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Across our operations, the company is working to enhance community resilience and help customers reduce their own environmental footprint. In addition to our investment in flood mitigation for Edmonton, we're working to modernize the electricity grid, support community-level energy transition, increase the supply of renewable natural gas, promote efficiency, and make it easy for customers to charge electric vehicles and self-supply electricity from renewable sources.

Modernizing Edmonton's electricity grid to enable customer choice

The way people use the electricity grid is starting to change, with electric vehicles, distributed energy generation and energy storage playing increasing roles in the electricity system. These consumer behaviours change the way power flows from and into the grid. We're working to provide our Edmonton and area customers with an electricity platform that supports electric vehicles (EVs), customer-owned power generation, energy storage and micro-grids, now and into the future. Work is also occurring in Ontario to encourage the growth of EV adoption through public charging infrastructure.

New technologies for distributed energy resources (DERs), such as electrical vehicles, solar panels and energy storage batteries, are emerging every day. We've established a team to research and pilot these new technologies to better understand how they will be safely integrated into our electricity system in a way that maintains the reliability of our grid, while minimizing costs to consumers.

We partner with researchers, government agencies and larger, nation-wide initiatives, such as SmartGrid Canada, to find new and innovative solutions to respond to a rapidly evolving grid.

Customers have growing opportunities to take advantage of green technologies to help reduce their environmental footprint. Saqib Chaud​hary, EPCOR’s Director of Regulatory Affairs and Business Planning, explains what these green alternatives mean for the industry and modernization of the energy grid.

​U​nderstanding the impact of distributed energy resources

From 2015 to 2018, EPCOR, the University of Alberta, and the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) completed one of the largest studies of its kind on how EVs and solar panels will impact the electrical grid.

The key findings were:

  • Edmonton's power grid is well-positioned to incorporate the DERs. The study helped us to identify a small number of circuits where there is potential for service voltage issues if the adoption of DERs dramatically increased. This will enable us to take steps to better ensure future reliability in those areas.
  • Electrical vehicle charging will be the most challenging aspect to incorporate. Unlike solar panels, EV charging is currently unregulated in Alberta, which makes the associated demands on the system less predictable.

We now understand our underground residential infrastructure is a potential pinch-point for mass adoption of at-home EV charging, so we're exploring options to maintain the reliability​ of the distribution grid. Options include moving to larger service transformers and understanding the potential for smart charging to shift charging times to later in the evenings when there is more capacity on the transformers.

​​Chirp (Green Power)

Encor by EPCOR provides renewable electricity options to its customers in Alberta called Chirp. When customers buy Chirp green electricity, they are buying Renewable Energy Certificates from Alberta's Taylor hydro facility, a certified Canadian renewable energy facility. The quantity purchased matches the percentage of green energy customers choose for their energy plan. Encor offers 15, 50 or 100 percent Chirp options. ​

​​P​reparing for an increase in adoption of Electric Vehicles​

A typical Edmonton household uses about 2.5 to 3 kilowatts of power during peak usage times in the morning and early evening. Plug in an electric vehicle to charge, and that peak power use can more than double.

This surge in electricity consumption can stress the power grid and a home's electrical system. Our study found that if as few as 15% of homes on a single circuit have EVs charging at the same time, voltage issues can emerge that threaten the system's ability to deliver reliable service.

In March of 2020, there were approximately 1,300 EVs registered in Alberta, with about 450 of those in Edmonton. With that number expected to grow exponentially in the coming years, we're actively working on solutions to keep the grid reliable and enable EV buyers to plug in to get the power they'll need.

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​Solar power for homes and businesses

We've already seen a dramatic increase in the pace of solar panel installations by Edmonton customers. In 2020 alone, more than 300 homes and businesses added solar arrays. To support customers, we streamlined its processes and provided customers with the information and resources they need to become independent power producers.

We're also working with Edmonton customers who are connecting 20 MW of distributed power generation to the grid through six large solar installations at commercial buildings, recreation centers and a school.

As of November 2020, 1702 solar panel sites have been installed in Edmonton, up from fewer than 50 a decade ago.

How solar panels work on Edmonton's power grid

Once installed, solar panels start converting sunlight to electricity. Any electricity not used at the home or business at that time is sent to the electrical grid for others to use. The advanced power meter at the home or business measures the amount of electrical energy produced at the site and sends that data to the customer's retailer of choice to credit the customer's bill. Customers will see a credit if they produce more energy than they use, in any given measurement interval.

In Alberta, electricity generation, including solar panels, is regulated by the Alberta Utilities Commission (AUC) under Rule 024 and reported to the Alberta Electric System Operator. EPCOR is working with the AUC as it updates Rule 024 that regulates micro-generation in Alberta.

To better understand how larger solar panel installations work with Edmonton's power grid, we installed 331 solar panels at its Hugh J. Bolton Service Center. The installation is capable of generating 124.4 kWh at peak performance. In a typical year, we expect the panels will produce about 130,000 kWh per year — equivalent to the average annual power consumption of 15 homes.

Advanced meters helping facilitate solar power and more

Did you know the move to advanced meters helped to reduce the steps involved in getting a customer's site ready for solar panels? Older models of power meters only recorded the flow of power into a home. Previously, a special bi-directional meter had to be installed onto a customer's home so they could receive the credits for the excess energy produced at their site.

The advanced electricity meters we use in Edmonton are bi-directional (they record the flow of electricity into and out of the home) and are ready to accommodate this new technology. When the advanced metering system was first implemented, it helped to identify sites that had solar panels installed but not registered as power producers. Through this identification, we worked with customers to help reduce a safety risk to its crews from the back-feeding energy while working nearby, and to ensure customers were being reimbursed for the excess energy they were delivering to the grid.

​R​​esearching the benefits of battery storage

Battery energy storage systems for consumers typically store enough energy to supply an average home in Edmonton for one day. They are typically installed in regions where a backup power supply is desired. Batteries are also beneficial in areas that use Time-of-Use pricing instead of the flat fee per kWh that is regulated for smaller energy customers in Alberta. Time-of-Use customers store energy from the power grid when prices are lower and draw energy from the battery at times when the price of power is higher.

Because Edmonton's electricity grid is reliable, and smaller customers receive flat rate energy pricing, there are few batteries installed on the EPCOR power grid. However, if regulations change to support wide adoption of Time-of-Use pricing, we will likely see more batteries. At-home batteries may also increase their role in supporting rapid EV charging at home.

There are potential benefits for industrial and commercial customers who require a reliable and affordable flow of power. To better understand the challenges and benefits of integrating large scale battery storage to the system, we're piloting battery use with the solar array at the E.L. Smith Water Treatment Plant, and installing a modern control system (a Distributed Energy Resource Management System, or DERMS) that will allow our electricity operators to have better awareness of how distributed generation is functioning and impacting the electrical system.

​Conservation tips and resources

Through online resources and community initiatives, we provide​ information on how to efficiently use electricity, gas and water to reduce your environmental footprint, as well as ways to increase the resilience of your properties. 

  • Our partnership with Empower Me helps diverse communities in Alberta understand their services and bills, and how to make their homes more energy efficient.
  • Customers interested in adopting green energy, such as electric vehicles or self-generation of electricity, can learn how to proceed and how we're preparing our local electricity grid to support their choices.
  • At epcor.com/floodprevention, Edmonton customers can learn how to flood proof their homes and about the flood prevention home checkup and backwater valve subsidy programs we provide.​