the env​ironment 

EPCOR’s commitment to the en​vironment is​ foundational to our company’s success and the sustainability of the co​​mmunities we serve. Discover how we are driving innovation to address environmental and climate change challenges.  ​

Our commitments​​​​​​​

Chapelsky says that this project is a watershed moment for EPCOR. “It shows not only our commitment to clean water and reducing our emissions,” he says, “but in setting us up for the future of electricity because the electric grid is undergoing a significant transformation, and distributed generation sites, large and small, are accelerating across our system.”

Planning for the​ future​​

The day will come, says Manning, when many people will be generating their own electricity and storing it with their own battery systems. “DERMS is going to play a really important role,” says Manning. “It will help manage the inputs and outputs on the overall system. When everyone goes home at the end​ of the day and plugs their car in, how do we shift our loading to where it’s needed, depending on customer usage and customer generation? It’s not just about one water treatment plant, it’s about millions of people and how what we learn will help us optimize these technologies.”

DERMS is a way to change the grid to make sure the switch flip of the future produces electricity, all as part of a transformation to use renewable energy to create a low-carbon economy. EPCOR’s goal is to be a net-zero entity. That means doing the technical w​ork, but also bringing people along for the ride.

“Helping people see that a new system is more reliable in th​e long run is going to be critical,” says Manning. “Sometimes it’s about changing hearts and minds. We have a vision for rethinking the way utilities are designed and operated to reduce our environmental footprint, but we have to be patient, too. Different perspectives are important. Having community engagement on all these innovations is how everyone benefits going forward.”​​

What is DERMS?

The energy produced by the kīsikāw pīsim solar farm is sent where it’s needed most, thanks to cutting-edge technology. Distributed Energy Resource Management Systems, or DERMS, is like an air traffic controller, figuring out when excess power can go to the grid.​​

“DERMS may be enabling the next grid transformation,” says Papay. “And it’s really all about what’s next.”

Which in some ways is the point. Yes, DERMS is a new system EPCOR is using to regulate, store and direct electricity. But it’s also a tool to help us prepare for what’s next. The future.

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