A Tour of Vancouver Grid Modernization Projects For GridFWD 2018 Attendees

As a warm-up to GridFWD 2018, Smart Grid Northwest sponsored a bus tour of grid modernization projects in the Vancouver, BC area. A select group of attendees got an inside look at a range of innovative organizations.

City of Vancouver Neighborhood Energy plant

The first stop was the Southeast False Creek Neighbourhood Energy utility plant that captures and reuses thermal energy in sanitary sewer outflow. The plant is essentially a pumping station that recovers heat from sewage and converts it into hot water that is piped to numerous building in the adjacent blocks, serving 4.3M square feet of residential, commercial, and institutional space. According to the website, this recycled energy eliminates more than 60% of the greenhouse gas pollution associated with heating buildings.

The False Creek plant uses a heat pump (backed up by a gas generator) to capture waste heat, concentrate it and sent it back to buildings as boiling water, thereby replacing boilers at all locations. The biggest challenge of this kind of neighbourhood system is the cost allocation during system rollout during building new construction. The False Creek neighbourhood is a former athlete’s village from 2010 Olympics, so the City got around the issue by installing the system in 10 new buildings all at the same time. That’s a key reason that the ROI for the capital outlay is 10% which is high for this type of infrastructure.

The plant is municipal owned, with rates set by the city of Vancouver, not regulators. The utility is self-funded, designed to provide a return on investment to City taxpayers, while at the same time providing affordable rates to customers.According to the city, rates on energy to tenants are only marginally higher than heating costs using the electric grid. While the rates may not be as low as what is possible with gas-fired heating and hot water, the system eliminates the needs for a boiler in every building, and increases the desirability of the neighborhood for urban dwellers who want low-carbon energy sources.

You can learn more about the station by watching the video below. Or take a refresher course in in sewage-to-energy systems in this presentation: Challenges of Designing Wastewater Heat Recovery Systems.

PowerTech Labs

Next stop, PowerTech Labs, one of the largest testing and research labs in North America. A wholly owned subsidiary of BC Hydro, Powertech Labs comprises about 200 scientists, technicians, engineers and specialists. We were introduced to the labs’ work, and shown through several laboratories by Giuseppe Stanciulescu, Business Development Manager. 

What you need to test components against lightning strikes.

One of the highlights was the High Voltage Lab (above), where the labs conduct high-voltage tests for qualification and certification, as well as custom analysis and assessments.

The all-too-brief stop ended with an introduction to its several projects highlighting electric vehicle (EV) deployment and infrastructure. PowerTech Labs is currently assisting with the development of solutions and strategies for vehicle-grid integration, including:

  • Electrical vehicle charging data, through its evCloud web-based platform
  • EV smart charging by developing, testing and demonstrating different technologies
  • Studies of integrating intermittent renewables into the grid
  • On-line dynamic security assessment (DSA)

It was fascinating to get details of two promising but competing technologies–hydrogen fuel-cell and DC fast-charging stations–just a few meters from each other.

BC Institute of Technology

Back on the bus, we headed to the BCIT Burnaby campus, home to a microgrid that integrates solar PV modules with a peak output of 250 kW, energy storage using a 500 kWh battery ESS with 280 kW PCS and EV charging stations with control electronics and software. The microgrid was completed in 2014 by BCIT in collaboration with BC Hydro, Siemens, Panasonic, Schneider and other companies. Clay Howey, Research Head, Smart Microgrid Applied Research Team (SMART), Centre for Applied Research & Innovation (CARI), met us in the heart of the solar array, which doubles as covering for cars in a parking lot.

The microgird is a proving ground for open, vendor-agnostic software solutions. It leverages BCIT’s Energy OASIS (Open Access to Sustainable Intermittent Sources) project infrastructure and expertise with open protocols. The project also demonstrates is the use of multiple EV charging stations (EVSEs) that share a common power management platform.  Compared to discrete EV charging stations, this approach leads to a much more efficient use of electrical resources. Sharing and load management will also reduce demand charges and smart charging schemes can avoid charging during high TOU tariff times.

Smart Grid Northwest takes an inside look at the ESS in the BCIT microgrid.

Here’s a link if you want to take a virtual tour of more of the BCIT microgrid initiatives.

Avalon Battery

The last stop was at a local innovator in modular vanadium flow batteries for utilities. Previously VRB Power, Avalon has found a niche for the product serving grid-tied intermittent renewables to store energy for either load smoothing or periods of renewable inactivity. The approach by Avalon was to reduce the scale-to unit size, and then scale up by adding units as required. Here our attendees got a chance to look inside the unit.

Avalon Vanadium Flow Batteries can handle high cycle counts (>10,000 cycles) without and degradation of electrolyte. They have low-to-zero fire risk associated with operations or storage of electrolyte. Energy is stored in the liquid, so it is fast to switch from charging to discharging. Avalon battery costs are trending towards $0.029 per kW which when tied to solar Energy approaching $0.03/kW can give energy production below $0.06/kW, which is very competitive with other sources of reliable generation.